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Last Updated on August 5, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 844

I, a single human being with my little stock of earthly experience in my head, was entering once again the veritable gloom and disaster of the thing called Armageddon. And I saw it then, as I see it now - a dreadful place, a place of horror and desolation which no imagination could have invented. Also it was a place where a man of strong spirit might know himself utterly powerless against death and destruction, and yet stand up and defy gross darkness and stupefying shell-fire, discovering in himself the invincible resistance of an animal or an insect. (Page 206)

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This quotation very vividly describes the horror of war from a soldier's perspective. The naivety of the speaker (ostensibly a fictional character called George Sherston but to all intents and purposes an autobiographical version of Sassoon) is implied by the line, "my little stock of earthly experience in my head." By some estimates, there were as many as 250,000 underage soldiers (under the age of 19) fighting for Britain during World War I, convinced to enlist in large part because of how British propaganda sold the war as a heroic adventure that would be over in a matter of months. In the quotation above, Sherston also conveys how horrific the reality of war was for these young, naïve soldiers, describing it in apocalyptic terms as "Armageddon" and as "a dreadful place, a place of horror." He also alludes to the idea that war can be dehumanizing. In such conditions, one is reduced to "an animal or an insect," without thought or dignity, only fighting to remain alive.

In war-time the word patriotism means suppression of truth. (Page 261)

Although decorated for bravery in World War I, Sassoon—in this novel and also in his poetry—condemns the patriotism for which, and because of which, many men fought. Sassoon considered World War I to be a jingoistic war, fought for no morally compelling reason. In this quotation, he says that "patriotism means the suppression of truth," meaning that men were encouraged to fight for the honor of their country. In reality, at least according to Sassoon, they were fighting for imperialistic and territorial reasons. When the British government tried to encourage men to enlist for the war (conscription wasn't introduced until 1916), they distributed propaganda which sold the war as something of a lad's holiday, an adventure which would be over by Christmas and from which soldiers would return as national heroes. This propaganda was, in reality, a collection of untruths propped up by patriotism.

His austere scientific intellect was far beyond my reach, but he helped me by his sense of humour, which he had contrived, rather grimly, to retain, in spite of the exasperating spectacle of European civilization trying to commit suicide. (Page 273-274)

In this third quotation, Sassoon demonstrates his wry, sometimes macabre sense of humor, which is also a characteristic of his narrator, George Sherston. The quotation describes Sherston's relationship with a companion whom he calls "the philosopher" and alludes to the sense of humor that they shared. The line "the exasperating spectacle of European civilization trying to commit suicide" is scathing in its assessment of the human race in its current condition. The word "exasperating" implies that...

(The entire section contains 844 words.)

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