David Lloyd George once commented, in a highly patriotic sense upon ‘the making of a new Europe-a new world’, to what degree was this true is debatable to a great extent, after all the armistice signed on November 11th 1918, didn’t confirm victory but only to learn a horrific number of 9,000,000 million fatalities were caused due to world war 1. Surely enough this was a new Europe? As a country, life would go on in England, but for wives, children and family the tragedy seemed to live on.
For many the thought of a war had urged men to fight for their country and ‘do their bit’. This was the pinpoint of where the tragic narrative begun. At first war was encouraged and seen as very exciting, but during and after the war these views changed dramatically.
Many of the opinions, feelings and views on war have been reflected in many different types of literature. Novels such as ‘Regeneration’ and ‘Strange Meeting’ illustrate the emotions, which were carried by most world war one soldiers. ‘A Journeys End’ and Gallipoli’ also take us through a narrative of happy, sad, tragic and anxious moments. The visual aid is advantageous to the audience as we are able to distinguish between the characters behaviour by seeing how each one responds to the reality of war. Many of the poems also provide in depth knowledge of attitudes towards the war, as they can be trusted due to time that they were created in. in many ways these poems written before and after the war reflect the truth behind the feeling of war. Poetry was a superb device for expressing the soldier’s honesty and thoughts, particularly the well known Wilfred Owen and Seigfried Sassoon.
The pre war poems most definitely would have been pro war, as at this time no one was aware of the deadly consequences after the war. Some poems were a device to raise the morale of young men to encourage them to go to war. In Jessie Pope’s, ‘Who’s For The Game’, the fact that she is a women emphasises the reason to go to war. Pope personifies the country as a ‘She’, which vaguely gives the image of a man impressing a woman.
‘And she’s looking and calling for you’
Pope has created an extremely lighthearted poem, which can’t be taken seriously at all, as she refers to the war as being a ‘game’. She tries to bring out the theme of male competition, with the idea of who can be the best?
‘Who’ll grip and tackle the job unafraid’
This poem proves to be ideological, as it’s not the truth, but its what would have been preferred to the real outcome.
Similarly Harold Begbie also created a highly patronizing poem to encourage soldiers to war in ‘Fall In’. Begbie refers to the boy as ‘Sonny’ and takes us through a narrative of how life would be if one did not participate in war. Like Jessie Pope, Begbie has also used women as a device but in a more obvious way.
‘But what will you lack when your mate goes by
With a girl who cuts you dead?’
The general attitude that can be detected in these poems is of a non-serious one. At the time, it wasn’t known that events would become so serious, after all most people believed that war would be over by Christmas. After the war, reading these types of poems would show people that war wasn’t about impressing people, neither was it a simple fight, but was a life risk, which would eternally change everything for a individual and his family. I think the poems are insensitive and lack understanding of what was being asked from these young men. However it is an obvious sign that the pre war poets were just as naï¿½ve as the soldiers who decided to join the war.
However there were pre war poems, which weren’t as manipulative and sly, poems such as ‘Ad Astra’ by Mollie Corbally and ‘The Dead 111 and 1V’ by Rupert Brooke, show the war to be devastating and sad but what overweighs this sadness is the great respect of ‘honouring’. These poets have explored the emotions, which are caused by the deaths and tragedies and make the reader fully aware, that they too are aware of the effects. However these poets cleverly honour these dead soldiers as a contribution to their part in the war. It’s a positive factor that these soldiers were honoured, they certainly deserved this respect. However even the men who hadn’t gone to the war, they did not deserve any less respect then those who did participate in the war.
‘Men are sighing and women weep,
Ah! Foolish friends do not grieve for me,
For I heard God call in the silent night,
And flew on, into eternity’
Similarly in ‘The Dead 111’, Brooke refers to the dead being ‘rarer gifts then gold’
So much honour is given to these soldiers that it becomes muddled into a lie, considering they are pre war writings. Its as if a propaganda device is being deliberately used to protect the authorities reasons for why should a country have to suffer and go to war and also to avoid these types of discussions, by the country being swept into a trap of just honouring and remembering the dead, but to also at the same time forget the motives behind war and whose fault it was really to cause the country in so much distress. The two poems exclude all subject areas of sadness after death for family, the grief that they have to deal with. Mollie Corbally connects death and religion, as she talks of life after death, though the country was more Christian than any other religion, it still doesn’t prove this statement to be true. After all the war was dealings of science, weapons of mass destruction, this totally opposes the thought of religion.
Optimism was the general feeling before war, and these poems now may be seen as a mistake, as they simply did not reflect the reality of the actual situation. It is true we honour the men that fought and died in the war but this honour most certainly wasn’t worth dying for to receive. These soldiers could have had a longer life and lived on many years, where they could be appreciated by people that genuinely love them such as family members. Not a country that would remember them once a year. It seems that as time goes on, the country is constantly evolving encouraging science, and remembering the dead from world war one has simply become a marked tradition, not something people want to actually do from the bottom of there hearts, especially the younger generation.
During and after the war came the biggest change due to the realistic effects, which totally opposed this idealised poems and posters had been witnessed and proved back at home. Poets and experienced soldiers such as
Wilfred Owen and Seigfried Sassoon came into being through their poetry; even female poets began showing the negativity towards war. Finally the truth was being spoken and this probably was the only achievement gained from war.
‘Does it Matter?’ a poem found at Craiglockhart in 1917, adapted a similar style of the idealised pre war poems by conveying the poem in the same light-hearted way manner. The poet speaks in a very sarcastic tone, to emphasis the seriousness and damaging effects of war.
‘Does it matter? – Loosing your sight?…
There’s such splendid work for the blind,’
It contrasts with the earlier poems, as although many people died and were honoured, what about the people who were injured for life? They were the real victims who would have a lifetime of suffering. The phrase ‘Does it matter’ is repeated at the beginning of each stanza, as it helps the reader realise that of course it matters, because although you’ve fought for your country, you now have to face the consequences alone.
Seigfried Sassoon was a British officer, who spent much of the war at the front. Sassoon poetry is amongst the greatest in providing not only imagery, but in depth description of the hellish madness out on the front. What was so unique about Sassoon was he didn’t focus around the sadness of war, but rather the causes of it. In his poems he shows his bitterness is a cause because the men around him sacrificed their lives for no reason but for the egos of the political classes of Britain and Europe. He also went as far as criticising the military officers; he believed their tactics were wrong. In ‘Counter-Attack’, he blames the military officer that ‘the counter attack had failed’
Sassoon challenges poems such as ‘The Dead’, in his own ‘The Hero’. ‘The Hero’ would simply be seen as yet another honourable poem, but in this poem, it contradicts the idea of honour and he says it’s all false.
‘Quietly the Brother officer went out
He’d told the poor old dear some gallant lies’
He shows not only his opinion but also the reality of these authority figures in society. If the dead were there to honour, then surely enough lying to their families about how they died would be dishonourable. It’s very saddening that the grieving family and friends would forever carry false memories. It clearly shows no respect and that each soldier was just a number. It seemed that the country itself, weren’t a united body as this is how they could treat each other.
Sassoon blames officers for the death of their own soldiers and portrays them in a very evil way. Even in ‘The General’, Sassoon attacks the incompetence and inhumanity of senior officers.
Sassoon also through his poems shows the great empathy towards his fellow soldiers by recreating the scary moments of war again to give us an idea of how the fear loomed over most soldiers. In his 1917- ‘Suicide in the trenches’, he describes how a soldier shot himself in the brain. This is how much soldiers were scared of being in the war. Sassoon is in with sympathy as he attacks the public too.
‘You smug-faced crowds with kindling eye
Who cheer when soldier lads march by,
Sneak home and pray you’ll never know
The hell where youth and laughter go’
This last stanza clearly attacks all the public including all the poets who had lack of understanding of the war. For Sassoon, it seemed that the majority of people were oblivious to the reality of the war.
Wilfred Owen was one of Sassoon’s friends and the attitude they shared towards war was similar, yet they applied it in different ways. Instead of attacking the different authority heads, Owen portrayed a strong amount of sympathy for the men who had to fight in the war. In his famous ‘Dulce et Decorum est’ he describes the event of when they were attacked by gas and how one man died from poisonous gas.
‘He plunges at me, guttering, chocking, drowning’
He appeals to the reader that if they knew of the horrifying deaths that in world war one, they would never tell ‘the old lie: Dulce et Docorum est pro patria mori, which means ‘how sweet and fitting it is to die for ones country’. This is very believable, as Owen has just described the scene of a terrible death.
Owen also shows the consequences and the long term effects soldiers had to face, which is shown in ‘Disabled’
‘Legless, sewn, short at elbow’
‘Voices of play and pleasure after day’
Owen feels empathy for a soldier who has to cope with life changing effects, the boy can no longer do normal things like he used, such as flirt with the girls.
Generally after the war, attitudes changed immensely, even women poets expressed their feelings. Vera Britain is many of the partners who suffered a loss of a lover.
‘Perhaps some day the sun will shine again’
We instantly know the sunshines most of the time, so we know from this that she is depressed and feels isolated. Her world feels cold and dark. This poem may not reflect in particular Brittain’s attitude to war, but it shows the effect it had on her and it contrasts with the propaganda posters and earlier poems, whereby women were used as a device to encourage men to go to war. It’s quite obvious that to go to war is not worth the consequences you have to later face.
Its quite clear to distinguish between the anti war and pro war poems due to the time specification, however at times it may seem unclear, as you can question whether some poets thought war was needed, but it was sad that loved ones died, because this then can not necessary be seen as anti war, but more of a contributory poem.
‘Regeneration’ by Pat Barker was a novel, which showed the negativity of war and its devastating effects. The novel itself has the power to decide a reader’s attitude towards war. We the readers are put in the heart of all the suffering, Craiglockhart.
Rivers character and his profession is the answer to what war is about, corruption and tragedy, he recovers patients and in turn we learn of there pain and suffering. Rivers at the beginning can be seen as another authority figure with lack of understanding of the war ordeal. But through the novel, we see how Rivers almost becomes a type of father figure to his patients.
Rivers not only helps his patients by going through events with them, but due to this intellectual attitude he pays close attention to Sassoon’s poetry, which he admires and much more astonishing he holds conversations with Sassoon on the subject of ‘pacifism’.
His patients also hold great trust in Rivers, for example Prior feels confident enough to tell Rivers that one of the attacks felt ‘sexy’. Rivers being emotionally repressed due to his background allows him to understand the patient’s thoughts and views with an open mind; he too in turn also opens up. Its through Rivers the narrative is carried along, as through Rivers perception, we have to be patient with the soldiers and learn the way they are feeling by applying an attitude of open mindedness.
‘Strange Meeting’ by Susan Hill also similarly focus’s on relationships to bring out the pacifist view of war. Hilliard and Barton form an extremely positive and close relationship, as they are complete opposites who are put together in an identical situation-the war. Barton being a new recruit is benign and innocent to the reality of war, which is admired by Hilliard, as he follows a very pessimistic view and occasionally hallucinates. I find this relationship very similar to Stanhope and Christian in ‘A Journeys End’. The visualization helped to convey the attitude to war more explicitly. It seems that opposites shared more common ground with each other, simply because one soldier lacked what they other had and vice versa.
Having watched ‘A Journeys End’ and ‘Gallipoli’, the visual aid provided a better understanding towards the attitude of war. ‘Gallipoli’ was a narrative being told from beginning to end, showing how at the start a young boy was eager and enthusiastic to join the war, but as time went on and deaths increased, the morale and excitement dissolved. ‘Gallipoli’ reflected Sassoon’s critics of ‘bad tactics’ and ‘ruthless senior officers’. This was shown in ‘Gallipoli’ of men marching up to the front and then instantly being shot, which was very disturbing and it certainly provided a dominant negative reading of war.
The anticipation and patience of war was conveyed strongly in ‘A Journeys End’. They play went through long moments of waiting to give the audience a taste of the tension under the trenches. The relationships shown between Stanhope and Uncle formed the happy, comic moments, which to the soldiers were a novelty, as happiness was a rare feeling while fighting in the war.
The use of alcohol has been shown in a number of texts. The idea was that alcohol was consumed to really hide away or shadow reality for a while for the soldiers. Stanhope being the 21-year-old CO, confided in alcohol throughout the play to drown away his fears. Hibbert too, who initially tried to get sent home by seeking medical grounds also resorts to the consumption of alcohol purely to build up his confidence and forget his fears.
Through each character, different interpretations of the attitudes towards war can be seen. Uncle Osborne being the most comforting character suggests that ‘human goodness can survive in even the most desperate circumstances’. He knows deep down that these poor men have been placed in the most horrible situation, which they are most likely to die in. yet he tries to raise the morale to keep the soldiers going and living in hope instead of nerves.
The new recruit Christian echo’s Barton’s character from ‘Strange Meeting’ as both are new young boys, who are excited and enthusiastic to take part in the war and almost see it as a game.
World war one proved that ‘A war to end all wars’ was meaningless. One can argue that this was quite simply said to make Britain feel a sense of unity and give them a sense of authority that they would be the reason behind ‘World Peace’. Unfortunately world war one created further problems. It became a solution to all world problems. Violence was now a ‘solving’ factor.
The consequences of war eternally changed peoples attitudes from the ones they held before the war broke out. People realised that external problems were really the minor ones. It was what was inside that mattered. The fact was that society was becoming corrupt, which was slowly evolving and still is today, such as the increasing of crime. Manipulative methods such as of the usage of children and women motivated men to go to war, this was wrong and it was only till it was too late the nation had realised they had created evil itself. Thus so many anti-war literature forms ca be found today, because what happened is unforgettable.