War Dead

Western societies and the casualties of war

Luc Capdevila, Daniele Voldman

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Wars in the industrial age kill large numbers of people. What do societies involved in these conflicts do with all the corpses? How do they show them respect? How do they dispose of them? What is their attitude to the bodies of the enemies?

In the 19th century, those who died on the battlefield were pushed into mass graves, their identities unknown. Today, their remains are held in such high esteem that they are tracked down in order that last respects might be paid. As a historical account of the way in which war and death intersect, this book describes the complex attitude societies have towards death. Lured by the concept of eternal youth, tempted to deny death as well as physical decay, faced with longer life expectancy, we retain the hope of going off to war without loss of life. But does not our own expectation of "zero death" imply "more deaths" for the other side?

1 The War Dead
2 Identifying the Dead to Mourn them Properly
3 Armies and States faced with their War Dead
4 What should be done with Enemy Corpses?
5 Ways of Bidding Farewell
6 Ritualised Mourning in Acts of Commemoration

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Luc Capdevila is a Lecturer in Contemporary History at the University of Rennes. He is co-author of Hommes et femmes dans la France en guerre as well as author of many articles on war and culture.

Danièle Voldman is Director of Research at the Institut d’histoire du temps présent. She has written on oral history, societies at war and French post-war reconstruction.

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