soldier crawling on hands and knees through a trench under a cloud of poisonous gas with dead soldiers in the foreground and background

Dulce et Decorum Est

by Wilfred Owen

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What is the relevance of "Dulce et Decorum Est" to modern society?

"Dulce et Decorum Est" is still relevant to society because it shows the horror of war and how, in war, boys are forced to kill other human beings even when they don't want to, which is something we all need to understand.

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Since the dawn of civilization and up until today, men have waged wars, and from our earliest literature, as Owens notes in the poem, soldiering has been glorified as a sweet and noble duty to one's homeland. Propaganda keeps warfare afloat by depicting it as more glorious than it actually is.

The poem, therefore, is relevant to today's world because nation-states are still waging wars and still presenting warfare as heroic. The war in Iraq a decade ago spawned a number of books that discussed the darker side of that conflict—for example, one by Logan Mehl-Laituri, an Iraq war vet who described the "hell of war" in his For God and Country.

It is still important to pull the curtain aside and expose what is really going on when we send young people to fight in situations that can be overwhelming, even for the best of people. There may be rare times when warfare truly is necessary, but knowing the reality of what a war will entail may help us to exercise caution about jumping into conflicts that don't truly need to be fought. Especially in these times, when truth it too often sacrificed on the altar of ideology, we need to tell the truth about what war is.

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Owen's greatest poem retains relevance to this day as a constant reminder of the horrors of war. While there can be no doubting the immense heroism and sacrifice displayed on the field of battle, all too often we overlook the bloody nature of war and its damaging effect on combatants and civilians alike.

It's this attitude of convenient forgetfulness that Owen is trying to get us to reject here. He wants to cut through all the jingoistic propaganda surrounding the conduct of war, which effectively disseminates the lie that it is sweet and fitting to die for one's country.

Even today, many people still insist on glorifying war, despite all the evidence of the enormous suffering it inevitably brings in its wake. And although Owen, in his litany of the horrors of trench warfare, is referring specifically to the First World War, his words could easily be adapted to apply to the waging of war in the world today.

At whatever period of history we might be living in, war will always be hell. It will always cause suffering, and it will never, ever be sweet and fitting to die for one's country. Therefore, "Dulce et Decorum Est" will, sadly, always remain relevant.

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Because war and tragedy seem to be constant states of man, Wilfred Owen's sardonic poem "Dulce et Decorum Est" is still relevant today. In his poem Owen mocks the "Old Lie" of the lyric Roman poet, Horace, that to die for one's country is "sweet and fitting." Instead, in World War I, men's bodies were disfigured with the sores and froth from tortured, choking lungs infused with the mustard gas fired into the air. Young men were turned into monstrous beings with "white eyes writhing" in their hanging faces, like "a devil's sick of sin." Others stumbled to the trenches on "blood-shod" feet because their boots have been lost or destroyed. 

Owen writes that war has no glory; it is the perversion of human beauty and health. The earth is on fire or a sludge, or stripped of everything. The motives of war are almost always a lie, as well. Many times wars are waged for profit or political gain, not to make people "safe" or to free people, or any of the noble slogans. Wars waged often leave countries worse off than they were before, such as Germany was after World War I. The social, economic, and political consequences of this war upon Germany were devastating: 1.7 million men were dead and 7 million were casualties; the financial cost of the war has been estimated to be the equivalent of $38 billion. 

Fareed Zakaria, renowned journalist who writes for CNN and The Washington Post, recently remarked on the United States's twenty-first century actions that supposedly meant to rid areas of dictators:

Washington toppled Moammar Gadhafi's regime in Libya but chose not to attempt nation-building in that country. The result has been chaos and humanitarian tragedy. Washington supported a negotiated removal of Ali Abdullah Saleh's regime in Yemen and the election that followed, but generally took a back seat. The result again was chaos and humanitarian tragedy. 

So, again for those who have died serving their countries in modern times, it can be argued that the "the Old Lie" lives on.

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