What is the meaning of "War is Kind"?  

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"War is Kind" is a poem by Stephen Crane. If readers know about other pieces that he has written, the verbal irony in the poem should be quite apparent. Readers that have been through his The Red Badge of Courage should definitely know that Crane is not a writer...

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"War is Kind" is a poem by Stephen Crane. If readers know about other pieces that he has written, the verbal irony in the poem should be quite apparent. Readers that have been through his The Red Badge of Courage should definitely know that Crane is not a writer that likes to romanticize war and combat. This poem echoes those feelings of his. Readers see a few lines that talk about beautiful crests of red and gold as well as lines about battle gods and glory, so we can see Crane putting in a little bit of that romantic war angle.

However, he just as quickly uses verbal irony to be bitingly sarcastic about that attitude. He over and over again points out the horrors of combat by showing readers fields filled with bodies. We see women weeping over their lost loved ones and babies left without fathers. Three times Crane points out horrific consequences only to finish with "war is kind." He doesn't mean that literally. He means the exact opposite, and what's amazing is that most readers "hear" that line being delivered in a very sarcastic tone because of how much it stands out in opposition to the scenes that he is describing.

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"War is Kind" is a bitterly anti-war poem in which Crane exposes the many clichés used by generals and politicians to justify the loss of tens of thousands of young lives. The poem parodies the written style of an army officer attempting to comfort the girlfriend of a soldier recently killed in battle. The speaker expertly takes the kind of language you'd normally read in a death notification letter and twists them with ill-disguised irony to make them serve a firm anti-war message.

Far from acting as a comfort to the grieving lover, then, the refrain "War is kind" is meant to highlight the fact that the death of her boyfriend, as with all soldiers, was ultimately needless. This is not to say that the speaker is unsympathetic to the plight of those killed in battle—far from it. The focus of his ire is on those generals who treat their men like war-making machines rather than human beings, who look upon soldiers as "born to drill and die."

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Stephen Crane's "War is Kind" is an ironic--even satiric at times--meditation in free verse upon the cruelties, waste, and senselessness of war.

Replete with verbal irony [saying one thing, but meaning another], Crane's poem points to the absurdity of thinking that there is any real glory in the death of hundreds and thousands of young men in the prime of their lives:

Great is the Battle-God, great, and his Kingdom...
A field where a thousand corpses lie....

These men were born to drill and die,
Point for them the virtue of slaughter

The element of irony is also present in this poem as Crane ridicules the platitudes of the military by using them in conjunction with cruel images of war. 

  • There is glory in war for men "born to drill and die"
  • There is a Battle-God whose "Kingdom" includes a thousand corpses
  • There is beauty in war: "Swift blazing flag/Eagle with crest of red and gold" flies for "the virtue of slaughter"
  • There is a "splendid shroud" for killed soldiers

Certainly, Crane ridicules the phrases and names that glorify something as murderous and destructive as war. And, with irony, Crane points out the following:

  • War is anything but kind; it is horrific.
  • There is nothing heroic about dying
  • It is a waste of life to die in battle,
  • There is nothing "splendid" about a shroud.

Indeed, Stephen Crane's poem is extremely effective in its biting irony. 

 

 

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