War And Its Myths

Oct 24, 2018 | 0 comments

Oct 24, 2018 | Miscellaneous | 0 comments

ESSAY 4: War And Its Myths (30 points)

When asked to contribute a poem to the war effort in 1915, the Irish poet and statesman William Butler Yeats responded with a short and oddly dismissive verse that begins with these lines:

I think it better that in times like these

A poet’s mouth be silent, for in truth

We have no gift to set a statesman right….

The World War One poets were perhaps the first to use art to try to convey the experience of war to people back home. In our time, films like American Sniper or The Hurt Locker fulfill the same function. What exactly can we learn from artistic representations of war, like poems, stories or films?


Fiction: “Redeployment,” Phil Klay | “How To Tell A True War Story,” Tim O’Brien

Poem: “To His Love,” Gurney | “Menin Gate,” “Rearguard,” “The General,” “Glory of Women,” Sassoon | “Anthem for Doomed Youth,” “Dulce Et Decorum Est,” Owen

Non-Fiction: “Home Fires,” George Packer; “Poetry does not help children understand the Great War,” Daily Mail; WWI information sheet (see WebAccess)

Contemporary war movie (optional but recommended): some good ones include Lone Survivor, The Hurt Locker, Jarhead, American Sniper, Saving Private Ryan

Independently located source (review, article, etc.)

Your task Address ONE of the following questions. Your discussion should focus on at least three poems, or two poems and one short story, as well as other material (movie, non-fiction articles, independently located sources). Your response should show a basic knowledge of the events and historical importance of World War I.

  1. The World War I poets set about shattering long-standing war myths – its honor, glory, camaraderie and so on. Discuss these myths, and show us how the poets tried to debunk them. Your paper should consider to what extent the War poets were successful: do we still believe in some of these myths? (Sources: WWI poets, contemporary short stories and/or movie, supporting articles.)
  2. In 1936, W. B. Yeats complained that the poetry of World War I forces us to dwell on what Owen called “the pity of War” – the chaos, the pain, the fear of death, the lasting psychological damage. Many fighters, Yeats pointed out, could talk quite cheerfully and even callously about their experiences, and “that too may be a right way of seeing war.” What do you think? Discuss some of the more positive poetry and fiction of war, and explore whether these myths have merit. (Sources: WWI poets, contemporary stories and/or movie, supporting articles).
  3. George Packer writes that the experience of war “opens an unbridgeable gap between soldiers and civilians.” Sassoon, Owen and Gurney all address, in one way or another, how differently veterans and civilians must deal with the memory of war, and the difficulty of memorializing the dead. Discuss this gap between soldiers and civilians – what causes it, and whether it can be bridged. (Sources: WWI poets, contemporary short stories, optional movie, supporting articles.)
  4. Reviewing the movie Lone Survivor, writer Calum Marsh wrote that “despite their moralizing, war films … almost never discourage…. The carnage and difficulties only underline the message. War isn’t great; war makes you great.” Do you agree? Compare a recent war film with some selected poems from World War One and one or more short stories, and compare how the two art forms (literature and film) portray war.

Your audience What kind of face should you imagine behind the page? Someone who –

  • is not in our class. Your reader hasn’t been part of our discussions, and will need plenty of explanation.
  • is terribly interested in what you are trying to say. You’re not selling a used car.
  • HAS READ the fiction texts, but drawn no conclusions. No summaries – but lots of support and details.


  • AT LEAST 1500 words (6-8 pages)
  • Discussion of at least three literary works, and at least two WWI poems; also contemporary war movie (optional, but recommended for some topics)
  • Supporting comments and information from WWI research packet, non-fiction articles, including at least one independently located source
  • Lots of direct quotes, clearly integrated and correctly cited using MLA format.


World War I quiz Tues November 10
Thesis/outline due for class work Thurs 11/12

Oct 27 WAR

“To His Love” | Introduction: WWI | Research questions


War myths: “St. Crispin’s Day” / “The Soldier” / “Charge of the Light Brigade” / “Irish Airman” / “Rendezvous”

Nov 3 Wilfred Owen: “Anthem for Doomed Youth” / “Dulce Et Decorum Est” | Sassoon: “The General” / “Glory of Women” / “Menin Gate” 5 Sassoon, “The Rearguard”
Klay, “Redeployment” / O’Brien, “How To Tell A True War Story”

World War I: Quiz! (You can bring your notes)


Essay in progress day: Thesis / outlines due

Citing your sources


Sentence review: Focus / modifiers


Sentence review / MLA


NO CLASS – Optional conference day


Thanksgiving – HOLIDAY

Research questions

  1. Give a very broad timeline of the war, including the countries participating, and naming at least two of the most important battles.
  2. Much of the worst fighting took place in Northern France, using a system called “trench warfare.” Describe trench warfare, and some of the conditions soldiers experienced.
  3. Name at least two innovations in war technology and/or strategies used in WWI.
  4. WWI had many lingering impacts. Name one, and explain it.