Skip to main content
Disillusionment in War Literature
War in the History of Ideas (2014)
  • Esmeralda Kleinreesink
After the First World War, disillusionment is the idea that is most commonly associated with the experience of being a soldier. The romantic ideal of war as a glorious, honourable event, that will turn you into a man is shattered due to the gruesome nature of modern warfare. Or so it is often said. But is it true? Did this feeling of disillusionment start only after the First World War, or are there indications for an earlier start? Is it a country-dependent phenomenon, or one that can be found all over the Western world? And if so, is this feeling of disillusionment an all pervasive feeling that can be found from popular culture to high-brow literature, or is it limited to specific literary segments? And does it still exist in 21st century accounts of war or is disillusionment something of the past? In order to answer these questions, this paper will consist of two parts. First, I will provide an overview of what literary scholars and military historians have to say on the subject of disillusionment. From Fussell’s and Hynes’ disillusionment thesis, via Michael Paris’ warrior nation concept to Harari’s revelatory plot thesis, and many others. Secondly, I will statistically and qualitatively test both Fussell’s disillusionment thesis and Harari’s revelatory plot thesis for all contemporary military Afghanistan memoirs published between 2001 and 2010 in five different Western countries: the US, the UK, Germany, Canada and the Netherlands. This research will show whether disillusionment is still the main concept in 21st century military autobiographies and whether it is a country dependent phenomenon or not.
  • disillusionment,
  • flesh-witness,
  • disenchantment,
  • military memoir,
  • Afghanistan autobiography
Publication Date
October 14, 2014
Citation Information
Esmeralda Kleinreesink. "Disillusionment in War Literature" War in the History of Ideas (2014)
Available at: