Generals Die in Bed
Generals Die in Bed certainly demonstrates that war is futile and the soldiers suffer both emotionally and physically - Generals Die in Bed introduction. Charles Yale Harrison presents a distressing account of the soldiers fighting in the Western front, constantly suffering and eventually abandoning hope for an end to the horrors that they experience daily. The ‘boys’ who went to war became ‘sunk in misery’. We view the war from the perspective of a young soldier who remains nameless. The narrator’s experience displays the futility and horror of war and the despair the soldiers suffered. There is no glory in war.
As an 18 yr old virgin recruit, the narrator, who remains unnamed, leaves his homeland of Canada for the war in Europe. The mood of the soldiers is generally happy: many have spent their last day visiting brothels and getting drunk. Some however are apprehensive of the war that lies ahead of them. The bleak reality of the trenches is unbearable: ‘each step is agony. The mud sucks us down… but we keep going nevertheless’. In the face of adversity, it leaves no doubt that these men have been forced to the limits of their tolerance and perseverance: ‘We borrow into the grounds like frightened rats….
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I am terrified. I hug the earth, digging my fingers into every crevices, every hole… my bowels liquefy’. The recruits expose the ruthless side of themselves when their reaction to Browns death was a mere surprise. Brown was shot in the middle of his duty dividing rations. The soldiers all expected death at any moment-whether it was to them, one of their friends or between their comrades. The dead comrade was soon forgotten and his abandoned ration taken: ‘Broadbent takes the cheese and bread out of Brown’s haversack… Anyway… e can’t eat any more’. They do not see themselves as comrades; their main aim is to survive at what ever cost, thus they act like track animal, snarling and snapping at each other when the stress of war gets to them. For the men, it is evident that the senselessness of the job they are doing has poisoned their values and their ideal war: ‘We stagger around like drunken, forsaken men; life has become an insane dream’. The treatments executed by the officers to the men during the war were clearly the justification for many of their actions.
The narrator gives the readers a distressing account of an incident which the troops had been marching non-stop for 3 days without food and water. After arriving in a deserted city of Arras the soldiers were famished and deprived of sleep. Each evening the men would look expectantly for the cook wagon as they went to get their billets. But no wagon came. They were increasingly bitter towards the officer who they suspected of profiting from the war and their tolerance with the officers was waning rapidly. For the men, their enemies are, ‘the lice, some of our officers and death’.
The officers are considered an enemy because they lack empathy, and comparison, and seem to be contemptuous of the ordinary soldiers. Hence their comment: ‘they take everything from us: our lives, our hearts; even the few lousy hours of rest, blood they take that too. Our job is to give theirs is to take… ’ As it became clear to them that the town was deserted, their discipline and self-control is overcome with nomadic result. The pillage of Arras displays the predicted impact the officer’s poor treatments have had on the soldiers.
This war has changed the values of the narrator because now it is everyone for themselves to ensure survival. When fry’s legs are blown off, he pleads the narrator for help: ‘Save me. Don’t leave me here alone. ’ The narrator simply shakes him off and moves on. The soldiers have been trained like beasts and they have been dehumanised; they have been taught that no life is to be spared. Death is now the norm and they have been desensitized to it. The narrator relates an incident where he volunteers for a raid on the German trenches. He experiences much trauma; he kills a soldier, Karl.
Karl’s death is terrible- the bayonet is trapped in Karl and eventually the narrator has to shoot him. When he returns to the trenches with two German prisoners he tries to suppress what has happened: ‘It is better not to think’. The narrator knows that he would indubitably go insane if he thinks about his action. Karl’s death epitomizes the fact that soldiers on both sides are killed in horrific way for no discernible reason. There is definitely nothing glorious or heroic about war. Generals Die in Bed is a narrative which never spares the readers from the truth of the horrors and futility of war.
The reality of the shocking and inhumane trenches hits both the readers and the soldiers with apprehension of the front line. The actions of the soldiers are under constant tension of the war, and the conditions imposed upon them clearly become the catalyst for many of their actions. The narrator has indubitably portrayed war as nothing glorious or heroic, but giving the soldiers a sense of dread and demonstrating a full force of meaningless that the bizarre and deadening circumstances of war bring down upon the men during the ransacking of Arras.