Storm of Steel

by Kevin Godshall

Storm of Steel (In Stahlgewittern), is a book by the German author and veteran Ernst Jünger and is based on the journal entries he wrote during his time as a soldier in World War I. Storm of Steel begins with Jünger’s initial deployment in 1915 and finishes with him being severely wounded 1918, which ended his military career. Originally based on his unedited journals, Storm of Steel was revised numerous times prior to being first published in 1920. The book mentions nothing of Jünger’s personal life or his own feelings, but rather closely follows his experiences and is written in a chronological, objective, non-attached, unemotional style that gives it a repetitive quality. As opposed to other works about World War I, it seems to purposefully not make a statement about war and because of this some have accused Storm of Steel and Jünger himself of glorifying war and nationalism, while others say the novel is a praise of heroic masculinity.

Biography of the Author

Ernst Jünger was born in 1895 in Heidelberg, Germany and was raised in Hanover. Jünger volunteered for the German army in 1914 and was first deployed to France in 1915.[1] Over the course of the following years, he fought bravely in many of the major battles of the Western Front and was wounded numerous times. By the Spring Offensive of 1918, Ernst Jünger was a member of the stormtroopers, a new type of offensive shock soldier trained to infiltrate enemy trenches.[2] This was an attempt to overcome the stagnant trench warfare that had dominated the previous years of the war.[3] By the end of the war in 1918, Jünger had been promoted to lieutenant and had been awarded both the Ritterkreuz and the Pour le mérite, each high medals in their own, making him exceptionally decorated, even more remarkable given his young age of only 23.[4] He was badly wounded by a bullet to the chest in 1918, ending his military career only months before the end of the war. During the Weimar Republic, Jünger was involved in ‘new nationalist’ groups, namely a circle led by Ernst Niekisch that followed a doctrine they named National Bolshevism.[5] During this time, he expressed his dislike of the comfortable, urban life of the Weimar Republic. Jünger, like many veterans, was frustrated by the government’s inability of to solve economic problems and reassert Germany’s position in Europe.[6]

Plot Summary

Storm of Steel begins with Jünger’s initial deployment in the 73rd Hanoverian Regiment, also called the Rifle Regiment of Prince Albrecht of Prussia, in 1915. He is deployed to the Champagne region of France where the German army has been locked in a stalemate with the British, resulting in trench warfare since the initial advances during the opening months of the war. He is first wounded in April 1915, the first of many minor wounds he receives throughout the war. Following his recovery, he is redeployed to the Arras region of northern France and later participates in the Battle of the Somme in 1916, to which he dedicates a significant portion of his book. Following this, he defends the city of Guillemont from attack. Later, he fights in the battles of Arras, Ypres and Cambrai. His steady rise through the ranks is described and he finally achieves the rank of lieutenant. Storm of Steel ends during the German Spring Offensive of 1918, when Jünger suffers the most serious of his numerous wounds, a shot to the chest that puts him out of action for the last months of the war.

History of Publication

Storm of Steel was originally titled In Storms of Steel: from the diary of a Shock Troop Commander, Ernst Jünger, War Volunteer, and subsequently Lieutenant in the Rifle Regiment of Prince Albrecht of Prussia (73rd Hanoverian Regiment) and consisted of Jünger’s unedited journal entries from World War I. Jünger initially did not succeed in finding a publisher and revised the newly retitled Storm of Steel until he was eventually able to place the manuscript in 1920. Following this, Storm of Steel was revised a total of six times, the last revision occurring in 1961, four decades after the experiences on which the book was based. The later versions have significant differences from the original journal entries, due to the numerous revisions.

Content and Style

Structure: Because Storm of Steel is composed entirely of descriptions, it has been seen as repetitive, with accounts of artillery bombardments, attacks and counterattacks being replayed many times throughout the book. The events do not build towards a climax and resolution as in a narrative plot but rather appear as brief, scattered descriptions of combat intermixed with portrayals of a soldier’s daily life. Most of the First World War was a stalemate and featured long periods of waiting broken up by brief but intense combat and Jünger does not edit out the intermediate scenes. As a result, the structure of Storm of Steel parallels the structure of the war. Coincidentally, in Storm of Steel Jünger mentions that boredom is the soldier’s biggest enemy.

Style: Storm of Steel is based entirely on Jünger’s first-person descriptions and features no main characters other than Jünger himself. It retains much of its original structure as a journal despite revisions, featuring chronological, realistic scenes devoid of symbolism as well as crisp, lucid descriptions.[7] This realistic, straight-forward style of writing preserves its value as a literary figure as his experiences maintain a certain distance from his compositions.[8] Additionally, Jünger refrains from dwelling on soldier’s deaths and mentions even serious events in a nonchalant manner. For example: “While I’d been away, Wetje had been wounded by a shrapnel ball on the arm, but resumed command of the company shortly after my return. My dugout was somewhat changed as well, a direct hit had just about halved the dimensions” (69).

The years following World War I, during which most revisions of Storm of Steel were written, saw the beginning of a period of political romanticism featuring the pessimistic view that history was a process of decay.[9] This can be seen in Jünger’s style, which features descriptions of everyday life broken up by sudden violence and graphic imagery.[10] Many of his comrades are, throughout the book, killed or horribly wounded by bullets or by seemingly random artillery bombardments. Eventually these scenes accumulate and result in a normalization of this horror, creating a depressing, rather than shocking effect.[11] It has been said that Jünger has the ability to acknowledge the very worst in the human condition, that he can always find evidence to contradict the supposition of humanistic optimism.[12]

Themes: Jünger gives no mention of his life before his enlistment, nor does he explicitly state his personal thoughts on the war, or on anything else for that matter. Few other soldiers are mentioned specifically or even named, with two general exceptions. The first are a few of Jünger’s close subordinates, but even then only their names and positions are given and there is hardly any mention of their appearance or personality, and they are only referred to in isolated sentences. The second exception is that when a soldier is killed, Jünger states his name, rank and the type of wound, but he rarely gives any other details about the person and moves on immediately to another subject without reflecting or expressing grief or anger. One of many examples of this is:

The following morning, Fusilier Knicke in my platoon got a rifle shot from somewhere through the chest against his spine, so that he lost the use of his legs. […] He died at the dressing station.” (100)

Jünger’s objective, impersonal descriptions, combined with a lack of metaphors or emotional attachment, makes finding themes or ideas in Storm of Steel difficult. Rather than attempt to create themes, it can be said that this disembodiment and mechanical approach serves to mirror ‘the first mechanized war’. The total war strategy of Germany called for all resources and citizens to be coordinated to support the war effort. In this way the entire nation was mobilized much like a machine, with each person a component, coordinating with the others towards the single, massive goal of victory.[13] Similarly, Jünger fits into place, carrying out his orders diligently and impersonally.

Storm of Steel has been interpreted as praising the difficult, rugged, dangerous life that results in a heroic masculine society.[14] In Storm of Steel he appears to speak from an extreme position in the warrior’s heroic encounter with violence.[15] This can be seen in Storm of Steel, as Jünger does not describe his fear despite the very real prospect of death or serious injury, but instead carries out his orders effectively.

Comparison and Criticism

Storm of Steel has been considered Jünger’s most famous work and is one of the best-known books about World War I. Storm of Steel stands in sharp contrast to arguably the most famous novel about the First World War, All Quiet on the Western Front, by the German veteran Erich Maria Remarque. All Quiet on the Western Front is clearly an anti-war novel which uses descriptions of psychological trauma and injuries to give readers a sense of the horrors of war. In contrast, Storm of Steel does not take a clear stand on war and lacks any description of the emotional effects of war. Descriptions of physical injuries are numerous, but brief and nonchalant. It has been said that such descriptions separate the scenes themselves from their context (the war) and thus allow the book to avoid becoming a commentary on the morality of the conflict.[16] For reasons such as these, some, particularly those on the left, have criticized Storm of Steel as glorifying war and nationalism.[17] Jünger’s later involvement with the German Army during World War II furthered perceptions of him as a nationalist and even a fascist. Generally, the Left has had a tradition of hostility towards him due to these facts, while the Right has often considered him to be a monument for them, which has resulted in biased analysis of his works.[18]

  1. ↑ Wolf Kittler, From Gestallt to Ge-stell: Martin Heidegger reads Ernst Jünger, Cultural Critique 69 (Spring 2008), p. 79.
  2. ↑ Ibid., p. 81.
  3. ↑ Ibid.
  4. ↑ Ibid., p. 79.
  5. ↑ Brigitte Werneburg and Christopher Phillips, Ernst Jünger and the Transformed World. The MIT Press, October 62 (Autumn, 1992), p. 46.
  6. ↑ Marcus Bullock, Ernst Jünger: A Dialectician of Treason, Cultural Critique, 69 (Spring 2008), p. 66.
  7. ↑ Kittler, p. 79.
  8. ↑ Bullock, p. 53.
  9. ↑ Ernest Manheim, Untitled review of “Die Entscheidung: Eine Untersuchung über Ernst Jünger, Carl Schmitt, Martin Heideger” (The Decision: A Study of Ernst Jünger, Carl Schmitt, and Martin Heidegger) by Christian Graf Von Krockow, American Journal of Sociology 66:4 (Jan., 1961), p. 431.
  10. ↑ Werneburg and Phillips, p. 50.
  11. ↑ Ibid., p. 54.
  12. ↑ Bullock, p. 57.
  13. ↑ Peter Uwe Hohendahl, Reflections on War and Peace after 1940: Ernst Jünger and Carl Schmitt, Cultural Critique 69 (Spring 2008), p. 32.
  14. ↑ Manheim, p. 432.
  15. ↑ Bullock, p. 53.
  16. ↑ Werneburg and Phillips, p. 50.
  17. ↑ Bullock, p. 54.
  18. ↑ Ibid.