Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Themes of political and social nature intertwine in “The Children’s Campaign” to issue a warning concerning the direction of human nature and society. Published before World War II, the story depicts a world obsessed by war, a world in which even war’s tragedies are glorified.

In this setting, war is second nature, even to children. The prevailing image of childhood—innocent and free of the responsibilities of adult life—is quickly shattered as the fantasies of war games are replaced by the realities of military exercises. Indeed, these children need no adult supervision; they are proficient, exacting, and successful. Not only do they excel at military maneuvers but also they are well adapted to the physical hardships of army life. Although forced to live in mud-filled trenches during the winter months, they nevertheless “felt at home”:

Filthy and lousy, they lived there in the darkness as though they had never done anything else. With the adaptability of children they quickly got into the way of it. . . . When one saw them in their small gray uniforms, which were caked thick with mud, and their small gas masks, one could easily think they had been born to this existence.In this subtle way, the author recalls images of boys at play in mud, sleet, or snow—in short, any activity in which the dirt becomes part of their youthful attire.

The war succeeds in seizing childhood away from the army of youths; “The war had...

(The entire section is 479 words.)