George Walford: Military Martyrs

Systematic ideology distinguishes between a major ideology and the ways in which it finds expression; the one ideology may appear in a variety of forms, authoritarian religion and military activities, for example, both giving shape to the ideology of principle / domination. (See “The Church Military“, IC50 p. 18). Fallen Soldiers, by George L. Mosse, draws attention to some of the techniques by which modern European nations, particularly Germany, have managed to render war less unacceptable. They incorporate into military memorial rituals such religious concepts as ‘sacrifice,’ ‘crusade,’ ‘martyrs’ (cf Horst Wessel), ‘shrines’ and ‘pilgrimages.’ “As real religion attenuates, the pseudo-religion of military sanctification moves into its place, and The Last Post and Taps replace holy benedictions.” (Review by Paul Fussell, TLS Sept 27). This is not, of course, the only ersatz religion; an earlier number of IC drew attention to a report that people sometimes unconsciously genuflected before taking their seats in the cathedral hush of the cinema, and the television set now commonly occupies the place of honour once held by an icon.

from Ideological Commentary 54, Winter 1991.