09 11 / 2011
Let me begin by saying that if you really, genuinely are confused about why WWI and WWII were as bad as people say it is, you’ve either had a terrible history teacher or you…well, I have no hope for you.
As a history student and a lover of all things dead and gone, my particular expertise lies in 20th Century history, particularly post-1919. So while I’m not as well-versed on the Great War (WWI) as I am on World War II, I can still hold my own.
What strikes me most about Anthem for Doomed Youth is how unconventional it was for the time. There have only been very few occasions where war poetry has portrayed war as something negative, as a plague rather than a myriad of blessed angels coming to sprinkle holy water over the rightful country. Now, of course, anti-war literature, media, artwork etc is not exactly rare; but that’s because the veil of nationalism has been lifted from the eyes of many people, particularly after the Vietnamese War, which was the first war to be aired on television (but this would make a good blog topic for another day, actually!).
Now, patriotism by itself isn’t bad. I myself am a patriot. But so were many of the young men who flung themselves head first into the battlefield…and found themselves face to face with the real horrors of war.
Think about it - how easy is it for people to cheer on their soldiers from our living rooms, crying out for them to serve their country? It isn’t until you’re actually witness to how ghastly war is that you begin to realize, “Maybe this isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.”
That was the case with Wilfred Owen. He too was a patriot. He too wanted to help his country rise above the rest, and he did that the best way he knew how - to join the army as it was recruiting soldiers for the first world war.
All well and good. Until you get Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Until you lose your limbs. Even if you come back from the war alive, you’re an invalid for the rest of it. And at a time where prosthetic didn’t even exist, that’s not exactly the easiest life to live.
And then all those teenagers who had their entire lives ahead of them, blown up on a battlefield, for a battle that wasn’t even their own?
“It is sweet and fitting to die for one’s country.”