Is War Kind? a Reply to Stephen Crane


While surfing the internet, I came across this picture and wondered what it really would be. Apparently, I could not see anything wrong with the photo; a Japanese boy is in attention position while keeping a baby fasten to his back. I have seen in films that Japanese hold their babies like this. The child’s face looks patriotic and does not show any emotion. He must be listening to the national anthem and his brother or sister must be sleeping well, that’s what I thought. 
Then I read the lines underneath it and my heart started aching. Suddenly, my mind came to the poem ‘War is Kind’ by Stephen Crane in an ironical tone criticizing the grim truth of loss in war. As the photo, outer world only sees the glory in it but the real face of war is not at all a beautiful one. Well, back to the photo, do you know that boy is carrying his own brother’s dead body on his shoulder to be cremated at a mass cremation site? Shocking, isn’t that so? During the World War II, Hiroshima and Nagasaki were blown into dust by a nuclear attack. Mountain of people lost their lives whom cremated in mass cremation sites. This boy was also waiting without any emotion in attention position until the officers take his brother to fed the fire set by war. Where would his parents might be? Why doesn’t he show any emotions? Parents might be killed by the atomic wave and he seems not old enough to understand anything or he must be in a state of emotional comma. How kind war are you to take my younger brother, you must be telling me not to cry because that is the nature of war! My question is would you still see any glory in the photo? Probably not. War cannot give glory; it only can give pain to ordinary people who are the ultimate victims of war. Stephen Crane too is telling us this very truth.


from War is Kind ["Do not weep, maiden, for war is kind"]

By Stephen Crane




Do not weep, maiden, for war is kind.
Because your lover threw wild hands toward the sky
And the affrighted steed ran on alone,
Do not weep.
War is kind.

      Hoarse, booming drums of the regiment,
      Little souls who thirst for fight,
      These men were born to drill and die.
      The unexplained glory flies above them,
      Great is the battle-god, great, and his kingdom—
      A field where a thousand corpses lie.

Do not weep, babe, for war is kind.
Because your father tumbled in the yellow trenches,
Raged at his breast, gulped and died,
Do not weep.
War is kind.

      Swift, blazing flag of the regiment,
      Eagle with crest of red and gold,
      These men were born to drill and die.
      Point for them the virtue of slaughter,
      Make plain to them the excellence of killing
      And a field where a thousand corpses lie.

Mother whose heart hung humble as a button
On the bright splendid shroud of your son,
Do not weep.
War is kind.

Poet is addressing three persons in the poem: a young maiden whom lost her boyfriend, a baby whom lost its father and finally a mother whom lost her son. The poet shows the ironical words thrown at those to console them: “Do not weep, … for war is kind” The letters they receive telling the loss of their soldier beloved, father or son tell them to be proud of the dead soldier for he died for his country safeguarding others. The poet is ironically questions is that true? or are those soldiers had a glorified death in the battle field? He introduces the disturbing scenes like a movie, step by step how the soldiers die with severe pain and agony. The pain of the living one is not seen by anyone whom carry the pain of loss forever. 

He critically points out whom become the victims of the glorified war, mostly the ‘little souls’, the young inexperienced ones who runs after glory. Poet further shows what are the things that attract them – the glorified war boom, flags and uniforms and the lessons that tell them ‘the virtue of slaughter’ probably to safeguard his own beloved ones. Crane shows that there are more beloved souls behind a soldier who would suffer his loss. He asks the reader to see the untold, invisible pain in their hearts. 

The poet questions the ‘unexplained glory’ of war. He questions what really is there to glorify the war? Soldiers are not heroes but victims amid of devastating weapons used in warfare. They never receive a glorified death in the war. They are brain washed to be killing machines and when they meet opponent killing machine, they both practice their ‘drill and die’ formula. Poet wants the reader to see this futility of war. 

The poet is questioning the ‘virtue of slaughter’ and asks where would one find glory in ‘a field where a thousand corpses lie’ This is the unseen real face of war which can only offer death and pain to everyone who are in and off the battlefield. He asks the reader to see the suffocated tears in the eyes of the victims of war for whom war has not been kind. His ironical lines urges reader to see the grim reality of war and ask the world not to go for a futile war which is never kind.   

What is your idea of war? Have you any ideas related to this poem? Please comment below and join the discussion. 



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