Claes Ahlund, A Militarization of the Mind: Swedish Literature and the First World War
The essay suggests that the literature of the First World War does not begin with the actual outbreak of the war in 1914, but much earlier. Anticipation of the coming war is a recurrent theme in Swedish literature during the preceding decades; attitudes varying from nationalist enthusiasm to pacifist and anti-militarist abhorrence. On both sides, however, ambivalence and contradiction are characteristic features. Among the authors discussed in this context are Nils Gottfrid Björck ("Sigvald Götsson", 1896–1891), Verner von Heidenstam (1859–1940), Iwan Aminoff (1868–1928) and Frida Stéenhoff (1865–1945).
Anticipation of a coming war occur in poetry as well as in drama and what can be termed the invasion story, a genre increasingly popular in the decades between the Franco-Prussian War in 1870–1871 and the outbreak of the Great War in 1914. The invasion story typically tells of a successful future invasion by a hostile nation that proves armaments and military training to have been totally insufficient. Particularly important in setting the standard for the invasion story was the Battle of Dorking (1871), written by Sir George Tomkyns Chesney. In the following decades invasion stories were written in–and translated into–many languages in Western Europe. The Swedish contributions include Hur vi förlorade Norrland ("How Norrland was lost", 1889), Hvarför vi förlorade slaget vid Upsala ("Why we lost the battle of Upsala", 1890), Med vapen i hand. Romantiserad skildring af vårt kommande krig ("At arms: a romantic story of our coming war", 1901–1902), and two invasion stories written by the same author, Iwan Aminoff: När krigsguden talar ("When the War-God speaks", 1912), and Invasionen ("The Invasion", 1912).
The literature of the decades preceding 1914 shows that the vision of a coming war was gradually becoming more substantial. The premonitions of war can be described as a dark undercurrent in a period otherwise characterized by technological and scientific progress as well as an optimistic view of the development of civilization. It is an undercurrent related either to nationalistic/quasi-religious and social darwinist conceptions of war as a positive factor in the history of civilization, or to pessimistic ideas of decadence and degeneration. In the war-literature before the war, there are pacifist novels as well as romantic and heroic stories; anti-militarist poetry as well as versified nationalist propaganda, urging the readers (and the authorities) to prepare for glorious and heroic war.
The second section of the essay deals with reactions to the war in nationalist magazines and children's literature in Sweden during the autumn of 1914. Far from giving an accurate picture of the realities of war, the journalists describe it as an adventure full of heroic opportunities. Neutral Sweden being excluded from direct participation in the warfare, many writers use history as a means to raise nationalist sentiment. Supposedly heroic deeds of the Swedish 17th and 18th century are typically set up as inspiring examples.
In the third and final section of the essay, the attitudes to the war in poetry published in right-wing, liberal, and socialist daily papers are discussed. The martial enthusiasm, predominant among conservative writers and right-wing papers in the early months of the war, in many cases is gradually replaced by a weariness of war. In the poetry published in the conservative Nya Dagligt Allehanda, however, the romantic attitude to war is maintained to the bitter end. Due to the civil war in Finland, heroic and romantic contributions even increase during 1918. The liberal daily Dagens Nyheter, on the other hand, at all times keeps a reserved and critical position. The radical socialist Brand has the critical attitude towards war in common with the liberal daily. The poetry published in Brand differs from that of Dagens Nyheter above all in focusing not only on the senseless suffering and the immense costs of war, but also on the question of responsibility; targeting capitalists, the monarchy and the clergy alternately.
Uppsala: Svenska Litteratursällskapet , 2003. Vol. 124, 134-157 p.