In the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the term "problem play" was used to refer to a drama that tackled important social or political issues. The genre was often associated with Henrik Johan Ibsen (20 March 1828 – 23 May 1906), a Norwegian playwright, who wrote about such issues as the position of women, the scourge of hereditary syphilis, and the hypocrisy of bourgeois life. Shaw, who wrote an important 1891 essay called "Quintessence of Ibsenism," arguing that British drama should be inspired by the seriousness and interest of Ibsen's work, claimed that many of his own works were strongly influenced by Ibsen, although Shaw tackles important social issues more in a satiric and humorous manner and Ibsen in a more serious manner.
Shaw himself was a pacifist, opposed to war, and wrote Arms and the Man as a serious argument about how misperceptions about the glamour of war lead to the needless sacrifice of lives. The particular "problem" addressed in the play is the literary and journalistic glorification of war as a form of noble heroism rather than a brutal waste of lives.