The Reality of War

Close Reading and Critical Writing


When at war, the civilian citizens of the country at war see the war as glorious and serving in it, to them, would probably be a great honor. They have never experienced war and have built up a great fantasy, aided by movies and the media, which allows them to believe that although war causes great loss, the victory at the end of the war eliminates the loss. If the people were not blinded by the fantasy that honors those who die protecting their country, they would have a totally different and real picture of war, would not be as eager to send young men and women to fight in them, and would not find serving in them as sweet or decorous. Two works, Wilfred Owen’s poem, “Dulce Et Decorum Est,” and Tim O’Brien’s short story, “The Things They Carried,” show creatively and effectively this reality of war that the civilians fail to see.

Throughout his work, Wilfred Owen uses imagery to vividly portray this grim reality of war to the reader. He immediately begins his poem with the use of this imagery when he calls upon the reader to imagine the soldiers “Bent double, like old beggars …”(1), which causes the reader to understand that because of what they have been put through in the war, the soldiers become akin to old beggars that old age and poverty have forced to bend double. Another vivid


image, given to the reader when the poem asserts that “many have lost their boots/ But limped on, blood shod” (5-6), allows the readers to realize that in war many suffer great pain and loss. The uncertainty of war, shown when the narrator says, “An ecstasy of fumbling, / Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time;/ But someone still was yelling out and stumbling…”(9-11), further cements the idea for the reader that war becomes something that people must suffer through and that causes great loss of life, not the false image that he or she had built up. Another image pertinent to this essay that should make civilians realize the injustice of war, the “incurable sores on innocents tongues,” serves as a vivid reminder of the lifelong pain of war; although these soldiers are innocent men, the sores of war have been inflicted upon them never to leave their bodies. One final unpleasantness of war, shown in line 18 through the image of the dead man being flung in a wagon, must make the civilian reader realize that even when people die in war, time lacks to honor them appropriately. After all this evidence against war the sweetness and decorousness of war surely diminishes.

Wilfred Owen also effectively uses the diction in his poem to portray this reality of war to the civilian reader. Immediately, Owen begins with the phrase “cursed through the sludge”(2); obviously he wants the reader to understand that walking through that sludge was a curse and was undesirable. Other words, such as, “limped on”(6) and “stumbling”(11), allow the reader to imagine a difficult to travel. The speaker of the poem also uses words such as “devil”(20), “sick of sin”(20), “corrupted”(22), and “obscene as cancer”(24) to give the reader


the impression of war as something evil. Words, such as “writhing”(19), “guttering, choking, drowning”(16), “vile”(24), and “bitter”(23) depict war as something painful and immoral that should be detested. Finally, Owen makes his ultimate declaration against war when he mentions “The old lie: Dulce et decorum est/ Pro patria mori.”(27-28): indeed it is not sweet or decorous to die for ones country because one must go through the reality of war that he portrayed in his poem.

Through his short story, “The Things They Carried,” Tim O’Brien also claims that war is something that is difficult to live, but he does not out and out declare that civilians are lying to themselves by saying that it is honorable to die in war. Although not explicitly declared, the possibility to build an argument against the sweetness of dying for one’s country exists in this story. One way in which O’Brien raises the issue of the difficulty of war is through the physical things that the men must carry while