Hemingway's novel makes a strong anti-war statement through Lt. Frederick Henry. As the officer in charge of an Italian ambulance corps, Frederick serves on the front in the thick of battle.
Hemingway's descriptions of combat are unsparing in their intensity. Chaos, fear, suffering, and death permeate his prose. In Chapter Nine, Frederick is seriously wounded, shelled by a trench mortar. He can't move. He hears crying and screaming. His legs feel warm and wet. Blood fills his shoes. Frederick tells the reader, "[I] put my hand on my knee. My knee wasn't there." He adds, "[M]y knee was down on my shin."
Despite his injuries, Frederick tries to save his friend Passini whose legs have been blown away. Before dying in agony, Passini screams and prays and begs to be shot. Frederick's horror continues in the ambulance that carries him from the battle. The soldier lying on the stretcher above Frederick's hemorrhages to death, his blood first streaming--then slowly dripping--onto Frederick below.
Hemingway's depiction of the Italian's chaotic retreat from Caparetto further emphasizes the horror. Frederick loses his ambulances and can't save his men. When he is about to be shot by Italian carabinieri, in a terrible ironic error, Frederick deserts, but he cannot leave behind all that he has seen and experienced. In A Farewell to Arms, war is not noble, and war never ends.