German aviation propaganda poster by Ludwig Hohlwein.
The air race was the object of limitless envy among infantry, mired in mud and seeming helplessness. Soldiers looked up from their trenches and saw in the air a purity of combat that the ground war had lost. The “knights in the sky” were engaged in a conflict in which individual effort still counted, romantic notions of honor, glory, heroism, and chivalry were still intact. In the air, war still had meaning. Flyers were the aristocracy of war” - “the resurrection of our personality,” as one writer put it. Flying was associated with freedom and independence, an escape from the horrendous collective slaughter of a war of matériel. In the air war could maintain values, including respect for one’s enemy, values that lay at the foundation of civilization and that the war on the ground appeared to be negating. The most significant technological achievement of the modern world was thus also seen as a means of affirming traditional values.
- Modris Eksteins, Rites of Spring: The Great War and the Birth of the Modern Age.