Steel and Blood: For a Cultural History of Edged Weapons between the Late Nineteenth and the Early Twentieth Centuries

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

Abstract

Weapon and their usage play an essential role in shaping the image of friends and foes. In late Nineteenth/early Twentieth century Europe, the ‘cold steel’ of bayonets steadily grew to epitomize – quite paradoxically – both the ‘cold blood’ of Western, ‘civilized’ soldiers fighting against their unruly enemies, and the élan allowing them to overcome technical and operative limits and gain the upper hand by the sheer strength of their spirit. At the same time, especially in colonial discourse, knives and daggers, in their different forms and declinations, emerged – together with Kipling’s ‘ten-rupee jezail’ – as key elements to represent and symbolize the savagery and treacherousness of white men’s barbarous or semi-barbarous opponents. Aim of the paper is contextualize this process, focusing on some key passages in the ‘narrative of the hedged weapons’. More specifically, it focuses – rather than on combat effectives – on the emergence of a long lasting ‘myth of the bayonet’ and on the cultural bifurcation, leading to bayonet’s symbolic differentiation from its non-Western homologues. A special attention is devoted to the relations between bayonet as cultural artefact and the consolidation of firearms in the role of ‘queens of battles’. In this perspective, it is worth noting that the equation ‘cold steel = cold blood’ imposes itself in an age of pre-eminently long-distance engagements, becoming in tactical manuals a moral and operative antidote to what is perceived as a too much mechanized and ‘dehumanized’ way of waging war.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationA Cultural History of Firearms in the Age of Empire
EditorsKaren Jones, Giacomo Macola, David Welch
Pages149-162
Number of pages14
Publication statusPublished - 2013

Keywords

  • Armi da fuoco
  • Armi da taglio
  • Età dell'imperialismo
  • Storia culturale

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