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WHAT IS IT GOOD FOR?,
BY: JOHN BARASCO
A soldier once posed this question to his fellow comrade, "do you think we will ever be
forgiven for what we have done?". The comrade replied, "I doubt we'll ever be forgiven. All I
hope is - they'll remember we were human beings." In Timothy Findley's The Wars, a
generation of young men were swept into a war and it's effects rippled throughout their lives.
The characters in the novel are wounded physically, emotionally and mentally by the war's
presence in their lives. Soldiers and their families that had this great grief woven into their lives
experienced horrific acts and painful emotions, all of which left behind either mental or physical
The physical effects the war had on the victims of the novel are more than clear to the
eye. Their scars, absent limbs and burned skins, inflicted by war are hard to miss. Robert Ross
first realized the brutality of war when he visited a hospital to see a friend. There in the same
room lay a man who had been victim of a gas attack, "the flesh was seared as if it were dipped in
scalding oil".(Findley_124). Seeing this surely sent a chill down Roberts back, because he knew
that in his uncertain future, the same could happen to him. The second time Robert experienced
the physical effects of war was upon meeting an old acquaintance. His army lieutenant, whom
he had remembered as a fit and active man, "had lost his arms, limbless from the waist up."
(Findley_187). The thought of an agile and cautious man like lieutenant Taffler, not being able
to keep out of the way of a shell scared Robert even more. There is no question that the power of
war is strong enough to twist steel and brake bones, however, pain can also be felt through no
The emotions felt by the characters while involved with the war were immense, fighting
for family, home and above all life. The emotional feelings which shook Robert the most, were
the ones that made him realize just how fragile life was and how close he had come to losing his
own. "The vibrant valley through which he had once marched, was filled with shell holes,
upturned earth and corpses, one on top of another."(Findley_149) If Robert and his company
had marched through that same valley three days later, they would have all been massacred. On
one occasion a German soldier had Robert and his four men cornered, he could have killed each
and everyone of them. "A blast was heard and the German soldier collapsed, he had been shot."
(Findley_160) Robert had taken the life of a soldier that preserved his and four others. The high-
strung emotions of dealing with that type of immoral killing certainly affected Robert. The
mental health of all soldiers on the front lines were constantly being pushed to the limits by the
compounding of stresses and emotions.
The sane mind can never be prepared for the shock and perplexities of war, almost all
acts of war are inconceivably horrific. War, without exception, warps a sane mind, as it did to
the characters of the novel. The slow build up of environmental pressures, physical strain and
mayhem of the battle field are all factors which led to Robert Ross's rebellious actions. "Robert
lost all sense of reason and he shot his general dead." (Findley_202) To fight in war, a type of
mentality usually foreign to the human mind must be developed. A mentality which is not sane,
one that develops a reflex for killing. This reflex promotes killing before being killed, which is
in a soldiers best interest. The problem occurs when soldiers become intoxicated with the drive
to kill. Consequently killing life around them becomes less and less wrong. This is precisely
what caused the death of Robert's closest battle field friend. "He could not stand to watch the
torture of animals. The other soldiers threw the live rats onto the fire." (Findley_179) Roberts
friend ended his own life with a single shot after being witness to those actions. The life of
Robert Ross was bombarded with the negative effects of war, not only harming his friends
and family, but also, his sanity.
"Human beings" are sent to war,
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The Wars, Emotion, SANE, Mind, Forgiveness
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