Issue n. 2 (2019) of CEIWJ is online

Close Encounters, Displacement and War

We are delighted to announce that the second issue of the Close Encounters in War Journal has been published online. This issue marks the real start of our project and is devoted to a topic that seemed relevant to us both for its historical meaning and its topicality. In fact, the issue hosts five contributions by authors who consider the theme of close encounters, displacement and war from a great variety of angles and in different disciplines.

The Issue and single articles can be downloaded here: http://issue-n-2-(2019):-close-encounters,-displacement-and-war

Displacement and forced migration represent some of the most worrying issues of the contemporary world: according to data published by the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) there are currently 70.8 million forced migrants globally (Figures at a Glance, 2019) and its reports also show that wars, persecutions, violence and human rights violations are among the main causes of current forced migrations. The current crisis is unprecedented and calls for a deep reflection on how to face its urgency, particularly in relation to the situation of the people involved and the humanitarian emergency. In this special issue we look at displacement and forced migration caused by war and conflict in the contemporary era, with a particular focus on the challenges met by those who experienced it.

The five articles collected in the present issue cover a number of case-studies of displacement that vary as to geographical and chronological context, methodological approach, and specific disciplinary field, as far as they range from oral history to cultural history, and cultural studies.

The author of the first contribution, Christoph Declercq, focuses on the “odd case” of Belgian refugees in the United Kingdom during WW1, a small community of displaced people who were warmly welcomed and rather well absorbed in the British daily life, but who were soon after their repatriation forgotten. As Declercq claims, “the destitute Belgians had been used as a tool of warfare and when the war was finally over, those tools were hastily discarded, and all the stories that came with them suppressed” (infra, p. 14), which was one of the reasons why this group of displaced people remained so long forgotten by historians. Actually, as the author shows, the story of this group was more complex than a simple mass movement from Belgium to UK, and the figures of the mobility are therefore analysed thoroughly in order to understand what actual perception the Britons had of this phenomenon of displacement.

In the second article, Simona Tobia presents a number of case-studies deriving from oral history interviews that cover the displacement of Jewish Europeans fleeing from Nazi Germany to the United States before and during WW2, facing very challenging experiences of adaptation and integration. The author opens her article by discussing a number of methodological issues of oral history in order to theoretically frame her work and the use she makes of her sources. Tobia’s main concern is the emotional impact that displacement has on those who experience it, which often affects their ability to remember and share effectively the most traumatic aspects of their journey. She therefore claims that any oral history of displacement must take into account not only the cultural issues related to oral narrative but also the emotional impact of being displaced in terms of identity-building and memory, because “the strategies of memory composure that the narrators in these case studies used revolve around cultural knowledge, on the one hand, and emotions and feelings, on the other” (infra, p. 44).

The author of the third article, Barbara Krasner, touches upon another rather neglected scenario of displacement, namely that of Polish citizens who were caught between Hitler’s and Stalin’s regimes in 1939, when Poland was invaded by the Wehrmacht from the west and by the Red Army from the east. This form of displacement concerned above all the Jewish population of the town of Ostrova, who found themselves trapped between two invaders who equally threatened their survival. Thus, “the decision to cross or not cross the border in the first three months of Nazi and Soviet occupation of Poland had longer-term consequences for the Jews of Ostrova” (infra, p. 63), which reminds us that displacement is a multi-faceted phenomenon that can be very different from case to case. Displacement can turn itself into a deadly condition for those groups of people that for racial, ethnic, religious or political reasons are particularly exposed to persecution both in the place they flee from and in those they try to enter.

The fourth article by Elisheva Perelman takes us in Japan in 1945, when the country is occupied by the American troops and the encounter between the soldiers and the civilians gives birth to the need for normalizing gendered relationships between America and Japan. To cover this topic, Perelman chooses to focus on a well-known post-war product of American pop culture, i.e. the cartoon Babysan, first published in 1951 and depicting the regime of occupation in a palatable way, which means in a sexually hegemonized way. Babysan made thus an ideal ethnographic object through which the Americans could look at defeated and occupied Japan in terms of naivety and objectification. Perleman also shows that the experience of displacement can occur without being removed from one’s own place. Babysan depicts a culture that has been displaced by the very glance that the occupiers have cast on it. As a “symbol of occupation and subjugation, of racism and misogyny” (infra, p. 81), Babysan reveals much about the complex reality of displacement in war.

The fifth and last article considers a more recent scenario, i.e. the worldwide diaspora of Somali citizens in the wake of the Somali civil war. Natoschia Scruggs takes into account testimonies of Somali displaced people resident in the United States, some of whom, though, have had previous experience of displacement in Europe and other countries in Africa or the Middle East. Once again, this article shows that displacement triggers a long chain of identity-related issues in those who are involved, in particular for people coming from cultural milieus where “clan affiliation and one’s immediate family are significant sources of personal identity and security” (infra, p. 92). What emerges is that generalisation is not useful when one attempts to understand the impact of displacement on such aspects as identity-building, self-perception, or social relationships, which are largely dependent on the cultural milieu of origin.We wish to extend a warm thank you to all the people who work with us to realize this project: our Editorial Board, the many scholars who accept to act as peer reviewers, and all those who have supported our project with counsel, criticism and constructive dialogue. And above all, the contributors, who have allowed us the privilege to read and publish their excellent academic work.

Announcement: Research project “Upgrading history”

The Research project Upgrading History. Diaries from the War Front by Dr Saverio Vita is about to be presented officially at the University of Bologna

Photo credits:

Upgrading History. Diaries from the War Front is one of the three new projects funded by Europeana Foundation in 2018. The project is hold by Saverio Vita, fellow researcher at the University of Bologna, and hosted by DH.ARC (Digital Humanities Advanced Center).

The aim of the project is to share research that focuses on the diaries of European soldiers who fought the First World War with a larger audience. Europeana Collections includes a good amount of soldiers’ writings (especially in Italian, French and English) and paintings, as well as a collection of letters from the trenches by Isaac Rosenberg. By now, Rosenberg’s letters and eight diaries in Italian and French were processed.

The materials are arranged on the StoryMaps platform, highlighting the different itineraries travelled by a single soldier. Each journey track is enriched by the text itself and other media, such as photographs, selected newspaper pages, and videos from the Collections. Having the chance to follow the soldier’s itinerary is the best way to read a war diary. This project aims to preserve historical memory and to reactivate old personal stories, to renew them.

For the skilled user who wants to deepen knowledge of the diaries and to read a technical analysis of the text, the project offers digital editions based on EVT, with full transcriptions, historical and linguistic comments.

The project represents a sort of pilot, open to further updates. The Map becomes the promotional container of other research on similar topics, from FICLIT and other departments in Italy and other countries. The goal is to create a great open map, available to the largest possible number of users, detailing one of the most important periods in European History. The dissemination of this kind of project is especially valuable today, as Europe and its Institutions are living in a critical time. A project about WWI is a project about our shared past and History.

Max Weber and the “Weltkrieg” – Max Weber e la “Weltkrieg”

By Carlo Bordoni

Max Weber and the ' Weltkrieg' - Max Weber e la 'Weltkrieg'

The twentieth-century opened under the sign of great trust in progress and technology. Machines, which had since ever been considered as a dangerous adversary and as a source of primordial fear, quickly began to lose their disquieting aspect and to become an ally of human beings as a ductile tool to overcome physical strain. Airplanes and cars created new opportunities for transport at unprecedented speed besides steam-locomotives, which had replaced horse-powered coaches as the main connection between cities.

The military also benefited of such evolution: weapons became lighter, automatic, transportable and lethal, as the new tanks or submarines. Both war and strategy had already been changing: from Napoleonic war to Franco-Prussian war in 1870 artillery had reversed the impact of the forces on the field, but only with the new century, and in particular with the Great War, an extraordinary change occurred: war started to be conceived positively, in people’s minds even before than in the combatants’ view. General rehearsal took place in the Italian-Turkish war in 1911-1912, better known as the Libyan war, when airplanes (nine Italian aircrafts), cars, motorcycles and unfortunately toxic gas were for first employed.

The old conception of war as physical fighting carried out hand-to-hand with the enemy, with great masses of soldiers rallying enemy positions to conquer, was replaced with the idea (or illusion) of a mechanised war in which modern technology took the place of human force.

Combat was no longer based on direct fighting or on the possibility to overcome the enemy with one’s own strength, but rather by means of conduction/mastery of machines, for which knowledge, communication, expertise and promptness are really key.

This new idea of an indirect combat, mediated by technology, which let the weapons do the dirty job, was perhaps one of the main arguments that convinced people in the early years of the twentieth-century that war was after all not an evil to escape but rather an opportunity to catch, insofar as weapons rather than men would fight it and because its duration – unlike past wars, which went on for decades – would be short. A lightning-war, a Blitzkrieg as a modern war should be, in which velocity, rapidity of decision-making, courage – juvenile qualities – are determining factors.

The idea of a war which was not fearful but beautiful, if not even a source of wealth as a powerful stimulus for economic growth and change against the stagnation of the past, spread all over the early twentieth-century and persuaded also those who, as pacifists and internationalists, were afraid of being accused of weakness, cowardice, defeatism, pessimism or even worse with being reactionaries.

Nonetheless, the nineteenth-century, despite its social problems, barricades, communes, revolution and the growing pressure of masses, had been enlightened by internationalism, also derived by the experience of Socialism and Marxism, whose Manifesto of 1848 – although not rejecting violence – invited to a trans-national brotherhood which stretched beyond the interests of single countries, convinced that the problem of working-class people were the same everywhere.

Conversely, the reinforcement of the State, of national culture, traditions and interests was the aim of conservatories, who based their own principles on the defence of such ideals as the Fatherland and the State. Not by chance all right-wing movements since the nineteenth-century have recalled key-concepts such as Nation, people, and Fatherland by attributing to them some sacred value and by highlighting the emotional feeling of participation in a closed enclave, coherent and made recognisable by the share of values and symbols. Terms like people and popular, nation and national or even social often recur in the acronyms of right-wing parties and movements, which attempt to obtain consensus by moving the lever of emotions. The feeling of belonging to the nation, patriotism, so glorified during the Italian “Risorgimento”, had its part of responsibility in the growth of aggressive feelings toward other countries. Nationalism revealed itself as a fertile ground for war.

The most surprising thing is that intellectuals, and among those sociologists, who had inherited that branch of positivistic philosophy aimed at studying society with scientific method, i.e. with a super partes and objective approach, supported the interventionist position in the face of war.

Karl Emil Maximilian Weber, or Max, born in Erfurt in 1864 and dead in Munich in 1920 stood out among these sociologists. Weber was on the one hand the father of modern sociology, as he claimed the need for sound objectivity and non-evaluation in sociological research (Gesammelte Aufsätze zur Wissenschaftslehre, published in 1904 and 1917 and collected in 1922), of studies on religion up to his fundamental Wirtschaft und Gesellschaft, published posthumous in 1922; on the other hand he was the intransigent nationalist, the firm assertor of the superiority of his country and its historical mission to preserve and develop civilisation against barbarisation.

By assuming a contradictory and sometimes even counterproductive attitude, Weber showed his faith in war as a catalyser of change and as a shocking event capable of waking the consciences from lethargy and pushing civilisation forth.

Aldo Toscano, who devoted an important study to the sociologists of the Great War, wrote that since the very beginning Weber knew that sooner or later something terrible would happen and that Germany should then play its role in the world by facing the hostility of other countries. Nonetheless, Weber always remained faithful to the German cultural patriotism with sense of honour and devotion.

Therefore, the outbreak of the war found him prepared and enthusiastic. The words of his wife Marianne in his monumental biography of 1926 do not leave doubts behind: the scene is set in Weber’s house, where he is surrounded by friends and disciples on the 26 July 1914, the last Sunday before the war which would be declared two days later, on Tuesday 28. Marianne recounts that the guests asked for his opinion and waited with anxiety for his answer: he said that a war would allow young people to find the real connection with their own community by means of sacrifice.

Weber could not enlist, which made him bitter. His faith in Germany remained firm also in the face of serious familiar losses. In 1915 he wrote to his sister Lili, concerning his brother-in-law Hermann Schäfer, fallen at Tannenberg during one of the first combats, that this new war would be, despite its outcome – great and wonderful and above all expectations.

During the conflict Weber strongly defended German policy. The letter of January 1916 to Gertrud Bäumer, editor of the magazine Die Frau testifies to that, where he wrote that a people that is numerically superior, organised as a powerful State should lead the destinies of other small countries. In the same year, though, the first doubts rise. In 1916 Weber wrote that after the sinking of Lusitania on 7 May 1915 time was against Germany and that war would become a satanic event that would eventually crush the German people. Later on he started to believe that peace should be the necessary outcome of a brief war, in order to avoid irreparable economic damages. Finally, on 4 November 1918, in the face of the disastrous conditions of Germany, in a public speech in Munich Weber proposed to accept peace at all costs. But the effect was not as hoped for. He was contested and even accused of being a traitor. As others had done before, Weber too decided to write his opinion about the German responsibilities for war, in a work published in the Frankfurter Zeitung of January 1919.

The end of the war and the foundation of the Republic of Weimar saw the decline of an intellectual who always has a “secret passion” for politics and was ready to do whatever possible for his nation and to lead the young people, but who had no followers in such a quest.

Italian version:

Il secolo XX si apre all’insegna di una grande fiducia nel progresso e nella tecnologia. La macchina, da sempre considerata una temibile antagonista e fonte di una paura primordiale, sta perdendo rapidamente la sua connotazione perturbante per divenire alleata dell’uomo e farsi duttile strumento di sostituzione alla fatica fisica. L’aereo e l’automobile aprono nuove opportunità di trasporto a velocità finora impensabili e vanno ad aggiungersi al treno a vapore, sostituendo le carrozze a cavalli nel collegamento tra le città principali.

Di questa evoluzione tecnologica beneficiano ovviamente anche le attrezzature militari, le armi si fanno più leggere, automatiche, semoventi, micidiali – come il carro armato o il sottomarino. Già da tempo la guerra, assieme alla strategia di condurre le battaglie, ha cambiato volto: dalle guerre napoleoniche alla guerra franco-prussiana del 1870, l’artiglieria ha sovvertito le sorti delle forze in campo, ma è col nuovo secolo, e in specie con la “grande guerra”, che si compie la straordinaria rivoluzione nel concepire la guerra in maniera positiva, prima nelle menti delle persone che sui campi di battaglia. Le prove generali hanno luogo in occasione della guerra italo-turca del 1911-12, conosciuta anche come “guerra di Libia”, nella quale furono impiegati per la prima volta gli aerei (nove quelli italiani), ma anche auto, moto e, purtroppo, anche gas tossici.

La vecchia concezione della guerra come combattimento “fisico”, che si compie nello scontro a corpo a corpo col nemico, dove i soldati assaltano in gran numero le postazioni avversarie per conquistarle, si è andata sostituendo con l’idea (o l’illusione) di una guerra “meccanizzata”, dove la tecnologia più avanzata prende il posto delle forze umane. 

Il combattimento non è più basato sullo scontro diretto, né sulla possibilità di sopraffare l’avversario con la forza, ma attraverso la conduzione/gestione di una macchina, dove ha più importanza il sapere, il comunicare, la conoscenza del mezzo e la rapidità d’intervento.

Questa idea innovativa di combattere in forma indiretta, mediata dalla tecnologia, lasciando che siano le armi a fare il lavoro sporco, è forse una delle motivazioni principali che convincono gli uomini del primo Novecento che la guerra non sia poi un male da evitare, ma un’opportunità da cogliere, dal momento che a combatterla saranno più le armi che gli uomini e che – contrariamente al passato, la cui durata si misurava in decenni – si sarebbe risolta in breve tempo. Una guerra lampo, una blitzkrieg, come si conviene a un tempo moderno, in cui la velocità, la rapidità delle decisioni, il coraggio – tutte qualità giovaniliste – sono determinanti.

L’idea di una guerra non temibile, ma bella, persino produttiva di benessere, perché in grado di stimolare lo sviluppo economico, spingere al cambiamento, a fronte della condizione d’inerzia del passato, permea tutto il primo Novecento e finisce per convincere anche chi, pacifista e internazionalista, teme di essere accusato di debolezza, codardia, disfattismo, pessimismo o, peggio ancora, passatismo.

Eppure il secolo precedente, con tutti i problemi sociali, le barricate, le comuni, le rivoluzioni e la crescente pressione delle masse, era pervaso di uno spirito internazionalista, frutto anche dell’influenza dei movimenti socialisti e in particolare del marxismo, il cui Manifesto del 1848, pur non rifuggendo dalla violenza, invitava però a una fratellanza transnazionale che andava ben oltre gli interessi dei singoli paesi, nella convinzione che i problemi del proletariato fossero ovunque gli stessi.

Al contrario, il rafforzamento dello Stato, della cultura, delle tradizioni e degli interessi nazionali è fatto proprio dal pensiero conservatore che, sulla difesa degli ideali di patria, nazione e Stato, fonda i suoi principi.

Non è un caso che tutti i movimenti di destra, a partire dall’Ottocento e per buona parte del secolo successivo, si siano richiamati a concetti “chiave” come nazione, popolo, patria, assegnando loro un valore sacrale indiscutibile e facendo leva sull’emotività diffusa che l’appartenenza a un gruppo circoscritto, coeso e riconoscibile attraverso la comunanza di valori e simboli, poteva suscitare.

I termini popolo e popolare, nazione e nazionale, e persino sociale, si ripetono spesso nelle sigle dei movimenti e dei partiti di destra, che cercano di coagulare il consenso facendo leva sulle spinte emozionali. Il senso di appartenenza alla nazione, l’amor di patria, così tanto esaltato nel Risorgimento, ha la sua parte di responsabilità nella crescita del sentimento di rivalsa e di aggressività nei confronti degli altri paesi. Il nazionalismo si dimostra così terreno fertile per la guerra.

La cosa più sorprendente è che siano proprio gli intellettuali e, tra essi, i sociologi, eredi di quella branca della filosofia positivista che si era posta l’obiettivo di studiare la società con metodi scientifici, mantenendo un atteggiamento obiettivo e super partes, a sostenere un’opinione interventista in occasione della prima guerra mondiale.

Tra questi brilla tale Karl Emil Maximilian Weber, detto Max, nato a Erfurt nel 1864 e morto a Monaco nel 1920. Veniamo così a conoscere due Max Weber: da una parte il padre della sociologia moderna, autore dei saldi propositi dell’oggettività e dell’avalutatività nella ricerca sociologica (in Il metodo delle scienze storico-sociali apparsi nel 1904 e 1917 e raccolti nel 1922), degli studi sulla religione, fino al fondamentale Economia e società, pubblicato postumo nel 1922. Dall’altra l’intransigente nazionalista, convinto assertore della superiorità del suo paese, come della missione storica di cui esso è investito, al fine di conservare e far progredire i capisaldi della civiltà, contro l’imbarbarimento.

Con un atteggiamento contraddittorio e, a tratti, persino controproducente, Weber manifesta il suo credo nella guerra come acceleratrice del mutamento, evento scioccante che è in grado di smuovere le coscienze dal letargo e far avanzare la civiltà.

Fin dall’inizio, scrive Aldo M. Toscano, che ai sociologi della prima guerra mondiale ha dedicato uno scritto illuminante, Weber “sapeva che da un momento all’altro qualcosa di tremendo si sarebbe compiuto, e lo lasciava intendere in non pochi passaggi dei suoi scritti. Sapeva che la Germania avrebbe dovuto affrontare il nodo del suo ruolo mondiale, che nessuno avrebbe riconosciuto pacificamente.” E tuttavia “la vocazione tedesca, con tanto di patriottismo culturale, passione storica, senso dell’onore, devozione al destino e anche Lebensraum, accompagnerà Weber per tutta l’esistenza.”

Pertanto lo scoppio della guerra lo trova preparato ed entusiasta. Le parole della moglie, Marianne, nella monumentale biografia pubblicata nel 1926, non lasciano dubbi: la scena si svolge in casa Weber, attorniato da amici e discepoli, il 26 di luglio, l’ultima domenica prima della guerra, che sarebbe stata dichiarata due giorni dopo, il martedì 28.

 “Quel pomeriggio tutte queste persone preoccupate si accalcano attorno a Weber, lo portano in giro per il mondo con le loro domande e pendono ora per ora dalle sue labbra. L’esperienza più importante della sua infanzia, lo scoppio della guerra del 1870, Weber l’aveva vissuta proprio nella stessa stanza e nello stesso periodo dell’anno. Nella memoria gli sembra che lo stato d’animo allora fosse diverso: più austero e solenne. Ma adesso la decisione non è ancora presa, si può ancora giocare con il destino. Eppure, una cosa emerge già oggi: quei giovani che hanno cercato sinora la forma e il contenuto del proprio essere discosti dalla comunità, sono pronti a sacrificarsi servendo la comunità.” E subito dopo: “L’ora è giunta ed è di inimmaginata grandezza” .

Lo amareggia non potersi arruolare. La sua fiducia nella Germania non crolla neppure di fronte ai lutti in famiglia. Nel 1915 scrive alla sorella Lili, a proposito del cognato Hermann Schäfer, caduto a Tannenberg, in uno degli scontri iniziali, concludendo con le parole “perché questa guerra è – qualunque sia l’esito – veramente grande e meravigliosa al di sopra di ogni attesa.”

Durante il conflitto mantiene i suoi propositi e si conferma strenuo difensore della politica tedesca. La sua opinione è ben espressa in una lettera del gennaio 1916 e inviata a Gertrud Bäumer, curatrice del mensile “Die Frau”, che la pubblicherà nel febbraio:

“Un popolo superiore dal punto di vista numerico, organizzato come Stato di potenza, proprio per il semplice fatto di essere tale, si trova di fronte a compiti del tutto diversi rispetto a quelli che toccano agli svizzeri, ai danesi, agli olandesi o ai norvegesi.”

Ma è in quello stesso anno che cominciano a manifestarsi i primi dubbi. Infatti nel corso del 1916 Weber annota che, dopo l’affondamento del Lusitania avvenuto il 7 maggio 1915, “il tempo lavora non per la Germania, ma contro di essa; e la guerra, da straordinaria manifestazione di eroismo e di abnegazione, si trasformerà in un evento satanico che spegnerà la resistenza fisica e morale del popolo.”

Più tardi finirà per convincersi che la pace, alla fine, sia il coronamento necessario di un breve periodo di guerra, onde evitare un danno economico irreparabile. Il 4 novembre del 1918, di fronte alle evidenti difficoltà della Germania, in un discorso pubblico a Monaco, propone di stipulare la pace ad ogni costo, ma l’effetto non è quello sperato. Weber viene contestato e persino accusato di tradimento.

Così anch’egli, come avevano fatto altri prima di lui, si decide a scrivere sulle responsabilità della guerra, in uno scritto dal sapore amaro che viene pubblicato sulla “Frankfurter Zeitung” del gennaio 1919.

La fine della guerra e la nascita della Repubblica di Weimar segnano il declino di un intellettuale dalla “passione segreta” della politica, “pronto a fare qualsiasi cosa per la nazione e ad assumere la guida delle giovani leve. Ma non c’era nessuno che lo seguisse.”

For further reading

Toscano, A. M., Trittico sulla guerra. Durkheim, Weber, Pareto, Bari-Rome, Laterza, 1995

Weber, M., Max Weber. Ein Lebensbild, Tübingen, Mohr, 1926

Weber, M., Economy and society. An outline of interpretive sociology, Berkeley, University of California press, 1978

Weber, M., Scritti politici, Rome, Donzelli, 1998