There is No Honorable Death: Analysis of ‘Dulce et Decorum Est’ and ‘The Charge of the Light Brigade’ in a Reservist’s Point of View and Criticism

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“There have not been peace with no weapons in human history and warfare always breaks out in the worst-case scenario. This means for peace, always prepare for war.” My TI&E (Troop Information and Education) officer often had said this. Armed forces are nominal groups driven by orders. Such rank system that military owns, the top commands, and the bottom obeys. This is the basic rule for troops. And we also did so. We prepared crew-served weapons, bunch of ammunitions, and all the war supplies—to keep peace.

There had been fully supports by the contradiction of preparing warfare for peace. And our officers always emphasized the unity between the members for collective solidarity. It is to promote communal spirit. The problem, however, is that this sense of community is merely for our missions, and it also has the contradiction in which it is quite exclusive to their ideologically opposed enemies or other form of communities. In other words, in order to preserve peace, our young had to serve, bleed and die.

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Keywords: contradiction, patriotism, chauvinism, jingoism, fascism, propaganda


Perhaps in “Dulce et Decorum Est,” by Wilfred Own, the author might have had such firsthand experience of war as a soldier. He describes the stressful tension of battlefield and lively expresses the urgent situation of it. This poet vividly describes the condition of the servicemen involved in the war, especially for their mental and physical condition after a gas bombardment and then portraying the effect of it. However, the title Dulce et Decorum Est and the last sentence at the fourth stanza Pro patria mori means “It is sweet and fitting to die for one’s country.

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” Ironically, he describes the cruelty of war and his writing is mismatch with the title. In addition, “They,” composed by Siegfried Sassoon, criticizes the Bishops in England, the upper class of the age. He divided it into two stanzas, the first and second at which clearly aim their authority members, and the reaction toward engaging wars varies—it has such a quite contrast between the old powerful men and the young innocent civilians.

Then, I would start my analysis with “Dulce et Decorum Est,” by Wilfred Own.

< Wilfred Own, ‘Dulce et Decorum Est’, 1920>

“Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,

Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,

Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs,

And towards our distant rest began to trudge.

Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots,

But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind;

Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots

Of gas-shells dropping softly behind.”


In the first stanza, he describes the soldiers as unwilling to fight. We can infer that soldiers are extremely exhausted by endless war. Some may have lost their legs, instead of boots, and some would have fallen asleep forever after the battle while the rests are going back to the barracks. Because of the urgency in battlefield, his vague consciousness says the war made their men like old beggars, and all blind.

“Gas! GAS! Quick, boys!—An ecstasy of fumbling

Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time,

But someone still was yelling out and stumbling

And flound’ring like a man in fire or lime.—

Dim through the misty panes and thick green light,

As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.”

In the second stanza, the CBR (Chemical, Biological, Radioactive) attack suddenly comes and there are some soldiers who are too tired to wear his gas mask. Then the soldiers are suffocated to death and Own describes that green, gassy place as “a green sea.” We can infer that due to such stresses the battle gives, the soldiers couldn’t even think that they need to wear the masks to survive, or maybe they were too terrified and mentally damaged by war and lost the will to live.

In all my dreams before my helpless sight,

He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.

If in some smothering dreams, you too could pace

Behind the wagon that we flung him in,

And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,

His hanging face, like a devil’s sick of sin;

If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood

Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,

Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud

Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,—

My friend, you would not tell with such high zest

To children ardent for some desperate glory,

The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est

Pro patria mori.

In the third and fourth stanza, his emotion is full of fear. Even though he never directly says what the war is, we still could completely sympathize with his fearful emotions on war. For instance, during my military service at ROK Ministry of National Defense as an honor guard, I had met a lot of survived war veterans and war heroes in our underground. The survivors often said our drill team that when the war broke, their teammates were vanished as a dust in an instant, and someone who survived still had been living in war trauma, or has other physical disorders like cancers in this stanza. In the poem, I thought there have not been any winner in the battle, and the only thing the soldiers can expect is to survive, not honor. When I first carried the coffin with my hand, it was the heaviest thing I have ever carried, and I felt oppressed by the weight of life for the first time. I was just a 19-year-old boy and too young to think about war and death. The fear of death suddenly came over. As a man in uniform, Own also could once value honor above his life, but I think it is also possible to say that he realized what the real war is and death is very near to our life, and it sometimes unwittingly came once in his mind. Just because a man is a soldier, having a lot of training never completely means that the fear of war is gone. Then he probably realized everything about the honor was lie. Own seems to have wanted to express this part. They are civilians, or just governance class who just want to live in peace, even before they are soldiers. Own may had to fight with those patriotic cliché to warn people not to break war again.

And this sanctification process is not so different from then. In order to justify death, the first step in “soldierization” is “headucation” and deprivation of basic rights, which are remembered as appearing in training manuals during the boot camp period. This process is essentially required to change social position from a boy to a ready-to-fight soldier. Getting ready to serve, trainees are being educated to obey orders by devoting their life to protect, to secure their land and people from the enemies, on the other hand, do not allow them any time to take personal actions even in bathroom. Then candidates, the young, are given military serial numbers and two tags with chain. These two dog tags, one is for our own and another one is for my body identification when killed in action. Then the boys are reborn with that numbers as an evidence of warrior. Then the name is called Private Lee, Kim or other family names by being placed instead of their names originally given. Pairs of uniforms and personal weapons correspond their identity and also are parts of their body, and combat support equipments become their clothes. These may be their shroud and tomb. These are all the soldiers can enjoy for their sacrifice. All the servicemen undergo this process to serve.

The Bishop tells us: ‘When the boys come back

‘They will not be the same; for they’ll have fought

‘In a just cause: they lead the last attack

‘On Anti-Christ; their comrades’ blood has bought

‘New right to breed an honourable race,

‘They have challenged Death and dared him face to face.’

In the first stanza of Sasoon’s poem, if we look at their background, the war advocate is the Bishop. Ironically, those who should definitely say no to war are glorifying and demanding for victory for “divine” purpose, and propagating people to fight. This divine duty is fighting against the Anti-Christ to defeat them. If to survive, have to kill someone. The Bishop should be a moral example to others, but thirsts for blood. Religion, which should be taught to man, is abused by divine power. In addition, the above poem says that the minority with the power justifies their violence for the rights of the civilians. Such unreasonable requirement to others can be the basis of blind patriotism, which is called chauvinism, or jingoism. These are the terms referring to a hostile and self-centered state of mind against other groups that occur within a certain social group. And persecution for the difference gave rise to Nazi’s holocaust to kill millions of Jews during the Second World War based on fascism. For example, Adolf Eichmann, who was responsible for the genocide of millions of Jews, was brought to court in Jerusalem, where he was punished as the director of the Jewish massacre. Eichmann answered the judge’s question why he led the Jewish massacre. He replied that he just followed the orders. It was his duty, and he just worked diligently to fulfill that responsibility. He even replied that he did not feel remorse, but he would have felt remorse when he did not conduct the given work. Although he performed “well” as the Nazi required, those narrow-minded thought and non-critical acceptance of duty made him believe blind faith. In this process, the individual is just a small being required to sacrifice and serve for the great, and perceives it as a means of mobilization of labor or war. That means people can easily objectify human values if they are improperly disciplined.

‘We’re none of us the same!’ the boys reply.

‘For George lost both his legs; and Bill’s stone blind;

‘Poor Jim’s shot through the lungs and like to die;

‘And Bert’s gone syphilitic: you’ll not find

‘A chap who’s served that hasn’t found some change.

‘ And the Bishop said: ‘The ways of God are strange!’

In the second stanza, The British Bishop described in the text, is fascinated by wars and can say that he lacks moral consciousness and has failed to fulfill his role as a confidential leader. And they boys who went back from battle says they are not same. But ‘They’, the clergymen, do not know the war. And each of them has significant difference perspectives on war. ‘We’, the boys, are died and the Bishop doesn’t know ‘them.’ The only thing that the Bishop can reply is ‘The ways of God are strange!’ Herbert Hoover, the thirty-first U.S president said, ‘Older men declare war. But it is young that must fight and die.” One of the biggest reasons why young people avoid their duty and service is the distrust of sacrifice for the nation. I think Sasoon tried to satirize the lack of quality as a leader, and it often requires sacrifice of more people. If there is air force in the sky, leaders are chair forces. What these task forces have to do is not demanding sacrifice for the war, but it is the divine task given them to provide the fundamental guarantee of their security to prevent war. They should have to say no to praise the victory of war and stop pushing the young people to the battlefield.


War takes away our everyday life and makes the same propensity of many people to see only what is in front of them. It blinds people to make radical judgments based on instantaneous decisions, not rational at all. In this process, irrational abuse is regarded as patriotic courage, and discernment for everything is regarded as neglect of all things. In other words, belligerent behavior is regarded as masculine attitude, and acting for peace is considered a plausible excuse to escape. The social atmosphere created by war is to conform to the changed order due to the unstable human emotion of war. The Bishop’s individualistic thinking that disregards the soldiers with no respect as their lives is excluded from the value of respect for other living things. In addition, it does not objectively recognize the existence of life, but it undermines the value of people who have other perspectives and instigates war. This divine task has not to be overused by politicians or priests.

Although war veterans have the title of honor to their nation, they have already died at the battlefield, or are still suffering from the aftereffects of war. Living in psychological trauma from battlefield, such as being deaf or blind because of gunfire and neutralize weapons from the enemies, being suffocated by the biochemical gas, seeing the mutilated and dismembered corpses who were our comrades of yesterday. The war factor is often more complicated than we thought, but our death is so soon that is far more simple and suddenly comes than we thought. Above all, none of figure is honorable. People never have to justify the war in any purposes, or the young will just continue to die under the name of ruined honor. Glorifying war never can be the compensatory solution for one’s death.

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There is No Honorable Death: Analysis of ‘Dulce et Decorum Est’ and ‘The Charge of the Light Brigade’ in a Reservist’s Point of View and Criticism. (2022, Apr 15). Retrieved from

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