Across Europe the same sanguinary rhetoric was in use. In England, the poet-laureate Lord Tennyson gave the narrator-hero of ‘Maud’ a starry vision of ‘a hope for the world in the coming wars’, not because there was any rational justification for those unspecified wars but because peace ‘was full of wrongs and shames,/Horrible, hateful, monstrous, not to be told’ while ‘the blood-red blossom of war with a heart of fire’ was ‘pure and true.’
In France, General Georges Boulanger talked of the invigorating power of bloodshed. In Germany, canny Chancellor Bismarck might protest that Germany had no further need to fight but his realism was out-shouted by the bellicosity of the circles around the young Prince (soon to be Kaiser) Willhelm. By the 1880s spokesmen of all the Italian groupings were expressing their patriotism in calls for war - any war, anywhere. Peace was demoralising. The national character must be strengthened in ‘the crucible of war’. This war need have no precise strategic aims. War was great and glorious, and good for the soul.”
From The Pike, Lucy Hughes-Hallett’ brilliant biography of Gabriele d’Annunzio, the Italian poet, aviator, nationalist demagogue , war hero, exploitative friend, sexually promiscuous lover, precious aesthete, negligent father and inspirer of Mussolini.
100 years on from the start of the World War I, it is really shocking to read about the attitudes to battle before it happened:
"Like Owen, d’Annunzio knew that in war men died as cattle. Unlike Owen, he considered their death not only dulce et decorum, sweet and fitting, but sublime.”