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The changing face of war and patriotism


The "War Poets", or soldier poets, describe their experiences of fighting in the Great War in very different ways. Rupert Brooke's The Soldier shows the author's strong sense of patriotism, while Herbert Read in The Happy Warrior treats a horrific moment of trench warfare when a British soldier stabs a "well-killed"German soldier. In Futility Wilfred Owen explores the sense of waste and meaninglessness that the death of a fellow soldier arouses in him. The ideals of patriotism and the duty to fight for one's country expressed in Brooke's poem were widespread in the early part of the 20th century, and questioned by only a minority of the population, one of whom was Wilfred Owen; instead this point of view finds support in many late 20th-century works embodying very different takes on war and patriotism. In his novel Private Peaceful (2003), Michael Morpourgo charts the experience of a young , working-class soldier in World War I. When Private Tommy Peaceful is no longer prepared to fight for his country, he is court martialled and executed. Peaceful was treated as a coward and a traitor by the British Government at the time, and, in this novel Morpourgo asks whether this punishment was fair and just.
Today wars receive extensive media and press coverage, with the result that we may feel we are well informed and we might even feel as if we had visited the war zones. Even so its still crucial for contemporary writers and visual artists to respond to events. They are often motivated by a sense of shame and indignation that their government has gone to war. The American play In Conflict (2008), devised and directed by Douglas Gagier, dramatizes the real-life stories of a group of American army veterans who fought for their country in Afghanistan and Iraq. As each character tells his or her story, audience members hear how unemployment, poverty, boredom, hope for a different life, persuaded these men an women to join up and fight for their country. The veterans also tell us why they left the army; some suffered from depression and suicidal feelings, others were injured, others grew disenchanted with the job, etc.
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