Battlefield Emotions 1500–1800: Practices, Experience, Imagination
The battlefield is a world apart. A place that evokes emotions that civilians do not know and veterans try to grasp in their memoirs. There is suffering, agony, fear, exhaustion, but also the pleasure of being with one’s comrades, being absorbed in group action, the power of life and death, the excitement of a game: to hit, to win, to be pushed to physical and emotional limits.1 One of most enduring adages in military memoirs since the late sixteenth century is that it is impossible to imagine what the battlefield is like for those who have never been there. Not only are traumatic experiences difficult to share, many battlefield emotions are loaded with taboos and sometimes shame and guilt. Compared to their predecessors, modern media pay much attention to individual and intimate feelings like fear and dejection suffered by the military subject. The psycho-medicalisation of Western society has turned soldiers from heroes into perpetrators and victims of their uncontrollable emotions. As Mary Favret noted in her lecture at one of our workshops: nowadays more US Soldiers die from suicide than on the battlefields across the world.2 Emotions can be lethal. It is difficult to live with the memory of violence, with fear or with guilt. It seems to be even more difficult to reconnect emotionally to a world that does not share these memories and does not understand or appreciate what has been lived through.