War is not Part of Human Nature
At the beginning, the war is inherently perceived in an optimistic and joyous light; however, this belief is quickly shattered by the gruesome circumstances faced by the soldiers fighting the war, including utter destruction of resources, immense carnage, and psychological trauma that lead to a quick decline of hope, joy, and innocence. In addition to their innately positive nature, the initial viewpoints of the soldiers also stem out of pride for representing their country and a desire to perform one’s ‘duty.’ Moreover, in the succinct and expressive poem, “Suicide in the Trenches,” Siegfried Sassoon juxtaposes an emotionally wounded and traumatized veteran of the war to an initially naive and exuberant recruit.
For the latter description of the soldier, Sassoon uses an oxymoron to couple a soldier’s obliviousness about their near future with their buoyant yet short-lived happiness when he says, “I knew a simple soldier boy/ Who grinned at life in empty joy” (Sassoon 1-2). As conveyed by the adjective “simple,” the soldier initially possesses an unsophisticated, naive, and carefree human nature, as someone who has been unaffected by the true, yet painful realities of life and potentially traumatizing events that may come his way.
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Without hesitation, the soldier seems to candidly express his positive outlook towards life as he superficially “grin[s]” at the seemingly eternal bliss that comes with life; the words “empty joy” convey the young soldier’s optimism as innate and unaffected by the real world, to a point where it can be considered ‘empty’ or even unreal. Furthermore, in the novel, All Quiet On the Western Front, Erich Maria Remarque expresses the brutal reality that the same naive new soldier is forced to face on the battlefield. Remarque uses an example of a newly enlisted soldier to describe the terrors of the war, stating, “Beside us lies a fair-headed recruit in utter terror. He has buried his face in his hands, his helmet has fallen off. I fish to hold of it and try to put it back on his head. He looks up, pushes the helmet off and like a child creeps under my arm, his head close to my breast” (Remarque 61). Overwhelmed by the intense and fast-paced combat, the young soldier is unable to fathom the sudden shift between the serenity before battle and “utter terror” at war.
However, a hint of the soldier’s initial youthfulness and “child[like]” traits is still notably present as he “creeps under” an elder soldier’s arm, showing that the innate nature of innocence is still extant but is being quickly depleted from the soldier’s psychological state, due to the immediate and horrendous trauma. At this point, being carefree and perhaps unrealistically optimistic is no longer an option; instead, survival is of utmost importance which requires a strong recognition of reality and display of inner strength. As the war progresses, the soldiers’ perspectives on the war change from optimistic and positive to pessimistic, sophisticated, and gruesome, due to the innumerable deaths, psychological trauma, and utter destruction they face while fighting the war.