Please explain how the generals are characterized in The Red Badge of Courage.

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accessteacher | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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The overwhelming presentation that Crane wishes to give about war is the way that, in spite of all plans, military prowess and skill, actual war is nothing more than chaos, where anybody can be killed. Death is no respecter of your status in the army, your age, or your skill with weapons. It is clear from this text therefore that the generals are presented as being blind to these truths, believing that it is their skill that wins battles and their command of troops that will determine victory or defeat. However, as Henry realises after his first battle, war is nothing more than a chaotic process without any semblance of order or reason. At times in the text, Henry goes as far as to criticise the generals themselves. Note, for example, what he says in Chapter 3, which is when he becomes slightly paranoid about the threat of battle:

The swift thought came to him that the generals did not know what they were about. It was all a trap. Suddenly those close forests would bristle with rifle barrels. Ironlike brigades would appear in the rear. They were all going to be sacrificed. The generals were stupids. The enemy would presently swallow the whole command. He glared about him, expecting to see the stealthy approach of his death.

Whilst this quote does reflect Henry's paranoia, it is typical of the way that as Henry survives more and more of the conflict, he begins to hold less and less respect for generals and the way that they feel it is their command that wins the battles that their troops engage in. Henry's actual experience of war teaches him something very different, as he sees that survival and victory is not so much a matter of skill but of blind luck. 

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