Dr. Jay Winter, professor of history at Yale University, visited UTSA on Sept. 20 to discuss the effacement of war in the twentieth century. Winter has been a professor of history at Yale University since 2001 where his specialization lies in the study of World War I and its international effects.
The historical scholar came to UTSA to lead a lecture on how the depiction of war has changed in contemporary media and art. Winter drew the comparison to an artistic depiction made by Paul Klee, represented in the 1920 copper etching plate Angelus Novus, of an angel staring down at the human race, his eyes staring, mouth open, wings spread.
He argued that this is one of the best representations of war created during the twentieth century. This is what war, which evolved during the early twentieth century, awakened in the human race, a series of horrendous events, which seemed never-ending at that point in history, Winter argued.
Winter explained his premise by first giving background on the events leading to the effacement of war. He explained that during World War I, globalized empires such as the Ottoman, German and Austro-Hungarian empires fought on a scale that had not been seen before. Winter explained that the magnitude of cruelty that took place between 1914 and 1918 paved the way to greater evil and violations of the “rules of war” in the years to come.
Winter pointed out that World War I was the first time in history where war was industrialized through the aid of modern technology. While the Hague Declaration of 1899 forbade the use of poisonous weapons in warfare, their use in World War I was inevitable, he explained.
To fight against the use of these chemical weapons the gas mask was developed and soldiers would no longer portray human faces, changing the image of war forever.
Completely removing the human face from warfare by covering it is to dehumanize the act of war, Winter argues, is what led to greater cruelty during the Second World War, a war where extreme genocide was committed. Almost seventy years later, its repercussions can still be seen.
Winter drew a distinction between two books that have become emblems of World War II: “The Diary of Anne Frank” and “At the Edge of Abyss” by David Koker. The first describes the days of Anne Frank prior to being sent to a concentration camp and the latter is a diary written during Koker’s days spent at a concentration camp.
The notable difference between the two is that the published copies of “The Diary of Anne Frank” have a picture of her face on the cover. While only a few copies of “At the Edge of Abyss” exist with a picture of Koker’s face because, as Winter alleges, the atrocities millions of people experienced in concentration camps was not human. Winter used this example to show that modern media and art does not accurately associate the human face with war.
Winter summarized the lecture by saying that in 1914, war still had a human face. However, over time, the faces of those who have fought in war and those who have become its victims have slowly faded from sight.
He concluded by saying war is no longer represented through the human face in paintings, sculpture or media arts.
Winter believes that, as it exists today, war is, “something so terrifying that not even gods can rescue humans from themselves.”