Heroes and Victims: Soldiers and the Significance of Sacrifice in an Age of Industrial Warfare
André Lambelet, Humanities Tutor (History)
War has always had a stark duality: on the one hand, it has engendered the worst horrors that humans inflict upon others; on the other, it has revealed some of the most extraordinary qualities of humankind: devotion, honour, courage, and heroism. While these two sides of war are poles apart, they are also necessarily linked: heroism cannot exist without extreme danger. But heroism does not merely entail exposure to danger: it involves choice and agency, and it is choice that distinguishes a hero from a victim. So, for instance, in Homer’s Iliad, Achilles is a hero not because he is in danger, but because he chooses to confront that danger and embrace certain death.
In this library talk, I will explore the relevance of the concept of heroism to modern war, focusing particularly on the Great War and its aftermath. Can heroism exist in industrial warfare? What distinguishes heroes and victims in the context of industrial and total war? What is the political and cultural significance of heroism?