I have this strange notion that you will get more discussion of what WWI did to Western society by reading about the life of JRR Tolkien than about reading about the war itself.

Though there are exceptions, most writings about the Great War focus too much on details – what happened when – and there’s not much interesting stuff about what it means, or what it meant.

OTOH, people writing about Tolkien can’t seem to help having an opinion about what the war meant:

A hundred years ago, on November 11, 1918, another war begun by two European states—a local squabble that escalated into global conflict—came to an end. Struggling to describe its scope and destructive power, the combatants called it the Great War. Like its Greek counterpart, the war ravaged soldiers and civilians. Over the course of four years, roughly 20 million people were killed, another 21 million wounded. National economies were ruined; empires collapsed. The war to “make the world safe for democracy” left European democracy in tatters.

And more than that: The core commitments of Western civilization—to reason, truth, virtue, and freedom—were thrown into doubt. T. S. Eliot saw the postwar world as a wasteland of human weariness. “I think we are in rats’ alley,” he wrote, “where the dead men lost their bones.” Many rejected faith in God and embraced materialistic alternatives: communism, fascism, totalitarianism, scientism, and eugenics.


Another quote:

One of the most striking effects of the war was an acute anxiety, especially in educated circles, that something was profoundly wrong with the rootstock of Western society: a “sickness in the racial body.” Book titles of the 1920s and ’30s tell the story

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