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Last Updated September 5, 2023.

In a minute the bugle was going to blow and he was going to jump out of his blankets, throw on his clothes and fall into line for roll call in the black mud of the village street. It couldn't be that only a month had gone by since he had got back from hospital. No, he had spent a lifetime in this village being dragged out of his warm blankets every morning by the bugle, shivering as he stood in line for roll call, shuffling in a line that moved slowly past the cookshack, shuffling along in another line to throw what was left of his food into garbage cans, to wash his mess kit in the greasy water a hundred other men had washed their mess kits in; lining up to drill, to march on along muddy roads, splattered by the endless trains of motor trucks; lining up twice more for mess, and at last being forced by another bugle into his blankets again . . .

Here the middle-class author expresses the tedium of life as a soldier through the thoughts of his main character John Andrews. Andrews resents the "psychology of slavery" that he sees in the men all around him. Obedience to authority is repeatedly characterized as "slavery" in Three Soldiers. Andrews feels that he is a tiny cog in a vast machine. He had come to the war from Harvard hoping to escape from the burdens of individualism he had experienced as a student. He wanted to be part of something greater than himself. Instead, he mainly experiences the tedium of the daily repetition of mundane tasks.

“Well; what d'ye reckon's goin' on at the front now?” said Meadville. “Damned of I know. The goddam hospital at Orleans was so full up there was guys in stretchers waiting all day on the pavement outside. I know that. . . . Fellers there said hell'd broke loose for fair. Looks to me like the Fritzies was advancin'.” Meadville looked at him incredulously. “Those skunks?” said Fuselli. “Why they can't advance. They're starvin' to death.” “The hell they are,” said Daniels. “I guess you believe everything you see in the papers.” Eyes looked at Daniels indignantly.

The author has earlier emphasized the war propaganda that has done its job in conditioning recruits to hate the "Huns." Now he points out, through his characters' conversation, how the newspapers were also full of wartime propaganda. When many of the more experienced characters show contempt for the false propaganda the less experienced in the ways of the world are often offended. Hence the eyes that "looked at Daniels indignantly" for telling the truth. It is difficult for people to break their mental conditioning. The author has used the titles of his chapters to liken the soldiers to industrial products stamped out of a vast machine.

. . . they saw the valley between them full of the glare of guns and the white light of star shells. It was like looking into a stove full of glowing embers. The hillside that sloped away from them was full of crashing detonations and yellow tongues of flame. In a battery near the road, that seemed to crush their skulls each time a gun fired, they could see the dark forms of the artillerymen silhouetted in fantastic attitudes against the intermittent red glare.

There are only a few times in the book that the soldiers see action. They mostly hear stories from men that have been to the front, see dead soldiers on the ground, or get a few bombs dropped around them from the air. Here the author's descriptive powers of a WWI battlefield are displayed. True to many descriptions from the war we are presented with a barren, bombed-out, treeless valley where heavy artillery plays the main role and the invisible men are, presumably, holed up in their trenches. There is no glory of war or acts of heroism and bravery in this story. Many soldiers talk of going AWOL. Some do. Some even plot revolution.

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