War has existed with humankind for as long as humankind has existed, and it has defined many societal functions. Most people look at war from the perspective of the war winner and the loser of the war. However, war bears with it more themes than the winners and losers. The people that can communicate messages of war better than anyone else are those that participate in them. They have first-hand experience of war and bear direct effects of it. Brian Turner’s “The Hurt Locker” and Wilfred Owen’s “Dulce et Decorum Est” resemble each other in the way the poets use brevity as well as imagery and symbolism to communicate empathy and the melancholy of war soldiers. Conversely, the two poems differ in the sense that they criticize different attributes of the war they communicate. “The Hurt Locker” criticizes the western nations’ propaganda to justify their occupancy of Iraq and other Arab countries; Owen’s “Dulce et Decorum Est” criticizes the rallying call for recruiting young persons in the army.
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Both Brian Turner and Wilfred Owen were soldiers who participated in wars, and these wars influenced the poems they wrote. Despite fighting in wars that are almost a century apart, the predicaments and the impacts that befell them are not any different. Both Turner and Owen use brevity as well as symbolism to express their empathy for soldiers at war and the melancholy they felt from the wars they fought in. Both poems are brief; Turner’s is eighteen lines long while twenty-eight Owen’s is lines long. Owen wrote “Dulce et Decorum Est” while recuperating from the battle he had fought in France during the First World War. Owen writes:
Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots,
But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind;
Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
Of gas-shells dropping softly behind. (5-8)
The goal that these lines have is to depict the picture of the soldiers in war and to empathize with them. It was a hard time during the war; it was a hopeless and helpless situation for the soldiers some working on bare feet after losing their boots. Owen says they were “Drunk with fatigue…” (7) to depict the exhaustion of the soldiers. To the soldier who fought alongside Owen, these words would show Owen’s shared empathy with them. To a person who did not go to battle, even to those born today, Owen was portraying a picture of what it was like in the war. Was it all that honorable as politicians would have made their citizenry believe?
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Likewise, Turner in “The Hurt Locker” sympathizes with those he fought alongside and paints a picture for those that were not soldiers or fought in Iraq to visualize what the war in Iraq was like. Turner says:
Believe it when you see it.
Believe it when a twelve-year-old
rolls a grenade into the room.
step from a taxicab in Mosul
to shower the street in brass
and fire. Open the hurt locker (7-15)
These nine lines paint a picture for the entire world to see what the Iraq war was like. Turner was probably telling his readers not to doubt how movies and fictional works portray the war in Arab countries. In lines 1 and 2, Turner empathizes with those he fought with saying, “Nothing but hurt left here. / Nothing but bullets and pain”. Turner shares the nothingness left in him as well as in the other soldiers. He shared the soldiers’ desperation and sadness. Despite going to ‘fight for honor’, the only ‘honor’ they begot was bullets and pain. Lines 4-5 depict further despair as the soldiers cursed; the curse words that Turner uses are rather explicit perhaps for stressing the soldiers’ despair.
Although Turner and Owen are both critical of the wars they fought in, they criticize contrasting subjects of these wars. On one hand, Turner in “The Hurt Locker” waters down the reasoning behind the United States’ occupation of Iraq (by then). To the current reader of this poem, the poem is like an expose of the propaganda that the US and her allies use to start a war and send soldiers to Arab countries. In lines 17 – 18, Turner says, “Open the hurt locker and learn / How rough men come hunting for souls.” That is probably why Turner tells his readers to believe what they see – perhaps in movies – about the wars that the US and her allies fight in the Arab countries. Most of these wars are fought because of mere propaganda rather than moral and ethical reasons.
Owen, on the other hand, uses “Dulce et Decorum Est” to dissuade potential enlistees into the army under the false notion that “It is sweet and proper to die for one’s country” – the English translation for Dulce et decorum est / Pro Patria Mori. (27–28). Before Owen quotes Horace in lines 27 and 28, he tells his readers: “My friend, you would not tell with such high zest / To children ardent for some desperate glory, / The old Lie:…” (25-27). When soldiers enlisted to fight in WWI, they were doing it under the rallying call that it was the desirable and honorable thing to die for their country. This was the lie that the politicians who never participated in any war used to rally the youth to enlist.
Summarily, both Turner and Owen empathize with fellow soldiers through their poems. They also use the poems to paint a picture of the wars they fought in for those that were ignorant of the true looks of the war. However, Turner criticizes the US’s propaganda that she uses to justify her war with Arab nations while Owen, on the other hand, criticizes the old lie that people who enlisted to fight in the World War for their countries died a “sweet and proper” death.
Owen, Winfred. “Dulce et Decorum Est.” Poems. Viking Press, 1921. Web.
Turner, Brian. “The Hurt Locker.” Here Bullet. Alice James Books, 2005. Web.