What is being ridiculed in the poem "Green Memory" by Langston Hughes?

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“Green Memory” is about how wartime is advantageous for those who are not directly involved in combat.

The title itself suggests this. Connotatively, green can suggest greed or naivety. In this poem, the speaker indicates that people’s memories of the “War” are tainted with the color green. The dual meaning of the color suggests that many people at home benefitted from the economic boom that occurred in the United States during World War II, thus framing their interpretations of a deadly international conflict. Hughes seems to criticize the tendency to overlook the violence and bloodshed of war when one profits from it.

Hughes might be criticizing the average citizen who filled a job left vacant by a soldier, but based on Hughes body of work in which he criticizes society as a whole, it is more likely that Hughes is criticizing that citizen’s blindness to the system that profits from war. Considering that Eisenhower popularized the idea of the military-industrial complex just ten years after this poem was written, Hughes might be pointing out the corporate interests of war—and how the average person is oblivious to the powers at work as long as he or she is kept complacent.

The “blood rolled out” might also suggest that people sacrificed their lives for money, which Hughes finds deplorable. His ironic use of the word “wonderful” in the first line underscores his critical attitude toward the causal relationship between massive death tolls and thriving economies.

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