The Great War
Throughout Ross’s oeuvre, the Great War appears in various ways, but as a motif it is always used in order to argue for one or another purpose.
As many of his contemporaries, Ross fought in the First World War. This episode in his biography was a useful reference whenever he wanted to position himself as a military expert and journalist. He also readily referred to it whenever he depicted destroyed landscapes or people in despair. In line with the dominant German discourse on the Great War, he used the topos of the war’s tragedy to explain the fate of the Auslandsdeutsche (Germans abroad) all over the world. It was one of his—and like-minded colleagues in conservative revolutionary circles—most favorite arguments in interpreting the German, European, and global crisis of the interwar period. Finally, the Great War also served as a device to delegitimize the foreign policy of international bodies and single countries (mostly on the victors’ side), and justify Germany’s revisionist, Nazi-inspired goals after 1933.
Ross’s participation in the First World War as a soldier, after he had reported from the Balkan wars in 1912 and visited the rebel groups in the Mexican civil war, turned out to be a long-lasting experience and a multipurpose selling point.
In his 1916 Berlin lecture he presented himself as a sober military strategist who understood the implications of modern armed conflicts. Trench warfare as well as technical developments challenged both fighting troops and military leadership and called for a reconsideration of the traditional methods of military operations (see The military strategist and When two ‘experts’ meet).
The defeat of the Central Powers and, in its aftermath, the failed German revolution along with the Versailles Treaty created a tenacious perception among large sections of German society of being victimized. This gave rise to the Conservative Revolution and reactionary modernism.1 More specifically, these events influenced a wide range of literary and pragmatic genres, such as travelogues and autobiographical writing, as Erhard Schütz convincingly showed.2 In this, Ross was no exception. His lectures, however, evince a more nuanced appropriation of the war experience. Beside its technical dimensions, warfare is used as a benchmark and point of controversy in Ross’s political, propagandistic considerations, in which he oscillates between pacifism and warmongering (see The war for England and The better world coming).
1 See in general Rolf-Peter Sieferle. Die Konservative Revolution. Fünf biographische Skizzen. Frankfurt am Main: Fischer; 1995 (Fischer Taschenbuch) and Jeffrey Herf. Reactionary modernism: technology, culture, and politics in Weimar and the Third Reich. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press 1984.
2 Erhard Schütz. Autobiographien und Reiseliteratur. In: Bernhard Weyergraf ed. Literatur der Weimarer Republik 1918–1933. München; Wien: Carl Hanser; 1995 (Hansers Sozialgeschichte der deutschen Literatur vom 16. Jahrhundert bis zur Gegenwart; 8); 549-600, and Romane der Weimarer Republik. München: Fink; 1986 (UTB).
A decade after Germany’s defeat, Ross brings up World War I in a variety of subjects, ranging from Australian-German relations to magical thinking.
It is not surprising that World War I is a touchstone for Ross’s writing on Auslandsdeutsche who lived through anti-German resentment in Australia and New Zealand or on his large-scale geopolitical arguments. German geopolitics arguably became prominent in reaction to the defeat and loss of territories in World War I.1
But what is astonishing is the wide range of subjects and experiences that Ross presents through the prism of his experiences during the Great War, whether he acquaints himself with some Australian men primarily via their war memories (see: Sharing anti-British resentment with veterans), compares gruesome sights in a quarantine hospital to things seen on the battlefield (see: A reference point for visceral horror), or brings up his own fighting experiences as (tenuous) proof for the efficacy of intuition and premonition (see: Surviving thanks to intuition). In all those cases, World War I figures as a vivid, shared memory, a yardstick against which both Ross and his readers can measure the experiences the world has in store.
1 See: David Michael Murphy. The New Weapon. Geopolitics in Weimar Culture and Politics. In: The Heroic Earth. Geopolitical Thought in Weimar Germany, 1918–1933. Kent - London: Kent State University Press; 1997; 43–7.