What are the political and social issues in "One of the Missing" by Bierce?

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Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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Bierce uses the horrors of the war, the Civil War, to illuminate some of the deep political and social issues embedded within "One of the Missing."  One such reality is the truly destructive nature of war.  Bierce uses the capture of Jerome Searing to reflect the truly horrible nature of war.  This is not the gallant and triumphant death of the soldier for love of country.  Rather, Bierce shows that the soldier who faces death does so in fear and panic, confirmed with Searing's "the dead have no voice; and if I open my eyes I shall get them full of earth."  The young men who are sent off to die in war are ones filled with fear, the revelation of which comes towards the end of their lives.  Bierce suggests that the public is, in some ways, like Adrian, who pass by the dead not knowing what their last moments comprised.  The public appeases themselves with the mythology of the sacrificing soldier.  However, one of the social issues that emerges from the story is how war consists of a gap between those declaring war and those who suffer in it.  Searing's fear, the fear that ends up defining and taking his life, is the byproduct of war:

Jerome Searing, the man of courage, the formidable enemy, the strong, resolute warrior, was as pale as a ghost.  His jaw was fallen, his eyes protruded; he trembled in every fibre; a cold sweat bathed his entire body; he screamed with fear.  He was not insane- he was terrified. 

The reduction of once- proud human beings to a collection of fear is the reality of war that Bierce seeks to question on political and social levels through the story.

Another political issue that emerges from the story is how Bierce constructs war as a dehumanizing experience.  It is not surprising that Jerome is awakened with "you are caught like a rat in a trap--in a trap, trap, trap." The battlefield of war and the reality that Jerome must face is not one that accentuates humanity.  Rather, it is dehumanizing, treating Jerome as an animal.  War is shown to be a dehumanizing and degrading reality, removing the dignity of the individual and making them nothing more than a creature struggling for survival.  The political implications of this condition are designed to make individuals ask questions as to whether or not any experience that degrades human beings through denying their humanity is worthwhile.  This becomes a significant political and social issue raised in Bierce's short story.  Bierce's commitment to social criticism as well as his belief that despite human endeavor, the worst of human nature emerges to show that "nothing matters" are social and political realities that underscore the mood of "One of the Missing."

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