The Wars Essay, Research Paper
The Wars, By Timothy Findley
War is a fact of life. As long as there are humans, there will be war. In past times, for a man to go to war, it was viewed as romantic and heroic. But, these ideas have faded and vanished throughout the course of the 20th century. War can be horrific, like a bad nightmare, and can easily break the human spirit, which is not a t all fragile. In his novel, “The Wars”, Timothy Findley develops the idea that war, in and of itself, is meaningless, unjustified, and irrational.
”The Wars” is a story told by means of a (fictional) historic research document. The plot is pieced together from different accounts and recollections from a handful of different fictional people. The effect of this technique is that the author cannot include his own opinions or emotions, and all accounts are viewed as straightforward, retold facts. This forces the reader to make their own assumptions and form better opinions of the unfolding plot. It is a technique that is more mentally stimulating to the reader. Moreover, it causes a greater immersion in the plot using intense imagery.
Robert Ross is a sensitive, solitary, 19-year old man who has had a somewhat difficult past. He goes to fight in World War 1 as an escape, hoping to change his life and improve himself. However, the series of events that he experiences are able to accomplish nothing more than to confuse him and cause him physical and mental anguish.
In training, Robert begins a process of self-discovery. At first, he feels like he can be anything that he wants. “He wanted no attachments yet. What he wanted was a model. Someone who could teach him, by example, how to kill. Robert had never aimed a gun at anything. It was a foreign state of mind. So what he wanted was someone else who had acquired that state of mind: who killed as an exercise of the will.” Robert imagines himself as a ruthless machine of war, but it does not take long for him to realize that he was not born to kill. (This is foreshadowed by is inability to accept the killing of his dead sister’s pet rabbits) On the sea voyage over to Europe, Robert is put in charge of a stables of horses that are brought along on the vessel. When one horse breaks a leg, he is forced to shoot it, with which he has great difficulty. “He took aim. His arm wavered. His eyes burned with sweat. Why didn’t someone come and jump on his back and make him stop? He fired. A chair fell over in his mind. He closed his eyes and opened them?.” This difficulty to shoot an animal shows Robert’s sensitivity and commitment to life under any conditions.
Once stationed in Europe, Robert and his regimen are dropped abruptly into the battlefield, exposing them for the first time to the nightmare world known as trench warfare. Robert has many painful experiences, loses several friends, and brushes with death on many occasions. Throughout madness and horror, there is never justification. In time, there seems to be no reason for any of the fighting and killing and suffering. Furthermore, Findley does not ever mention the cause of World War 1, or how the different sides were involved, or mention any background whatsoever. All that is seen is the fighting, and in great detail. This goes to support the theme, that war is not rational. The reader is shown nothing but negative examples of the war, never a victory, never the means, and never the end.
In the end of the book, Robert does something completely unexpected and unusual. When a barn full of horses is threatened in an artillery battle, Robert suggests to his superior officer that the horses be freed, as not to waste their lives. His commander , panic-stricken, refuses. When Robert disobeys him and starts to free the animals, his commander becomes furious and threatens to kill him. Robert shoots him between the eyes and continues. He escapes with the horses and rides away. He is branded a traitor, and a manhunt ensues. Robert finds another barn and locks himself and all of the horses in with him. When he is discovered, he refuses to come out, and so the barn is set fire to force him out. But, he can’t get the door open and is badly burnt, while all of the horses are killed. Not long after, Robert dies only a few years later.
The idea developed by the author is that war is not justified. War can break men’s spirits, harden them, and make them very isolated. Robert, amidst all of the mud and death and corpses and chlorine gas and fire, had become very confused, and being in such an irrational environment, which seems to make no sense at all, he makes a judgement call that is equally irrational; valuing the lives of some animals over his fellow soldiers. War can cause men to be destructive, immoral, and irrational, and to Timothy Findley, it doesn’t make any sense.