I am reminded of Chief Joseph's surrender piece of "I Will Fight No More." It is short, but I think it speaks powerfully about the horrors of war. While it was written by someone who lost, in the final analysis, one is struck by its profound sense of dignity in Chief Joseph's suggestion of averting war as a way of saving his people and sparing further suffering for them, a true testament to the dignity of any great leader.
Elie Wiesel's speech, "The Perils of Indifference," is an excellent example of a well-written work that discusses dignity and war. He gave the speech during the Clinton Presidency and explains how he was able to keep his own dignity and how others must not sit idly by during war, genocide, etc., and do nothing. To be indifferent is to lose one's dignity.
A rhetorical work that certainly reflects the dignity of the speaker whose topic is the potential of war in the pursuit of peace is Patrick Henry's "Speech to the Virginia Convention." In this speech, Henry addresses the men assembled, telling them "it is natural to man to indulge in the illusions of hope." However, to be deluded, Henry contends, is not "the part of wise men...engaged in a struggle for liberty." Henry asks the assembly rhetorical questions that appeal to their sense of dignity, such as
Have we shown ourselves so unwilling to be reconciled, that force must be called in to win back our love?
Henry points to the British use of the implements of war and subjugation; "the last arguments to which kings resort." And, he states that since the Colonists have done all that can be done to no avail, they have no choice but to fight a battle that "is not to the strong alone; it is to the vigilant, the active, the brave." His final exhortation, appealing to the dignity of the Convention is famous:
Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God! I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty, or give me death!
Patrick Henry's appeal to the dignity of the Colonists was so strong that he persuaded the men at the Convention to change their votes to agree to take up arms.
An American novel which certainly treats peace and war and human dignity is Margaret Mitchell's classic tale, "Gone with the Wind." This novel chronicles the effects of the Civil War upon the South and its way of life. The protagonist, Scarlet O'Hara, whose easy and luxurious life is irrevocably altered. After the war is over, Scarlett, who has been living in Atlanta with her aunt, returns to Tara, the family plantation and finds its devastated. However, Scarlett, in her Southern dignity, refuses to be defeated; she vows to farm the land and make her way in life on her own terms. She does manual labor for the first time and vows to "never be hungry again."
While Scarlett does commit some very undignified acts, her bravery and determination to retain her human dignity and pride are inspirational to readers.
Another novel which deals with dignity in war is Stephen Crane's "Red Badge of Courage." While young Henry Fleming enters the Civil War unknowing of the horrors of war, he is frightened and flees from battle. But, later, in this coming of age novel, he recovers his courage, returns to his regiment, and becomes heroic, achieving manly dignity. In the final chapter, Henry feels a "quiet manhood, non-assertive, but of a sturdy and strong blood." He attains dignity.