Is The Basic Training of Pavlo Hummel an anti-war play or a play with the war just used as a background for a study in psychological maladaption?

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accessteacher | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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This is a very pertinent question to ask about this text, as it is very possible to argue that it is both an anti-war play as well as a psychological example of maladaption. Let us first think about how it is more a study of maladaption. Clearly we can relate this to the theme of duty and how Pavlo desperately wants to be a good soldier but finds it impossible to pursue his ambition without breaking the strict rules of the army. Pavlo often does his own thing as a result, practising handling his rifle by himself rather than being obedient to the whistle for company formation. Pavlo is shown to be unable to comprehend the central fact of being a soldier: obedience. This is something that is expressed by Sergeant Tower, who, when Pavlo fails to respond to the whistle, concludes that he must be:

...awful stupid, because all the good soldiers is out there in that formation like they supposed to when they hear that whistle.

Pavlo fails to understand that without blind obedience, the men cannot depend on each other and therefore cannot function in war, and therefore this play is a study of maladaption rather than an anti-war play.

However, at the same time, it is equally possible to argue that this play is anti-war, even though the author stressed that this play was not an anti-war text. Clearly the most significant part of the play that we could use to support this view is the conclusion of the play, where it is acknowledged that the reason for Pavlo's death and the circumstances behind what led him to die in Vietnam are "all shit." This of course greatly challenges the idea that war is a soldier's patriotic duty that they should gladly carry out for their country.


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