The romanticism of war is separate and opposite of romanticism for life. They cannot exist at the same time. War stands for death and destruction and life is the opposite. There is a constant clash between the love of decency: courage and devotion to your fellow men, and the love of life free of the horrors of war. War, and all things that propel war, is inherently evil. Beliefs in heroism, honor, and dignity are all idealistic. To the soldier on the field of battler their sole purpose is self-preservation. The only way that soldiers can persevere through the God awful shitty mess of war is through the brotherhood between the soldiers. This bond does not negate the hypocrisy of war; instead, it allows the men to survive it. The brotherhood is love for the sake of self-preservation. At its core, war dehumanizes people and one cannot have love for life if they are less than human.
War is a machine that extracts young men and women from reality. It twists their morals until they do not know what is right or wrong. This level of dehumanization and objectification is clearly argued in Ron Kovic’s Born on the Fourth of July: “He had never been anything but a thing to them, a thing to put a uniform on and train to kill, a young thing to run through the meat-grinder, a cheap small nothing thing to make mincemeat out of” (165). War is the “meat-grinder.” Soldiers only matter because they can kill. War tears apart the people fighting it. Coming out of the war Kovic does not know what to do. He is lost. This aimless feeling is similar to the experiences of Jake and the Gang in Ernest Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises. The protagonist, Jake Barnes, and his entourage wander the streets of Paris and Madrid with no purpose. After war, the real world seems absurd to them: “The world was a good place to buy in. It seemed like a fine philosophy. In five years, I thought, it will seem just as silly as all the other fine philosophies I’ve had…That was morality; things that made you disgusted afterward. No, that must be immorality. That was a large statement. What a lot of bilge I could think up at night” (152). Ones philosophy is supposed to guide them through life. But when war takes away your morality, makes you doubt your beliefs, they lose all sense of purpose and direction. R.C. Sherriff alludes to this idea in Journey’s End. The officers in the trenches see their lives no different than worms, not knowing what is up and what is down.
STANHOPE: Rotten if it didn’t – and went on going down when it thought it was coming up.
OSBORNE: Yes. I expect that’s the one thing worms dread.
STANHOPE: D’you think this life sharpens the imagination!
OSBORNE: It must…
STANHOPE: I hope so. I wondered if there was anything wrong with me. D’you ever get a sudden feeling that everything’s going farther and farther away – till you’re the only thing in the world – and then the world begins going away – until you’re the only thing in – in the universe – and you struggle to get back...