According to The New York Times, it is estimated that as many as one billion people have been killed in war, from the very first war casualty to the current day. In these wars, not every soldier wanted to participate, or agreed with the cause they were fighting for. If these men were not killed by the war, the aftermath of so much trauma likely destroyed their minds, as in the case of Kevin Powers, the writer of The Yellow Birds. His time in the Iraq War left him with a fragile mental state that made it difficult to have a conversation without trailing off or getting lost in his own thoughts.
While Powers felt too much from what he had seen, Tim O’Brien’s time in the Vietnam war caused him to become cold and desensitized to death, prompting him to write The Things They Carried. Seeing the war firsthand also gave men a new appreciation for life and a new view on war. As a war reporter, Stephen Crane experienced war differently than others. His exposure to the Spanish-American War allowed him to peel away what many expected at war to reveal the grim reality of constant death.
Wilfred Owen, who fought and died in World War I, was more straightforward with his protestation, saying that “it is sweet and right to die for your country” is a lie. Some soldiers and witnesses of war have turned their experiences into works of literary art, and use imagery, irony, and structure to protest war. First of all, imagery can be used by writers to protest war. The excerpt from The Yellow Birds states, “… only the animals made you sad, the husks of dogs filled with explosives and old arty shells and the… guts… and everything stinking like metal and burning garbage… (Powers).
By implying that human deaths no longer sadden him and including a description of his grisly surroundings, Powers protests war by expressing how seeing so many deaths can desensitize a person to human suffering. With his use of visual imagery, Powers further reinforces the disgusting reality of war, by emphasizing the fact that guts were all around him. By using auditory imagery in mentioning the explosives and arty shells, Powers influences the reader to connect with the scene and narrator on a psychological level.
The use of olfactory imagery in the description of the different smells involved in the war also helps the reader become immersed in the poem and the message Powers is trying to send. With the help of all of these descriptive words, the reader can truly see himself in the situation Powers describes. In the poem “Dulce et Decorum Est,” stanza two states, “Fitting the clumsy helmets… But someone was still yelling out and stumbling, and flound’ring like a man in fire or lime… I saw him drowning…. He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning” (Owen).
With other quotations also full of visual and auditory imagery, Wilfred Owen successfully paints a picture of war conditions and the gruesome deaths. The use of the word “drowning” to describe this soldier’s death can prove to the reader that many deaths in war are not fast or painless, as drowning is typically a rather slow process. This death may also be seen by the reader as a metaphor for the length and nature of a war. Similar to how the soldier’s death was drawn out and resulted in suffering, a war can reflect these same attributes.
Owen’s use of this imagery furthermore protests war by contradicting the title of the poem, which can be translated to “It is sweet and right. ” The vivid imagery in these works helps the reader to truly comprehend what the writers experienced. Secondly, irony can be used by writers to protest war. In the poem “War Is Kind”, stanzas one, three, and five each state, “Do not weep. War is kind” (Crane). The repetition of this phrase used after the description of three separate war deaths helps to demonstrate that war is indeed not kind, and that the “glory” eceived in fighting in an unnecessary war is not worth dying for.
This phrase adds a mocking tone to a poem filled with praises to wars and warriors. By saying these six words, Stephen Crane basically tells those who have lost loved ones that they should not be upset about those deaths, because they died for the glory of their country. Crane uses the second and fourth stanzas to glorify war, but punctuates these expectations with the reality of war: “A field where a thousand corpses lie” (Crane). In the poem “Dulce et Decorum Est,” stanza three states, “The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est/ Pro patria mori” (Owen).
Like many others writing about wartime experiences, Wilfred Owen mentions the glory associated with war, and does so right before this quotation, causing the last few lines to come across as sarcastic or bitter to the reader. The contradiction of the English translation of this, “It is sweet and right to die for your country,” used with the imagery of grim deaths and horrible war conditions protests war by demonstrating the expectation of a glorified, honorable death versus the reality of a pitiful, painful death.
The description of an agonizing death reinforces the contradiction of the title, proving to the reader that war and death are not “sweet and right. ” Lastly, writers use structure to protest war. The excerpt from The Things They Carried states, “Because the land was mined and booby-trapped, it was SOP for each man to carry a steel-centered nylon-covered flak jacket…. Because you could die so quickly, each man carried at least one large compress bandage… , Because the nights were cold, and because the monsoons were wet, each carried a green plastic poncho… it was worth every ounce.
In April, for instance, when Ted Lavender was shot, they used his poncho to wrap him up… ” (O’Brien). Tim O’Brien’s use of parallel structure adds a sense of monotony and apathy to the passage, which demonstrates how little the men were affected by the deaths of other soldiers. For example, the ponchos were supposed to be used for staying warm or dry, but one becomes a substitute for a body bag after Lavender’s death, which is expressed very matter-of-factly. The weight and contents of the soldier’s packs became more important to them than their own lives, or the lives of their comrades.
It is stated that the compression bandages are carried by the men “Because you could die so quickly” (O’Brien), a fact that is expressed in a very nonchalant fashion. This suggests that O’Brien no longer cared much about the duration of his own life. In the excerpt from The Yellow Birds, Powers states, “… your mother is happy and proud because you… made people crumble and they were not getting up ever and yeah they might have been trying to kill too, so you say, What are you gonna do? but really it doesn’t matter… ” (Powers).
This quotation, along with the lack of periods and proper grammar in the excerpt, helps to display how the war has unhinged the speaker. The “stream of conscience narration” illustrates a looping and unorganized thought process in which he attempts (and fails) to rationalize his actions for himself. The traumatic experiences of the Iraq War caused the narrator to be unable to have a normal conversation, as the entire excerpt is an imagined conversation with old friends.
In this “conversation,” he continually trails off and begins new thoughts without finishing old ones. The events of these wars negatively affected both of these men in different ways, causing O’Brien to become callous and cold, and Powers to become guilty and damaged. In conclusion, writers can use imagery, irony, and structure to protest war. These devices are each very effective in their own way to protest war itself and the actions performed in war.
While imagery can express the conditions and gruesome deaths of war, irony can bring a small amount of humor or mockery into an explanation of the horrors of war, and structure can help to demonstrate the changed or damaged mental state of a soldier returning from war. In any war, it is not only those killed that are affected, but survivors as well. A war survivor will have to deal with the guilt of any death that they feel is on their hands and with every horrible thing they saw. For every one of the one billion killed in war, there are even more affected and hurt who must forever deal with both mental and physical wounds.