On pages 50-51, in Chapter 9 of Ernest Hemingway's A Farewell to Arms, there is a passage, how to understand a world alienation from this part. Consider what Passini says and prove that world alienation is primarily a wartime phenomenon.
"War is not won by victory. What if we take San Gabriele? What if we take the Carso and Monfalcone and Trieste? Where are we then? Did you see all the far mountains to-day? Do you think we could take all them too? Only if the Austrians stop fighting. One side must stop fighting. Why don't we stop fighting? If they come down into Italy they will get tired and go away. They have their own country. But no, instead there is a war.
"You're an orator"
"We think. We read. We are not peasants. We are mechanics. But even the peasants know better than to believe in a war. Everybody hates this war."
On page 179, Chapter 26, there is another passage. Consider what the priest says to Frederic and prove that world alienation is primarily a wartime phenomenon.
"Something may happen," I said, "But it will happen only to us. If they felt the war the way we do, it would be all right. But they have beaten us .They feel another way."
"Many of the soldiers have always felt this way. It is not because they were beaten."
"They were beaten to start with. They were beaten when they took them from their farms and put them in the army. That is why the peasant has wisdom,because he is defeated from the start. Put him in power and see how wise he is."
"I don't believe in victory any more"
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In Chapter 9 of Ernest Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms, Lt. Frederic Henry, the idealistic young American ambulance driver serving in Italy during World War I, learns a valuable lesson regarding the realities of war and the extent to which so many are destroyed in deference to the political machinations of a few. When the United States entered the war in 1917, it had already been raging across Europe for over two years, with the horrors of trench warfare already well-known to the European combatants. The United States, however, sent its troops across the Atlantic with the most altruistic of motivations, but with the least sense of European history and of the brutal realities of modern, increasingly mechanized warfare. Hemingway’s protagonist, Frederic Henry, is the embodiment of American naiveté. He is also the author’s alter ego, only, unlike Hemingway, who had served as an ambulance driver under the aegis of the Red Cross and was categorized as a conscientious objector, Hemingway’s character enjoys a military designation, as if the author felt his already tragically flawed protagonist would be morally tainted by the conscientious objector status. Early in the novel, however, the practical and moral objections to the war voiced by the Italian ambulance drivers under Henry’s command exemplify the cynicism and distaste for war that comes with a history of armed conflict native to that continent. As Henry observes regarding these subordinates, “They were all mechanics and hated the war.”
This is the context, then, in which the deeper philosophical debates involving the American and his European compatriots regarding the nature of war take place. The folly of the war, in which hundreds of thousands of young soldiers were being slaughtered for indeterminate reasons, is revealed in the exchanges between Henry and Passini and the other drivers:
“Who goes to the attack?” asked Gavuzzi. “Bersaglieri.” “All bersaglieri?” “I think so.” “There aren’t enough troops here for a real attack.” “It is probably to draw attention from where the real attack will be.”
“Do the men know that who attack?” “I don’t think so.” “Of course they don’t,” Manera said. “They wouldn’t attack if they did.” “Yes, they would,” Passini said. “Bersaglieri are fools.” “They are brave and have good discipline,” I said. “They are big through the chest by measurement, and healthy. But they are still fools.” “The granatieri are tall,” Manera said. This was a joke. They all laughed. “Were you there, Tenente, when they wouldn’t attack and they shot every tenth man?” “No.” “It is true. They lined them up afterward and took every tenth man. Carabinieri shot them.”
As the novel progresses, with Lt. Henry suffering from serious wounds caused by an enemy mortar attack and becoming increasingly cynical himself regarding the merits of the war, Hemingway completes the transformation of his character into one now lacking in the youthful idealism of his recent past and now more representative of the soldier beaten down by incessant combat and imbued with a sense of horrific waste and devastation. The exchange with the priest, who has himself endured endless ridicule and near-contempt for his continued devotion to a higher form of being and for his belief that such devotion continues to serve a greater good, serves to further illuminate the Henry’s transformation:
“Now I am depressed myself,” I said. “That’s why I never think about these things. I never think and yet when I begin to talk I say the things I have found out in my mind without thinking.”
“I had hoped for something.”
“No. Something more.”
“There isn’t anything more. Except victory. It may be worse.”
“I hoped for a long time for victory.”
“Now I don’t know.”
“It has to be one or the other.”
“I don’t believe in victory any more.”
“I don’t. But I don’t believe in defeat. Though it may be better.”
“What do you believe in?”
“In sleep,” I said.
He stood up. “I am very sorry to have stayed so long. But I like so to talk with you.”
Alienation is not solely, or even principally, a wartime phenomenon. On the contrary, many a young adult or teenager experiences a sense of isolation from the broader society in which he or she exists. There is no question that the alienation that accompanies wartime experiences, however, presents a unique challenge. Today, alienation with its roots in prolonged exposure to military combat is considered part of a deeper psychological affliction increasingly labeled “post-traumatic stress disorder,” or “PTSD.” On a grander level, a sense of national alienation seeps into a country’s consciousness as war drags on interminably with no end in sight and no sense of a worthwhile objective lying somewhere out there. Hemingway’s Italian ambulance drivers, who are exposed on a daily basis to the bloodiest manifestations of combat, represent a people who have become psychologically alienated from the realities in which they exist. It is, in fact, possible to speak in terms of a nation suffering from PTSD. Shell-shocked populaces who have endured years of continuous bombardment at the hands of another population, or, at the hands of its own government (as in present-day Syria) invariably grow increasingly isolated from the rest of humanity. In that sense, Passini is absolutely correct.
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