Call to arms

Conventional wisdom holds that a select group of World War I poets and writers, Siegfried Sassoon and Wilfred Owen among them, forever changed the way we see war. In The Great War and Modern Memory (1976) historian and literary critic Paul Fussell argued that these groundbreaking writers transformed our perception of warfare from a heroic enterprise for brave soldiers to a disillusioning spectacle of waste in which youth are butchered by new and terrible technologies of death. Owen, a young officer who was killed in action just days before the war ended, most clearly conveyed this shift. His most famous poem, “Dulce et Decorum Est,” proclaims Horace’s Latin aphorism “It is sweet and fitting to die for one’s country” to be a dangerous lie. The poem can be read as an exhortation to teachers and preachers to stop telling that lie.

 

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