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Written by Josh Robles
The True Nature of War
Young Raleigh realizes that war is nothing like he had thought it would be almost immediately. He notices the quiet and the general lack of action. The notion of war being chaotic, frantic and filled with incessant fighting, killing and dying is a common misconception of the inexperienced. The reality is that wartime is usually more of a game of waiting through long marathons of boredom and that the horrors normally associated with it are just a tiny fraction of the total time. Many combat veterans report the same feelings especially in current times. A soldiers' joke is that your general orders are to hurry-up-and-wait, or wait-like-you-mean-it; War is 99% extreme boredom, followed by 1% of sheer and absolute terror.
The Gradient Declining Scale of Human Empathy
The junior officers are often characterized with ideas of war as nonsensical and horrific, and that they feel heavy empathy towards the loss of life and the general magnitude of human suffering. As we move up the rank, Captain Stanhope has elements of these but he maintains an effective distance to it. The Colonel exhibits very slightly less and reluctant empathy and concerns himself more with winning and success, to amount it all much like some grand game. The higher echelon of generals and the top brass seem to have even less empathy, in their denial of executing the nighttime capture raid in favor of daylight, and the resulting speculation that they merely intend to have all the killing and dying and reports be finished in time for their diner at headquarters. The play may also allude to an interpretation of society beyond the battlefield and the chains-of-command as well, that there is a hidden disdain for the peoples of competing nations that send all these chosen few to fight and die in their name; Maybe that it says the truest general lack of empathy is in society at large.
The Idealized Admirations of Aged Wisdom and Innocent Youth
Osborne represents wisdom through his experience and age. He is middle-aged and grey-haired but he is portrayed in an esteemed, respected and positive light and is referred to as Uncle by the others. He is confident, intelligent, and extremely insightful and these qualities are societal ideals usually attributed to the wise elder. Raleigh represents the innocence of youth. He is described as a good-looking, healthy boy who has just come from school. The capture raid recognizes the guts-and-glory eagerness stereotype and the burgeoning physical strength, agility and prowess of youth. Raleigh's demeanor and relationship with the others, and especially to Stanhope, pronounce and reinforce his ideal innocence and youth throughout.
The Precursory Acknowledgement of Symptoms of Combat-Induced PTSD
Written in the early part of the 20th century, the formalized diagnoses of psychological illnesses and their symptoms, such as Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and its combat-induced variant, was not yet at the level of today nearly a hundred years later. Not specifically mentioned in the play are the terms we know to have been later associated around the time, Combat Fatigue and Shell Shock. Instead of just laying down the terms, R.C. Sherriff utilizes his characters in order to express in specific details of just what exactly is going on. The synthesis of this work highlights and explicates the nature of the terms without naming them specifically. The constant fear of death, the incessant bombardment, the sights and smells of war, the killing, and the loss of dear friends, all take its toll on people in different ways.
Alcoholism, Alcohol Use and Abuse
Stanhope's heavy drinking habits are revealed early on in the play. He later admits that it is a coping mechanism and that whiskey is why he is able to walk outside on the front lines and do his duties. Alcohol offers him liquid courage and the ability to forget all the disquieting horrors and frights of war. The portrayal of its widespread use is also present throughout the play; It is offered to everyone much like a common cup of water and also used for celebrations and special occasions. It is offered constantly as if it were a solution to any and all of the many terrors of the past, present and future.
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