The Example Analysis of Home Fires Burning
Home Fires Burning by Belinda J. Davis is a narrative that discusses the role poor German women had during the food crisis of World War I, and the inner-workings of both German daily life and government during this time. The book places a keen focus on what Davis calls the “minderbemittelt Frauen” also known as “Women of little means.” These women were a significant percentage of the population and were the individuals that were feeling the effects of the war the most harshly. They waited in long food lines and often took to the streets of Berlin to protest the famine. Many other Germans believed in these women of little means.
They felt they were expressing opinions that many Germans had but did not want to protest for. On page 61 Davis quotes the Reichstag which “equated the ‘poor consumer’ with ‘we Germans’ and ‘the people’ (das Volk) against foreign foes as well as internal enemies who threatened civil peace...” This quote is important because it shows that many, especially in urban centers, were uniting with these “minderbemittelt Frauen” women in order to better Germanic life. They were lobbying against these internal enemies that enjoyed monetary gain from their hardship, like many merchants. These women of little means, through protest, were able to acquire political as well as social influence which allowed them to popularize the German food crisis to make the state aware of the injustice.
There is a loose order of events Davis abides by when retelling what Germany endured during the WWI period. It was clear as the famine continued many German citizens began to lose faith in the way the government provided for their people. There was widespread support for the war in the early stages of 1914, but once these working women were unable to feed their children or themselves public opinion began to change. Davis cites public support for the war waning as early as October 1915. In fact the conservative press aligned themselves with many of these poor women.
Davis discusses the Evangelical Reichsbote and his comment “‘Unfortunately we people cannot yet live entirely on air alone.’” Davis makes an incredibly good point in these early chapters, by showing the reader how early citizens began to express their negative feelings for the war. Many scholars believe this shift was largely due to the Turnip Winter of 1916-17, which poor harvests were yielded and many starved. However Davis makes clear that the famine "played a significant role in transforming relations between state and society" as early as october 1914.
The women in Berlin were rapidly losing faith in their government. The German state promised to feed those they governed throughout this war period. This, at first, pacified many protesters however it quickly became clear this promise was empty. Davis presents a clear shift. These women of little means stopped solely blaming the war for all of their immense hardship. Due to the states inability to feed the population they began to place the blame on the government itself. This shift in opinion allowed a new view to be upheld.
Germans, specifically these women of low means, felt that their nation was made up of the people protesting, therefore they were the nation itself. Davis writes that these protesters “claimed themselves to be the real site of the nation”. Furthermore, the government could either serve or ignore these protesters at their own risk. This was an inclusive view that feels democratic. These women recognized the power and influence they began to exhibit on their society. In fact, Davis makes it clear that they enjoyed widespread support among institutions in Germany. The press as well as policemen stood behind them and their cause.
It is important to understand the viewpoint Davis is focusing on when retelling this pivotal time in German history. She has a keen focus on gender in her retelling, that is only specific to a book such as this. Many, especially those around cities, began to see these German women of little means incredibly important. Gender plays a big role in this book. The food crisis that took place during WWI gave these German women confidence. Confidence that otherwise would not have been acquired. They felt relevant and capable. These women of little means could effectively protest and significantly sway public opinion. This is a confidence that was carried throughout the rest of their history. It was in its early stages at this time but the protests these women stood for, led directly to them achieving more rights as time went on.
Throughout WWI Germany’s government consistently lost support from the people. The government promised to ensure their civilians nutritional needs throughout the war. However Davis points out “Officials would regret still more the more general expecta- tion, now legitimated, that the state was responsible for the needs of the greater population.”. The reason these officials would regret the promise of feeding the nation is because it lacked the means to do so.
They were largely ineffective and by 1918 failed completely. German civilians had lost faith and wanted a leader that would not buckle. Davis puts it as “an incorruptible food dictator.” This idea of a food dictator sounds counterintuitive when discussing democracy. However many Germans at the time desired a government that would take the needs of average citizens into account. The Weimar Republic proved they were unable to do this during WWI, when they were unable to feed their population after promising so.
Davis provides a strong account of what happened during this era. However, reading Home Fires Burning sometimes felt confusing. She often abruptly jumped between discussing different topics. This made some sections hard to follow, however it was interesting how she tied the gender movement and the political movement into one. She also seemed to leave out specific political organizations and their overall effect on the food crisis during the time.
That being said, Belinda J. Davis provides a keen narrative that not many authors have written about before. The role that women of poor means had in Germany during WWI is immense. These women proved themselves when taking on their government. They did not back down when they saw the opportunity for change. They did not sit aside and starve while their husbands fought the rich man’s wars. The minderbemittelt Frauen understood their government had a responsibility to care for their civilians, a promise they had made. The Weimar Republic failed to keep such a promise. As a result these women brought about intense social and political change which contributed to women's suffrage in the future. The only way to understand what Germany’s government became after 1918 is to study those who contributed to the change.