Many people say that war has been immensely changed by recent inventions and developments, but this is only partially true. While what specifically happens during battle may change over time, overall effects of the battle itself are largely the same. James Bradley’s novel Flags of our Fathers, about the flag raisers from World War II, and Richard Striner’s article, “How to Pay for What we Need,” about the effects of the American Civil War, show that war creates economic issues. Markus Zusak’s novel, The Book Thief, set in Nazi Germany, shows these effects as well as the tragic death of a soldier. Focused on the Vietnam War, Walter Dean Myers’ novel Fallen Angels helps to develop an image of what a soldier’s death is like. Clint Eastwood’s film, Flags of Our Fathers, and the Military History article, entitled “PTSD as Old as Warfare,” show the negative effects that witnessing these injuries and deaths has on the soldiers. Wilfred Owen’s “Dulce et Decorum est,” a poem about a soldier who witnesses a comrade’s death, portrays one of the most common symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder and further emphasizes the brutal physical effects that war has. Art Spiegelman’s graphic novel Maus, about a family endangered by World War II, and Charles Reznikoff’s poem, “During the Second World War,” about a man whose son has gone to fight for his country, show that war has a mental impact not only on the soldiers, but also their families. All of the texts mentioned discuss wars spanning from ancient times to modern, but all demonstrate the same negative effects. These texts about different wars make it evident that the things negatively affected by war have not changed.
War causes economic issues for the countries involved in it. Being an expensive necessity, it often puts countries in debt or forces them to find a new way to pay for their military needs. For instance, during World War II the American government sold war bonds to its people. People bought them because the bonds would gain interest over time so that eventually the people buying them would get more money back than they put in. When the flag raisers return from the war in Flags of our Fathers, they go on tour to promote the sale of these bonds and help their government meet its exorbitant goal for military funding. Bradley writes, “Fourteen billion [dollars] to be solicited from a population of 160 million: nearly one hundred dollars on average, from every man, woman, and child in America“ (Bradley 281). The war was very costly for each country involved in it, not excluding the United States. Because of this, the government was forced to set practically unreachable goals and beg its people for donations. This desperation for money was an enormous dilemma for the American government because their goal was so unrealistic. However, this issue should have been foreseen because similar problems were caused by a war nearly a century earlier. Striner’s article discusses how some of America’s most significant economic issues were caused by the American Civil War. During the war, many workers became soldiers so there was a significant decrease in supply while there was minimal change in demand. This caused the problem of inflation, which the Confederates tried to solve by printing more money. The Union attempted to resolve the same issue by funding their military mostly using taxes and bonds. Striner’s article, “How to Pay for What we Need,” says, “Over the course of the war, the Confederate rate [of inflation] grew 9,000 percent while the Union rate rose to 80 percent” (Striner 33). By showing the contrasting approaches of the two sides and and the outcomes of those approaches, Striner demonstrates that inflation will happen during war no matter what the attempt to prevent it. America is not alone in its struggle to prevent war-rooted economic problems. These issues occur globally. Markus Zusak’s novel, The Book Thief, takes place in Germany during World War II and portrays the daily struggles of two kids; Rudy and Liesel. Zusak explains Rudy’s family’s financial dilemma, saying, “On top of the rationing situation, [Rudy’s] father’s business wasn’t doing so well of late (the threat of Jewish competition was taken away, but so were the Jewish customers)” (Zusak 149). The war is the reason for the rationing, and also the reason for the elimination of Jewish customers. So, Zusak is able to develop the image of a father’s struggle to keep his business alive amidst a failing economy. By creating this image, Zusak shows how war causes economic problems for its residents. Rudy’s father is forced to make financial sacrifices solely because his country is at war and is desperate for funding. Those who are not making financial sacrifices are often sacrificing their lives.
During war, many soldiers are injured physically or mentally. As countless authors demonstrate in their stories, war is the cause of many gruesome deaths. Walter Dean Myers provides many examples of such deaths in his novel Fallen Angels. Included in these is Jenkins’ death, which he describes by saying, “Jenkins’ face was white and twisted as he struggled to look down at his wound. There were bubbles on the wound as he struggled for a final breath, and then that, too, stopped” (Myers 41). This is the first instance of mortality which the narrator witnesses, and his is horrified by how gruesome it is. In reality, Jenkins is one of the many soldiers who will die equally morbid deaths in the Vietnam War. This morbidness of war should not have come as a surprise because soldiers’ deaths’ have been gruesome in every war. Wilfred Owen, in his poem “Dulce et Decorum est” does not make it obvious which war he is describing. Based on the mention of gas and the time at which the poem was published, it is commonly understood that it is about World War I. However, this lack of specificity develops the idea that deaths in all wars have been as morbid as described in the poem. Owen describes a soldier’s death by saying, “the white eyes writhing in his face, His hanging face, like a devil’s sick of sin” (Owen lines 19-20). By making the soldier’s face synonymous with that of the devil, Owen is describing the reality of the macabre deaths. This description aids the reader in their realization of the horrendous things war has always caused. Such synonyms, however, are not always necessary to portray the grotesqueness of war. In some cases, minimal description of the casualty results in a greater understanding of how common these kinds of deaths are. In The Book Thief, Liesel’s father, Hans, recounts the tragic casualty of one of his best friends during World War I. The narrator does not vividly describe the death of Hans’ friend, Erik, but instead states it clearly and objectively by saying, “...Erik Vandenburg would later be found in several pieces on a grassy hill” (Zusak 175). Zusak’s example of a soldier’s death in combat demonstrates the simplistic nature of death in war. Combat-caused fatalities are so often that they have become a standard of war, hence Zusak’s lack of necessity for detail. More so than experienced, injuries are witnessed. In fact, it is near impossible to return from combat not having seen something traumatic. Such sights are the root of one of the most dominant mental injuries, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Researchers have discovered that disorder has affected soldiers for almost the entirety of history. Military History writes that “post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) dates… roughly 3,000 years back during the Assyrian dynasty in ancient Mesopotamia” (11). PTSD has been affecting soldiers for thousands of years, and its effects have hardly been mitigated. Eastwood’s film, Flags of our Fathers, shows an effect of PTSD through the flag raisers’ flashbacks. These are triggered when, upon their return, the soldiers must reenact the flag raising upon a paper mâché rock amidst a loud and chaotic stadium (Eastwood). Eastwood uses flashbacks to portray, in addition to the plot of the story, the poor mental condition in which the soldiers return. These flashbacks, a negative effect of PTSD, and therefore a negative effect of war, have likely affected most all soldiers. Owen’s poem, “Dulce et Decorum est,” shows the negative mental effects of war through another common symptom of PTSD, nightmares. The narrator of Owen’s poem is traumatized by the gruesome death of a fellow soldier. To describe the sight, he says, “In all my dreams before my helpless sight, he plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning” (Owen lines 15-6). The narrator describes the sight using words such as “guttering” and “choking” to describe what he sees in his dreams. Words such as these, which have negative connotations, permit the reader to infer that this dream is indeed a nightmare. Although not exclusively caused by combat, nightmares will continue to affect soldiers as a symptom of their PTSD, which is caused by their experiences in war. Such traumatizing experiences have existed as long as war itself, therefore making it evident that nightmares, too, have affected soldiers throughout all of history.
War conjures the feeling of fear for those whose loved ones are fighting in it. Soldiers are often taken far away from their families, put in dangerous situations, and are unable to communicate with their families for long periods of time. This not only has a negative mental impact on the soldiers, but also on their families, who do not know what is happening to their loved ones. Reznikoff writes about this effect in his poem, “During the Second World War.” In this passage, the narrator enters a small fruit store to find a sullen old Italian man. When the narrator asks what is troubling him, the man responds, saying, “I am sad. My son left for the front today and I’ll never see him again” (Reznikoff lines 7-9). This father is so overcome by fear for his son’s life that it is obvious to a complete stranger. The man’s sadness, rooted in fear for his son’s life, has become all-consuming, as it does for many whose family members are directly endangered by war. Soldiers have, unfortunately, died in every war. So, since this has developed as the expectation for what will happen in combat, people with loved ones fighting in a war will almost definitely fear for their soldiers’ lives. In the case of Reznikoff’s story, the man is very open about his emotions in relation to his son, professing his most frightening thoughts to a man he has never met. However, these emotions are often kept private and shared solely with loved ones, particularly those who are the root of one’s fear. Such is the case in Spiegelman’s novel, Maus, when the main character, Vladek, receives a draft notice from the Polish Reserves Army. He does not want to leave, as he knows his family will be left in unsafe conditions caused by the war. When Vladek leaves for the front, he is leaving his wife behind in these dangerous conditions. So, she explicitly states her fear, saying, “Vladek, I’m afraid!” (Spiegelman 38). Her feeling of fear is logical in this situation because Vladek gives her a sense of safety. When she loses this stronghold in her life she is terrified of what will happen to her next. This fear is solely caused by the fact that the war has taken her husband far away from her. As the root of her fear is something that has happened in every war, it is likely that wives have had the same fear for their husbands in many wars past.
War has been a reality since the beginning of written history but the problems it causes have not changed since that time. Involvement in it causes tremendous negative effects on a country’s economy, such as inflation and debt. A country’s people are not only affected by these economic problems, but also the deaths and mental injuries of their loved ones. All-consuming fear for loved ones who have gone to fight is yet another negative effect of war. With its consistent negative effects on soldiers, their loved ones, and the economy, war has been a negative factor in many people’s lives. While it is possible to lessen the impact of these effects and quicken the recovery from them, one can never avoid these problems caused by war. These harsh realities are inescapable, as war, the root of such problems, is inescapable in itself.
Bradley, James, and Ron Powers. Flags of Our Fathers. New York: Bantam, 2006. Print.
Flags of our Fathers. Dir. Clint Eastwood. DreamWorks, 2007. DVD.
Myers, Walter Dean. Fallen Angels. New York: Scholastic, 2008. Print.
Owen, Wilfred. "Dulce Et Decorum Est." Poetry Foundation. Poetry Foundation, Web. 23 Apr.
"Researchers: PTSD as Old as Warfare." Military History, vol. 32, no. 2, July 2015, p. 11.
Reznikoff, Charles. “During the Second World War.” The Poems of Charles Reznikoff. Black
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Spiegelman, Art. Maus. a Survivor's Tale: My Father Bleeds History. New York: Pantheon, 1986.
Striner, Richard. "How to Pay for What We Need." The American Scholar. N.p., Winter 2012. Web.
24 Mar. 2017.