War is hell; there is no other way to put it. No matter how many times bards romanticize war and battle, there is that ultimate, inherent ugliness involved in the business of killing. There is no honor or heroism in dying for your country, you just die, it is a great tragedy and there is nothing you can do about it. Mortality is always present on both sides fighting the battle; there will continuously be casualties. Suffering, misery and destitution are constant whether on the march, sitting in the trench or charging across no man’s land.
The pain is felt on both warring sides, everyone suffers, war brings nothing but anguish, joy and happiness are non-existent. No one rejoices war, unless they are zealous over a cause, then they are just crazy. Historians consider the War of the States as one of the bloodiest conflicts of all time. Through the eyes of a hospital attendant, there must have been nothing but row after row of cots containing the dead or dying.
Walt Whitman was a hospital attendant who treated many soldiers, and watched many of them suffer as they died. In his collection of poetry “Drum-Taps”, Whitman conveys the pain and suffering endured by the north and south in the Civil War to express the pointlessness and destructiveness of the war.
In this collection of poetry, Whitman expresses how meaningless the slaughter is in order to expound the total futility and pointlessness of the war. Everyone who was killed in the War of the States was an American. Everyone involved is a human being and a member of the same country. If members of the same country bicker against each other, what is the end result? Nothing, nothing is gained, nothing is benefited; Whitman mourns this by coming to “bend down and touch lightly with my lips the white face in the coffin” (Reconciliation, l 6) of his enemy, of his brother. Even though the southerners are technically his enemy, he still loves them tenderly as he would his own kin. His family has been killed at the hands of his family. There were many pale-faced men as this who were unfortunate victims of civil warfare. This is a terrible tragedy, and Whitman challenges this by asking what happens after these “hard-fought engagements or sieges tremendous? What deepest remains” (The Wound-Dresser, l 12)? The answer, only those who survive to tell the tale remain. Is it really something to celebrate after massacring your fellow countrymen? One might point out the heroics and bravery exhibited in the war, men have been made stronger and is just a growing experience for the country, but “was one side so brave? The other was equally brave” (The Wound-Dresser, l 8). The heroics and bravery are without direction in this war. If you commit a great act of sacrifice, then the results only hurt those whom you share land with, your countrymen, your brethren. Whitman grieves for these people, “for my enemy is dead. A man as divine as myself is dead” (Reconciliation, l 4). There is no purpose to this feud; it has extinguished a man, who is an equal, from this world. By speaking of his enemies as his equals and as divine as himself, he captures their humanity and in effect how inhumane it is to destroy them utterly. Through this portrayal of parity in the humanness of those who endure torture, Whitman thrusts out that the war ultimately wasteful and fruitless. Whitman relates to the horror and suffering endured by the soldiers and civilians in order to show the destructiveness of the Civil War. The US Civil War undid many things, it disunited families and set countryman against each other, this only made the fighting ugly. The conflict ravaged this country and “burst like a ruthless force” (Beat! Beat! Drums! l 2) disrupting all life along the way, in both the north and south. Consequently, “some suffer so much, I recall the experience sweet and sad” (The Wound-Dresser, l 63). In the hospital tents the dead and dying “lie on the ground after the battle…their priceless blood reddens the grass” (The Wound-Dresser, ll 27-28). The misery can be associated with the soldier who’s “eyes are closed, his face is pale, he dares not look on the bloody stump” (The Wound-Dresser, l 48). This is the reality of the war, there is nothing romantic about it; it brings nothing but absolute evil. Whitman provide comfort for those soldiers who’s “loving arms about this neck have cross’d and rested, Many a soldier’s kiss dwells on these bearded lips” (The Wound-Dresser, l 64-65). As soldiers died, Whitman was one of those wonderful people who stood by and provided reassurance so that they might rest in peace; Whitman witnessed these traumatic and tragic events first hand. Whitman “could not refuse this moment to die for you, if that would save you”; this divulges the grief he undergoes while alleviating the grief of others. The anguish of the soldiers was a direct result of civil warfare, and worst of all, there was no purpose to it. The war: “makes no parley-nor stops for no expostulation, Minds not the timid-minds not the weeper or prayer, Minds not the old man beseeching the young man, Lets not the child’s voice be heard, nor the mother’s entreaties,” (Beat! Beat! Drums! ll 14-17).
All these people have been affected in one way or another, whether a relative having gone off the fight, having been bombed, attacked or sacked, they have experienced a full scale war. How constantly “the sisters Death and Night incessantly softly wash again, and ever again, this soil’d world”, killing those who do not deserve death in such an atmosphere of sheer horror. The devastation that the War of the States has caused to the people who experienced it is shown through Whitman’s description of their suffering.
In conclusion, Whitman conveys the pain and suffering of the people in his collection of poetry, “Drum-Taps” in order to convey the pointlessness and destructiveness of the war. As said by Whitman, war is nothing to sing song of praise s about or glorify. There is ultimately no purpose to warfare, everyone suffers, it is essentially a no-win scenario. It is the desires of men, their insatiable greed for land, wealth and power that moves them to send wave after wave of human beings, without blinking, into the meat grinder. The end result of all these periods of warfare, corruption and essential “human-quality” of our lifestyles is the type of life we live right now, how we are surrounded by luxury yet the rest of the world is not so fortunate to be so rich and living the good life. Why wouldn’t we be portrayed as greedy devils trying to steal what little other nations have? It is the “the cost of my desire, sleep now in the fire”.
Bibliography:Works CitedWhitman, Walt. “Drum-Taps.” Norton’s Anthology. NY, 1999: 133-140
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