In The Wars, Timothy Findley is continually showing how the experience of war affects every other aspect of life through the constant presence of death. This is particularly true of romance. As Lady Juliet d'Orsey remembers:
Everything was sharp. Immediate. Men and women like Robert and Barbara—Harris and Taffler … you met and you saw so clearly and cut so sharply into one another’s lives. So there wasn’t any rubbish. You lived without the rubbish of intrigue and the long drawn-out propriety of romance and you simply touched the other person with your life.
Lady Juliet is one of the more conventionally romantic characters in the narrative, and her remark, while it expresses the transformative nature of war on human relations, does not capture its violence. She falls in love with Robert Ross when she is only a child of twelve and wants him to love her. She even remains loyal to Robert for years after he is disfigured and disgraced, at a point when her love has already been severely tested by the revelation of his affair with her sister, Lady Barbara.
When Juliet sees Robert and Barbara having sex, their violence shocks her, and she thinks that Robert must be harming her sister. In fact, it is Barbara who is the more sexually aggressive of the two, and the sexual violence of her relations with Robert foreshadows his brutal rape by four soldiers in the next and final part of the novel. Barbara is promiscuous and predatory in her relations with men, moving quickly from Jamie to Taffler to Terry to Robert. Her attitude reflects that of the soldiers who grasp at any opportunity for sex because death is so close, and she callously discards both Jamie and Robert as soon as they are disfigured by their injuries.
The protagonist, Robert Ross, is named after a writer who was more famous for his private life, and particularly his homosexuality, than for anything he wrote. The real Robert Ross was the man with whom Oscar Wilde had his first love affair. One of the ways in which romance is affected by war in The Wars is that male friendships are intensified and eroticized as men go into battle and endure hardships together. Robert feels an innocence and purity in his love for Harris that is similar to Juliet's devotion to him, but Harris dies, and Robert's experience of homosexual sex is brutal and non-consensual, fueled by desperation and power dynamics rather than any romantic feelings.
At the beginning of the novel, Findley asserts that violent death changes everything, from the perception of normality to the possibility of memory:
What you have to accept at the outset is this: many men have died like Robert Ross, obscured by violence. Lawrence was hurled against a wall—Scott entombed in ice and wind—Mallory blasted on the face of Everest. Lost. We're told Euripides was killed by dogs—and this is all we know. The flesh was torn and scattered—eaten.
Throughout the narrative, romance, heterosexual and homosexual, is cut short, made impossible, or warped into violence by the intense experience of war.