In regards to World War One, evaluate the statement: “It is sweet and proper to die for one’s country”. Was this a nationalistic lie? What were these millions of men dying for?

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The phrase "dulce et decorum est pro patria mori:"—it is sweet and proper to die for one's country—came originally from the Roman poem Horace. In reference to World War I, the phrase "Dulce et decorum est" is the title of a famous antiwar poem by Wilfred Owen.

Owen argues in...

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The phrase "dulce et decorum est pro patria mori:"—it is sweet and proper to die for one's country—came originally from the Roman poem Horace. In reference to World War I, the phrase "Dulce et decorum est" is the title of a famous antiwar poem by Wilfred Owen.

Owen argues in the poem that the phrase is a nationalistic lie. Owen calls it "the old Lie" because it has been used for two thousand years to justify warfare.

Owen, who fought in World War I and was killed a week before the war's end, wanted his readers to know that the war was anything but sweet and proper. His poem shows the soldiers as the opposite of classically heroic warriors—they are exhausted, weak, "coughing like hags," dragging, limping, lame, and blind. During a gas attack, a soldier cannot get his gas mask on in time and breathes in the gas fume. He is thrown into a wagon, but his blood:

Come[s] gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud ..
Owen compares the bitter taste in the dying man's mouth to the lies that justify dying for one's country as glorious.
Owen's critique of World War I expressed what many people felt: that the war, especially the stalemate of trench warfare on the French front, was a horrible mistake. The fighting led to pointless bloodbaths as each side tried to gain ground. Mind-boggling numbers of deaths were caused in the process.
Even before the war was over, a reckoning had begun that Owen was part of. People were wondering how Europeans, who had prided themselves on their advanced level of civilization, had allowed such a terrible war to occur. Many people thought the war was fought for nothing. Many people realized as the war ended that they wanted an end to the nationalist tendencies that had been the impetus for violence.
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