“All the horrors of all the ages were brought together; not only armies but whole populations were thrust into the midst of them… Merchant ships and neutral ships and hospital ships were sunk on the seas and all on board left to their fate… Every effort was made to starve entire nations into submission, without regard to age or sex. Monuments and cities were smashed by artillery. Bombs were cast down from the air indiscriminately. Poison gas stifled or seared the soldiers. Liquid fire was projected upon their bodies. Men fell from the air in flames, or were smothered in the dark recesses of the sea”
This statement by Winston Churchill very accurately describes the destruction, totality, and modernity of the First World War. The First World War is often referred to as the first modern war and as paving the way for the totality of the Second World War. World War One was the first “total war”, a term coined by German General Paul von Ludendorff in that it involved the various governments, populations, and economies of the nations entrenched in it like no war had ever before. It was a total war in regards to its use of civilians as targets/combatants, its utter destruction of anything/everything in its path, and its global scope and reach across continents. It was the first war where the wide-scale use of machine guns, tanks, airplanes and chemical weapons replaced rifles, cavalry horses, swords and daggers.
In other words, war was becoming impersonal. The way the First World War was fought one hundred years ago portended today’s use of drones manipulated by joysticks from the comfort of a gaming chair thousands of miles away to wage war. In this paper, I discuss the First World War through the eyes of two opposing soldiers: Fritz Franke, a medical student from Berlin fighting on the side of the Germans and Siegfried Sassoon, the famed English poet who fought for the British.
Little is known about the life of Fritz Franke. What is known is that he was a medical student from Berlin who was killed in battle in May 1915. In a letter dated November 5, 1914 and posted from the town of Louve, Franke, writing to loved ones back in Berlin, describes the war and its effects and consequences in gory detail. Franke wrote his letter at the very outset of the war, about four months after the war began. He was killed a full three years before the war would end and did not experience the worst of its horrors or its long stalemate on the Western front.
Although not much is known about Franke’s background, it can be assumed by the fact that he was a medical student and his style of writing that he was of a middle class- or upper class background. Franke writes movingly about the death and destruction around him but, perhaps because it is yet early in the war, unlike Sassoon he demonstrates no deeper analysis or reflection of what he is experiencing.
Franke writes: “I myself can hardly believe that such bestial barbarity and unspeakable...