Storm Of Steel Quotes – Ernst Jünger Quotes (Author Of Storm Of Steel)

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One of the most memorable takeaways from Storm of Steel is the staggering amount of suffering and death that Jünger describes, and not just that of people close to him. Because Storm of Steel is adapted from Jünger’s 16 volumes of wartime diaries, he obviously took great care to record these events in detail. Yet Jünger is restrained, not gratuitous, in his remembrance of death, and he often adds minimal, albeit powerful, comments on the effects such events had on him. Through his attentiveness to such details, Jünger suggests that proximity to suffering and death fundamentally changes a person, eventually pulling that person into its realm and making them a participant in it, not just a witness.

War transforms a person’s perceptions, making one react differently to ordinary things than they’ve done before. Reflecting on the first big scares in his early war experience, Jünger remarks, “This was something that was to accompany us all through the war, that habit of jumping at any sudden and unexpected noise. Whether it was a train clattering past, a book falling to the floor, or a shout in the night—on each occasion, the heart would stop with a sense of mortal dread. It bore out the fact that for four years we lived in the shadow of death. The experience hit so hard in that dark country beyond consciousness, that every time there was a break with the usual, the porter Death would leap to the gates with hand upraised, like the figure above the dial on certain clock towers<.>” In short, death transfigures the ordinary. Once someone becomes aware of their proximity to death, even everyday noises become potential threats.

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Exposure to suffering and death even begins to alter a person’s typical reactions to the world around them. Jünger recalls that, on the way to the Battle of the Somme, “a driver split his thumb in the course of crank-starting his lorry. The sight of the wound almost made me ill, I have always been sensitive to such things. I mention this because it seems virtually unaccountable as I witnessed such terrible mutilation in the course of the following days. It’s an example of the way in which one’s response to an experience is actually largely determined by its context.” This passage is remarkable because every chapter of Storm of Steel is filled with Jünger’s stoic descriptions of horrifying injuries—yet the sight of a relatively mundane, non-critical injury sickens him, as he’s “sensitive to such things.” This passage suggests that the unique pressures of warfare really can have a transforming effect on an individual’s psyche, steeling him against traumatic horrors witnessed daily, even while lifelong squeamishness remains unchanged.

In altering a person’s view of the world, however, proximity to death actually goes on to fundamentally change a person’s makeup in some way. There is, in fact, a “devilish” power at work in suffering that changes a person, even if they’re merely witnessing it. The first time Jünger witnesses traumatic war injuries firsthand, he is momentarily undone: “This was the home of the great god Pain, and for the first time I looked through a devilish chink into the depths of his realm. <…> I lost my head completely. Ruthlessly, I barged past everyone on my path, before finally <…> climbing out of the hellish crush of the trench <…> Like a bolting horse, I rushed through dense undergrowth, across paths and clearings, till I collapsed in a copse by the .” Jünger isn’t ashamed to admit his terror in the face of extreme suffering (even that of others, not his own). It’s something beyond human comprehension—a realm of “devilish” gods, something that reduces even the bravest person to an almost animal-like, irrational flight.

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After inhabiting this “realm” for long enough, a person becomes in some way “demonic” himself. By the time he has become seasoned in battle, Jünger experiences a unique battlefield “excitement” that he has experienced nowhere else in his life. The smell of corpses hangs in the air, and “this heavy sweetish atmosphere was not merely disgusting; it also <…> brought about an almost visionary excitement, that otherwise only the extreme nearness of death is able to produce. Here, and really only here, I was to observe that there is a quality of dread that feels as unfamiliar as a foreign country. In moments when I felt it, I experienced no fear as such but a kind of exalted, almost demoniacal lightness; often attended by fits of laughter I was unable to repress.” Jünger makes no effort to explain this “foreign” quality. Indeed, it seems to defy human explanation: it’s repugnant, “demoniacal,” and at the same time bizarrely joyful. It seems that, in Jünger’s view, a person’s proximity to death renders him something other than human, albeit briefly.

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If its unshrinking depiction of violence is Storm of Steel’s most striking characteristic, then perhaps the second most striking is its reticence in evaluating said violence. Throughout the book, and even after he describes the strange hilarity that sometimes befalls soldiers, Jünger is mainly concerned with reporting his experiences, not philosophizing. Arguably, though, Jünger’s spare descriptions of death’s “demonic” power over people speak volumes. War undermines one’s humanity; perhaps he feels that little more needs to be said.

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