What is the social context of An Episode of War?

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As in all wars, in the US Civil War, the class structure of society had a bearing upon the way both the political and military actions were carried out. On both sides, the enlisted men, and many of the lower-ranking officers in the field, were largely of working-class background. Often...

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As in all wars, in the US Civil War, the class structure of society had a bearing upon the way both the political and military actions were carried out. On both sides, the enlisted men, and many of the lower-ranking officers in the field, were largely of working-class background. Often men enlisted not so much because they understood or agreed with the war aims of their government but out of a sense of duty or simply because being in the army was an escape from the monotonous routine of farm or factory work and promised a kind of "adventure." On the other hand, the military leadership were often career officers who had graduated from West Point or, in some cases, were political appointees. These men, unlike many or most of those in the field who actually were in combat, fashioned the tactics, strategies, and higher-level war aims that drove the action and the course of the conflict.

In An Episode of War, we see a snapshot of both societal strata. The men in the field have no way of seeing the higher-level, big picture. The opening of the story, with the mundane apportioning of coffee to the men, is in its detail symbolic of the smaller things taking place that dominate the lives of the men. When the lieutenant is wounded, the bullet seems to have come from nowhere; the men had not seen they were under attack. When sent to the rear for treatment, he sees the command structure, the generals on horseback with a messenger galloping up to them, and it looks unreal to him, like "a historical painting." These apparent disconnects in the theater of battle are a mirror of the social context in which this war, like all wars, is taking place.

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