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What are the morals in Jack London's "War"?

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In "War," Jack London shows that war turns conventional morality upside down by rewarding immoral behavior and punishing humane behavior. The young man who behaves decently in sparing the life of an enemy soldier is later slaughtered by the same soldier.

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"War" is an anti-war story. London condemns war by showing that it rewards immoral behavior and punishes humane behavior. The story illustrates the inherent dehumanization in a kill-or-be-killed mentality.

The black-eyed young soldier demonstrates he has retained his moral center when he realizes he can shoot and kill a ginger-bearded enemy soldier at close range. When he sees the man, what registers is a fellow human being:

The eyes were blue and wide apart, with laughter-wrinkles in the corners that showed despite the tired and anxious expression of the whole face.

The young man shows his humanity in his decision not to kill this man. However, ironically, just as the young man himself is escaping an attack by the enemy, it is the ginger-bearded man who kills him. The young man is alone and outnumbered. There is no rational reason to kill him, but the people in pursuit of him have lost their moral compasses. They don't see him as a human being, but as an object that can enjoy destroying. They are especially happy when they see the apples he has gathered roll away.

London wants us to see that there is something horrible in war, as it encourages people to enjoy killing those who have been labelled the enemy. The loss of this young man's life is a tragic waste. London shows it is callous to kill another person for no good reason and—worse—to laugh over it.

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The short story "War" by Jack London is an explicitly and cynically anti-war story in which the futility of being a soldier and the death-filled realities of war are emphasized. In the story, the origins of the conflict, and the conflict itself, that has led to this war is not stated, and readers instead are only given a quick glimpse into the life and death of a scout.

The scout dies while attempting to gather information for his army and is shot to death by an opposing soldier after being ambushed. The scout saw the man earlier and chose not to kill him, and yet he ends up dying by the man's bullet. There is no silver lining in war, and there is no being able to make morality-based decisions while being a solider. The scout is caught in a catch-22 and dies for his attempt to not kill by a man who also must kill or be killed. There is no good way to be a soldier, and the story seems to emphasize that there is only war and the refusal to fight in war.

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The scout who is killed at the end of London's story is the character that displays moral behavior. He has an early opportunity to kill the man with the "ginger beard" but does not see the man as an imminent threat and lets him live. The scout's morality is not paid in kind, because the ginger-bearded man turns out to be a remorseless marksman who shoots the scout as he is retreating.

The men who chase the scout to his death do not behave morally. The scout is not an imminent threat to them personally; he is gathering information, not lying in wait to pick them off with his carbine. They outnumber him. And perhaps most tellingly, when the scout is shot from his horse, the men cheer and express their delight at the sight of the apples the scout has gathered flying as he falls to his death.

Even though all the men are engaged in a war with its attendant risks and responsibilities, the actions of the men who chase the scout and the man who shoots him cannot be seen as simply doing the work of soldiers because of the circumstances of their encounter and their barbarity and celebration. There is nothing heroic in their actions.

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"War" is a short story by Jack London, about a young man scouting for his army. Sides and causes are never mentioned, so the conflict is reduced to its bare essentials; men are fighting, and the scout's job is to bring back information to allow his side an advantage. The morals in the story are explicitly anti-war; much of the narration focuses on the beauty of the countryside contrasted with the scout's unease and paranoia. He stops at a farmhouse, and sees a man with a red beard collecting water, but although he has a clear shot, he does nothing and continues scouting. Later, he is surprised by a convoy of enemies and shot dead by that same man:

...he was dead ere he hit the ground in the long crashing fall from the saddle. And they, watching at the house, saw him fall, saw his body bounce when it struck the earth, and saw the burst of red-cheeked apples that rolled about him. They laughed at the unexpected eruption of apples, and clapped their hands in applause of the long shot by the man with the ginger beard.
(London, "War,"

London's own anti-war sentiments are well-known, and here he demonstrates the futility of war efforts; either side could be correct, but while the scout acts towards his own sense of morality, the red-bearded man acts out of pragmatism. It would be foolish to let the scout escape, and the wild shooting had little effect; the red-bearded man took his time and kept the opposition from gaining ground. Still, there is no obvious goal to either side and no resolution; it can be assumed that the war continued with little effect from this event. In this sense, the story's morality is pro-human and anti-war, and even anti-conflict, but in a cynical way: the scout, who avoids conflict, is killed for his trouble, while his enemies celebrate.

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