Ernst Friedrich and his Book of Shock Photographs of the First World War, entitled War against War

TitleErnst Friedrich and his Book of Shock Photographs of the First World War, entitled War against War
Publication TypeConference Paper
Author(s)Becker, J.
Affiliation (1st Author)Marburg University
Section or WGPolitical Economy Section
DateFri 28 June
Slot CodePEF4b
Slot Code (Keyword)PEF4b
Time of Session16:00-17:30
Session TitleFree speech, visual discourses and the invisible
Submission ID5119

The First World War was one of the most ferocious and brutal of wars, resulting in 10 million dead and 20 million wounded soldiers, and a further 7 million civilian victims. At the same time, it was one of the first media wars, in a dual sense. For the first time, all the warring nations had an official propaganda offices at their disposal (press, flyers, posters, caricatures), while on the other hand, the war helped to spur technical advances in the media of photography, film and telephony.   In 1924 the pacifist anarchist Ernst Friedrich (1894-1967) responded to this primordial catastrophe of the 20th century with his two-volume book War against War. One year later, he founded an International Anti-War Museum in Berlin; the Nazis destroyed that museum as early as 1933. Friedrich then went into exile in Switzerland, joined the Résistance in France and was active in international youth work there from 1945 to 1967.   His book War against War was a succeed due to one simple principle. Over almost 500 pages, it shows hundreds of merciless, brutal pictures of desperate soldiers crippled in the First World War. Friedrich did this because, as he himself put it, he wanted to capture an image of war that was “soberly true” and “down to earth-accurate”, and because he wanted to show “truth” and “reality”. His wish was to “finally tear the mask” off war propaganda.   This lecture aims to, first, classify Friedrich’s book War against War in terms of contemporary world-war propaganda and media critique of the First World War. Second, to systematise the visual statements in the book according to political, aesthetic, moral, press law, psychological and image-theoretical criteria. And third, to compare it with shocking war images of recent years and address the issue of why, currently, such images are only shown on the Internet, and hardly ever on TV or in the press.    

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