A Look at The Effects of War

Upon reading poetry from Brooks and Owen, I began to contemplate the effects that war has on soldiers, both physically, mentally and emotionally. Although there are endless accounts that can be viewed for further insight into this topic, I chose to observe the blog of a veteran of the Iraq war who is now living in Texas. This soldier not only elaborates on similar ideas of the World War I British poets we have been delving into, but also gives further information about how war effected him, especially during the night. Specific attention is paid to the theme of night in many accounts of war which can represent the physical rotation of the earth resulting in darkness, and the finality of night and darkness, which can represent death. The main difference between the British poets and this soldier is that many of them died in combat and this soldier, Alex Horton is still alive, although some may argue in some nature he is actually not living because every night he is still effected by his memories from the war in Iraq.

In Edward Thomas’ poem The Owl, he details his experience of the harsh weather conditions and extreme exhaustion that he felt and how he had to endure the night to stay alive. He compares his life in the field to the life he knew when he was a civilian with I think is a common motif among military personnel. It is much easier to get through the trying times by remembering the aspects of freedom that made them enlist in the first place. Thomas writes:

“Downhill I came, hungry, and yet not starved; Cold, yet had heat with me that was proof Against the North wind; tired, yet so that rest Had seemed the sweetest thing under a roof.

Then at the inn i had food, fire, and rest, Knowing how hungry, cold and tired was I. All of the night was quite barred out except An owl’s cry, a most melancholy cry” (Thomas, 10).

Thomas has experienced a day of battle and warfare and has finally gotten a chance to rest. However, he cannot actually rest because of the hardship he is enduring. Instead, he takes himself to a place that is comfortable and warm.

Similarly, Alex Horton, an inactive solider experienced a similar notion. However, due to the opposite ends of the earth that each piece of literature is referring to, the weather conditions are not cold but rather extremely hot. Horton describes the heat vividly by saying,

“At sundown we had filled a filthy kitchen sink with ice to cool down bottles of water and Gatorade. Hours later, only a warm pool remained in the sink, the bottles offering little relief from the torrid wind that swirled in from the open front door” (Horton).

Horton and his platoon were on duty one night when they opted to rest in an abandoned house. As Thomas did, he also refers to the discomfort that is brought to soldiers when night falls. Due to the severity of combat, soldiers are always on alert and Horton describes this when he says,

“A faint metal-on-metal clanking sound drew me out of my lethargy. It came from the other side of the courtyard wall. Was it the intermittent rustling of an unknown intruder? Jolted out of my chair and out of my loose and sweat-soaked boots, I reached for my short-barreled shotgun…Taking one last deep breath, I stood up and swung the shotgun over the wall and pointed the barrel at what was making the noise: a piece of sheet metal rattling in the wind against a steel cabinet”(Horton).

Both of these examples of literature from soldiers during a time of war offer some insight into what occurs in the mind of a well trained war hero. I am especially interested in paying special attention to the way that poets include night and metaphors of night in their poetry because I feel that night is when the true fears of war are explained by soldiers because often they are alone on watch or keeping the men in their platoon safe. This is a time when they feel great responsibility, and also a time when they feel the sacrifice they are enduring. A soldier is forced to spend time with himself without the backup of his fellow soldiers, without the comfort of his command and really search for the motivation that will keep him awake through his watch, and will enable him to wake up the next day to do the entire routine over again. What is produced in these thoughts about night is a great entry to the thoughts of a war torn human being.


2 Responses to “A Look at The Effects of War”

  1. 1 Jesse
    February 5, 2009 at 3:35 pm

    Looking at the concept night time for soldiers is an interesting point to look at. As I read through the book, I also noticed a lot of references to night time, as well as the weather. The writers are creating the mood for us, even if the weather wasn’t actually dark and gloomy.
    It is a thought not many people have when considering a soldiers life, night time must be a very vulnerable and hard time to accept. They have to constantly be ready for the next thing and the references to night in the poetry and the Horton’s reaction to the metal clanking convey that. After a day of combat, searches, moving, or what ever else it would be rather hard to shut your mind off and let things go quiet. Once again Horton’s reaction to the sheet metal clanking on the metal cabinet are an example of how geared up a soldier’s brain is after a long day. If I heard metal clanking in the night, I would not think much of it, and I probably would have assumed rather simply it was the wind. But soldiers are trained not make assumptions and to look a little closer. From this entry, it is evident rest is a luxury to soldiers and it is easy to see how a soldier’s mind and body could be worn out so thoroughly by just the routine of war.

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