AS 3.7 (A) Respond critically to significant connections across texts, supported by evidence
Of the past 3,400 years, humans have been at war for 3,132 of them. That’s only 268 years of peace, or just 8 percent of recorded history that has seen no significant conflict. War is often regarded by observers as honorable and noble, and it can be viewed as a contest between nations, a chance to compete and be declared the victor. This raises a discussion of whether there can be a just war. This theme has been explored in several texts, where the characters explore ways in which a war can be considered just or unjust along lines of criteria taken from a BBC website. This can be shown in novels such as The Book Thief, written by Markus Zusak, which describes the impacts of World War II on a young German girl, orphaned by her communist parents, and narrated by Death, to further discuss whether the impact of war on civilians created circumstances for an unjust war. However, the film The Imitation Game, directed by Morten Tyldum, gives a story of a group of British code crackers in World War II who use their work to help civilians, and create circumstances for a just war. The connection between these texts show a contrasting opinion on World War II, which would question the justification of war through the criterion of limiting the number of innocent people and non combatants who have been harmed during the war. The Book Thief can further be analysed in connection to the short story The Things They Carried, by Tim O’Brien, a text which describes the items a regiment of American soldiers in the Vietnam War must carry, and further how the use of these relate to the criterion of war being just based on the amount of force used in the war. The song The Grave, written by Don McClean, also looks at the impacts of the Vietnam War on an American soldier, which can also be connected with novels such as The Book Thief through the criterion for a just war of having a reasonable chance of success. These texts allow for opinions to be formed on whether a war can be considered just through the contrasting perspectives on this topic, based on criteria fit to represent a war that is morally and theologically justifiable.
One of the most interesting perspectives I have seen in written texts was shown in the novel The Book Thief, as it is narrated from the perspective of Death. A main theme in this text is the criterion of having harm being done to innocent people and non combatants. It questions whether it was just for people to die and be treated so inhumanely, based on Hitler’s view of the perfect race. “They were French, they were Jews, and they were you,” Death described, as he discussed the death of a group of French Jews murdered in a Polish prison. It explains that Hitler’s treatment of anyone outside of his idea of a “perfect race,” would constitute for an unjust reason to harm innocent people and non-combatants. This was further shown in contrasts between the Jews and the Germans, because as a German, “you shouldn’t want to be like black people or Jewish people or anyone who is…not us.” This quote by Alex Steiner would imply that the population were being bred to believe in Hitler’s supremacist ideologies, and gives suggestion towards the weakness and complacency within German society during this time, that would allow for the population to carry out the most unethical and immoral behaviours simply for the sake of order and conformity. This would support the notion that Germany would be fighting an unjust war, based on the treatment of many German citizens as a result of these supremacist ideologies. The links made within this text to the criterion discussed can further be connected to films such as The Imitation Game, a text designed to portray the lives of influential individuals during WWII, who did not need to go to battle to save lives and win the war. This film shows the process of cracking the German transmission codes, and eventuate to a pivotal moment in the story where they discover a problem where “there’s going to be an attack on a British passenger convoy,” as highlighted by a member of the team. This would link to the criterion, as they identified that on these ships there were “civilians. Hundreds of them,” and that they can save their lives. However, they “have to do what’s logical,” as the main character Alan Turing finally tries to explain that their “job wasn’t to save one passenger convoy. It was to win the war.” This idea was further extended by a side character named Hugh, “our job was to break enigma.” This is significant because this text shows a situation where a small code cracking team in the middle of England were able to determine the casualties of the war, which shows that the author wants to explain to the reader that there were ways in which civilian lives could be saved from harm. On this criterion of war being just, The Book Thief and The Imitation Game give contrasting perspectives. The first text was written to give context to how these civilians were being harmed as a result of the supremacist ideologies and drive for conformity that was evident during the German WWII era, and how this created fertile ground for these atrocities to take place. In contrast, the British worked hard to save as many civilian lives as possible, even if sometimes that meant they had to sacrifice the societal views they had been forced to believe as a result of the war, such as needing to save every man they could no matter what the cost was. These contrasting situations allow the reader to draw perceptions from the texts, as it shows how the different authors wanted to portray how significant the societal views were during this time period. This will allow the readers and audience to gain a better understanding of what it would have been like to be in the situations of the characters, which further allows us to sympathise with their situations, and understand the causes of the events outlined in the novel. These texts allowed me to develop my sympathy towards victims of war, but also to empathise with the characters in The Imitation Game through the use of emotive language and contrasting opinions on this criterion of a just war.
The Things They Carried is a short story which looks at the experiences of American soldiers in the Vietnam war, and further looks at whether a war can be considered “just” through separate criteria. Many sources have explained that for a war to be considered “just,” only appropriate use of force should be used. Yet this text suggests an opinion where the soldiers felt “they had no sense of strategy or mission. They searched villages without knowing what to look for, not caring, kicking over jars of rice, frisking children and old men, blowing tunnels, sometimes setting fires and sometimes not, then forming up and moving on to the next village, then other villages, where it would always be the same.” This would suggest that there was an opinion being held of war’s such as the one in Vietnam, where the soldiers often felt they were using inappropriate measures of force and violence, without having a purpose or reason for doing so. This would constitute an unjust war because it shows that they are lacking reason for committing violent acts of this extent, more often than not, on civilians within the towns. The text further explains instances where “Lieutenant Jimmy Cross led his men into the village of Than Khe. They burned everything. They shot chickens and dogs, they trashed the village well, they called in artillery and watched the wreckage,” after witnessing a member of their platoon shot dead. This would imply that these men took this death badly, and resorted to violence to diminish their pain. They felt the town, Than Khe, was responsible for the death, and so they used every means possible to get revenge. This shows how dangerous ideologies formed during this time period, as they felt burning and destroying a town filled with civilians was justifiable because of the death of one of their soldiers. This hints towards American supremacist ideologies, an idea can be further developed when connected with other texts, such as through the events witnessed in the novel, The Book Thief, which will allow the reader to see an alternative perspective on this. During the Nazi time period, many people who did not fit Hitler’s view of the perfect race, often felt the “fists of the entire nation. One by one they climbed into the ring and beat him down,” as described by Max Vandenburg, a Jewish man looking for protection within a German family. He implies that being Jewish in a Nazi world, often felt as though an entire country was against him, and as if his life contained little value, purely because of the religion he was brought up with. This shows that force was used inappropriately by the Germans during WWII, and further pushes the idea seen within The Things They Carried, whereby the soldiers felt as though they could take out the blame of their own economic and social hardships on seemingly innocent civilians who were not directly to blame for the situation. This can further be shown in instances involving the Nuremburg Laws, whereby followers of Jewish religion would no longer be considered as German. These laws were created as a result of judgements made by Hitler, that this population were to blame for huge events such as losing WWI, and the economic crisis. Several people questioned this, as shown in the book where the author described Max Vandenburg’s situation. He explained that there were thoughts within this society that questioned “hang on a second, he was German. Or more to the point, he had been.” This shows that the force used within Germany during WWII was inappropriate, and allowed perceptions of individuals, that were often unsupported, to not only be stated, but enforced, as anyone who did not fit within society were removed. The connection and combination of perspectives shown in texts such as The Things They Carried, and The Book Thief, allow for the significance of the ideologies on the social structures during these time periods to be analysed by the reader, and further show why they should not be considered just wars.
A third criterion of a just war is that there must be a reasonable chance of success. The song The Grave, by Don McClean, describes how “a man barely twenty did answer the calling,” for young American soldiers to fight in the Vietnam war. The author wrote this song in order to portray how many soldiers went to war looking for an adventure, and often did not realise that they had very little chance of surviving. The American propaganda and romanticism of war are evident throughout this text, as the soldier believes the war will be an exciting adventure and an opportunity to see the world, yet he is left to die in a trench yelling “they can’t let me die! They can’t let me die here!” This would make the listener question whether this war could be just when analysing the links the character makes to having little chance of success. The author wants the listener to believe that it is unjust for soldiers to be sent to war simply to die, and that creating such persuasive propaganda to lead individuals to believe that war will be an incredible adventure, rather than just a road to an early grave, is very immoral and would constitute for an unjust war. He further explains that “eternity knows him, and it knows what we’ve done,” to further emphasise the idea that even though this soldier would have very little chance of success, the Americans still pushed the idea that war would be an adventure. It would also allow for connections and comparisons to be made with other texts such as The Book Thief, whereby Death further supports this theory. It explains that it has “seen so many young men over the years who think they’re running at other young men. They are not. They are running at me.” This quote would imply that more often than not, soldiers are taught to believe that going to war and fighting for their country is a way in which to protect their freedom, or fight for what they believe is right, however this quote shows that often these soldiers are just used as pawns in a very large tactical and political game. These soldiers very rarely had a reasonable chance of success. Death also allows the reader to understand the significance of this by relating war to the real world. “They say that war is death’s best friend, but I must offer you a different point of view on that one. To me, war is like the new boss who expects the impossible. He stands over your shoulder repeating one thing, incessantly: ‘Get it done, get it done.’ So you work harder. You get the job done. The boss, however, does not thank you. He asks for more.” This implies that war created more work for Death than what was necessary, and allows the reader to understand that this war in particular, should not be classed as just, simply because of how small the chance of success was for these soldiers. Personally, the most notable part of the story to depict this criterion was when Death explained, “the day was gray, the color of Europe.” I loved this book because of how it portrayed the act of death as a common occurrence, and yet each person had the opportunity to show Death their true colours. However, this quote shows that the atrocities of war were so high, that everyone’s colours would merge into one, suggesting that the war was turning into a massacre rather than a movement for freedom and peace. The connections between The Book Thief, and The Grave raise further questions of whether a war can be considered just or unjust, through the depiction of many situations where the soldiers knew they had no reasonable chance of success.
The idea of whether war can be justified is a complex and detailed issue. The connections highlighted within these texts allow for the suggestion that even if a war can be justified, it does not change how many lives were lost, villages demolished, or families destroyed. A simple list of criteria cannot act as an apology for the exploitation of human beings, and can never be viewed as a means of legitimising the illegal acts witnessed within these texts, that breached many areas of human rights. This has been shown through the connections of the novel The Book Thief, which several texts including the film, The Imitation Game, the short story, The Things They Carried, and the song, The Grave. These texts were connected by criteria used to describe a just war, such as having few innocent people and non-combatants harmed during the war, the appropriate use of force, and how likely it is that the soldiers will be successful, which allowed for perceptions to be drawn from the texts on how significant the societal views were during these time periods, the impacts of supremacist ideologies on different populations, and further the importance of soldiers having a reasonable chance of success on the battlefield. These connections show that the criteria used to justify a war should not be used individually to base your opinions on, rather they should be connected and understood in different contexts to base your own perceptions of whether a war can be considered just.
By Dharma Bratley
Grossman, Nora – Ostrowsky, Ido – Schwarzman, Teddy (Producers) & Tyldum, Morten, (Director) (2014), ‘The Imitation Game’ [Motion Picture], Black Bear Pictures, Bristol Automotive, United States
Hedges, Chris (2003), ‘What Every Person Should Know About War,’ The New York Times, July 6, 2003
McLean, Don. (1971). The Grave, [Song] New York City, United States: United Artists Records.
O’Brien, Tim. (March 28, 1990), ‘The Things They Carried,’ Houghton Mifflin, United States
Zusak, Markus (2007), ‘The Book Thief,’ Black Swan, Great Britain
BBC, ‘What is a ‘just cause’?’ (2014), [Online], http://www.bbc.co.uk/ethics/war/just/cause_1.shtml, (15.04.16)