The Futility of Wars
Why are wars futile?
What is the relevance of a war?
Apart from blood bath loss and mourning!
What is the purpose of war?
Apart from providing food to the ego of a few power-hungry maniacs!
Why do we need war?
When peace is the ultimate road to happiness.
Though the questions ail mankind for centuries, the truth of the answer has been met with deaf ears. Wars do no good apart from building barriers among men, creating huge gaps between humanity and what some may define as the reign of the devil! Is this what for, the journey of creation began? Let’s ruminate over this with a case study through the eyes of literature.
Wilfred Owen, popularly known as the war poet, paints grotesque pictures of the ravages of war. Unlike other war poets, Owen presents to his readers the brutal blood bath – the real picture of a battle field. He neither eulogizes war nor presents death in battle field as a patriotic act. He is blunt about the truth; however harsh it may sound. Owen’s use of ironic metaphors, clearly spells out that he in no way supports war.
Futility is one such poem where Owen through his very choice of the title aims to reveal the existential crisis that the anonymous narrator of the poem suffers from. Faced by the constant brutality of war, questioning death doesn’t sound very strange. The poem maintains a universal tone aided by the anonymity of the narrator. This could be the voice of any and every soldier who constantly face the horrors of war and uncertainty of life.
Analyzing Wilfred Owen's Futility
The command of a senior soldier to his junior marks the beginning of the poem. “Move him into the sun - “. The narrator believes that the sun’s rays possess the power to instil life into the dead soldier. He goes on to compare, times when as a child the soldier was awoken several times by this very sun rays. Every morning he woke up to its warmth and bright light. The reference to half sown fields clearly link the dead soldier’s family background to that of a farmer: “At home, whispering of fields half – sown.” The narrator constantly impresses upon the readers that until now, the sun beams succeeded in awaking him wherever he may have been. The sudden change of tone is marked by the words snow that draws a parallel with the cold, dank and lifeless – attributed by death: “Until this morning and this snow.” He seems to be losing hope as he progresses because now he leaves the responsibility of awakening the dead soldier to the sun. He clearly mentions, “If anything might rouse him now / The kind old sun will know.”
Nature's role in creation of life
The narrator then goes on to say that the sun beams wake the seeds: “Think how it wakes the seeds – “. By this he refers to the process of germination of seeds – the journey from a seed to a seedling and its final culmination to a matured plant, all with the aid of the sun’s warm and maturing rays. The use of the word ‘clay’ can be directly linked to man being referred as clay in the biblical texts. The Book of Genesis says that man was created from dust and shall return to dust after death. “Dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return.” Here again the narrator draws a parallel between the sun’s power to grow seeds to that of instilling life on earth by his reference ‘of a cold star’: “Woke once the clays of a cold star.” Earth would not have been a planet of life without the warm rays of the sun. It would have continued to exist as a ‘cold star’. It is the sun’s rays that added warmth to the planet, created different life forms that continued to thrive over time, every minute owing its allegiance to the mighty sun.
Life and Death
In the third stanza, the narrator talks about the complex process of creation of life. How meticulously man has been crafted by the creator! It is a complete piece of art - with hands and legs which are not mere appendages. Just as he marvels upon wonders of creation, the shadow of negativity looms in with the mention of death and how all that creation goes waste in split seconds. “Are limbs, so dear – achieved, are sides / Full – nerved, still warm, too hard to stir?” Immediately after death the body still remains warm as blood takes time to cool down but the limbs become stiff and immobile; this has exactly happened to the dead soldier.
“Was it for this the clay grew tall?
O what made fatuous sun beams toil
To break earth’s sleep at all?”
Crisis of Existence
The concluding lines are a direct attack to the concept of life and creation. This is exactly where the crisis of existence has been established. The narrator questions as to why was the living allowed to grow and spread its branches if it was to meet such sudden and unfulfilling end. He questions the efforts of the sun’s rays, when the point behind it all was to meet such tragic end! The ending line is in lieu with Owen’s concept with the futility of war because the narrator questions the sun as to why did it even make an effort to create life, wake all things up from their cold death like slumber, when the ultimate goal was to put them all back to sleep!
Owen's style of describing War
The poem successfully retains it elegiac note throughout by mourning the death of a soldier. But the mourning is done in its typical Owenian style. It calls upon the readers to think the pointlessness behind wars that are targeted to mere ambitious fulfilments and satiating hunger for power. Soldiers here are no heroes but mere cattle fodder before bombings and gun fire. The futility of the World Wars is so resonant in this poem that it echoes in the title itself, with the clear implications that World Wars can indeed result to the end of this beautiful world.
Let Peace win over War
A soldier dies in the battle field, trying to ensure our safety while we sit tucked in the our warm beds, enjoying the comforts of our home and remaining busy in fulfilling our own personal dreams. The men who fight in the battlefield are no extraordinary men! They are people like you and me. They too aspire the warmth of their home, the love of their family. Alas! They spend most of the days manning borders, subduing rebellion. Owen’s time was the time of World War. Now you may feel, that’s long gone. Why am I even speaking about that now! This is because I wish to remind you of the bloodshed, the massacre, the loss of life and property, the economic crisis….and the list of loss goes on and on. What are we fighting for? A piece of land, water of the river, battle of faith? Live and let live. This small message can bring back peace if correctly understood. When all’s lost what will we fight for? Let the men protecting us lead a life of peace too. Let them be rest assured that their existence is merely for administrative purpose and not to take or give innocent lives. What is the need of war when peace can win over all!
© 2017 Soumi Das