The contradictions, the paradoxes and the fascination of war are most searingly expressed in poetry. Auden's "Shield of Achilles," for instance, shows the individual submerged and demeaned in the collective identity:
An unintelligible multitude,
A million eyes, a million boots, in line,
Without expression, waiting for a sign.
while Wallace Steves in "Gigantomachia," echoing the same theme, reports the eerie elevation, the self-enlargement, felt by the single soldier as part of some greater enterprise.
No self in the mass: the braver being,
The body that could never be wounded,
The life that never would end, no matter
Who died, the being that was an abstraction,
A giant's heart in the veins, all courage.
And Siegfried Sassoon, a most bitter critic of World War I, presents another, related paradox: the fact that within the undeniable horror of war are found some of the noblest expressions of the human spirit--unselfish devotion, courage and loyalty. As he writes in his Memoirs of an Infantry Officer:
I was rewarded by an intense memory of men whose courage had showm the power of the human spirit--that spirit which could withstand the utmost assault....Against the background of the War and its brutal stupidity those men had stood glorified by the thing which sought to destroy them.
Thus, despite the brutality and the suffering it engenders, war remains for many the most intense and significant experience of their lives. It therefore seems essential, if war is to be replaced, to take account of this truth. Poetry, we think, present this truth in its most distilled form.
This Voices book was inspired by the work of Lucy Dougall and her compilation, War and Peace in Literature that was published by A World Without War in 1982. Lucy has given us guidance and permission to take a lead from her book, and to use in as part of our effort. We are most grateful to Lucy for her generosity.