War occupies a controversial place in the history of mankind. It influences the way society understands the meaning of humanity. Obviously, humanity is the main feature of people that distinguishes them from the spectrum of other life forms on the planet. If to take into consideration this concept, war is one of the most complicated moral issues as it places an individual into certain circumstances that determine inner detection of the instincts. It causes the problem of the counterbalance of the social values and natural instincts in extreme conditions. Short stories “Sweetheart of the Song Tra Bong” by Tim O’Brien and “Silence” by Tadeusz Borowski provide bright evidence of war effect on one’s personality and society in general. Therefore, it is necessary to investigate the main adverse consequences of the war depicted in these stories in order to find the proofs of the moral conflicts determined by the war conditions. The short stories distinguish the peculiarities of the image of the negative effects caused by war and its influence on the personalities. The paper focuses on the moral contradictions arising from the nature of war and discusses the place of revenge in its context.
At first, it is necessary to identify the main reasons that determine military conflicts in general. The world has many conflicts based on ethnic, social, and political contradictions. The short story by O’Brien depicts the Vietnam War and the conflict of different cultures through the characters of Fossie as the representative of the American culture and Mary Ann as the representative of the Vietnam cultural system. According to their backgrounds, a certain irrelevance in the system of values is obvious. The story by Borowski provides the portrayal of the Nazi cruelty against representatives of other ethnic groups. Both stories amplify a cultural background that introduces duality of the moral values during the war. It is an interesting fact that the chief aim of the war is to guard the world peace and restore the harmony, which is a natural state of human society. However, the main victims of such circumstances are the military servants who have to obey the orders without questioning their correctness. Thus, the war becomes the place of human degradation and numerous moral contradictions.
One of the most significant features of any war is its disrespect for the human lives in the context of the general aim that the authorities pursue. The majority of wars serve as the tools for the total destruction of the enemy. Not only does the participants of the war try to defeat rival armed forces, but they also implement the policy of complete enslavement and destruction. For example, this misanthropic goal was vital for the Germans during the Second World War as they chose to commit the atrocities in occupied areas and threaten people with terror and death. The cruelty and inhuman nature of wars are depicted in the discussed stories. According to Tim O’Brien, “There was the stink of the kill”. These words can express the distinguished cruelness of the war that absorbs everything, including natural instincts. The cruelty of the war is portrayed in the claim of the American officer: “I know, ... that after what you have gone through ...you must feel a deep hate for your tormentors”. Thus, hate is the only possible corresponded feedback to the cruelty of the enemies. In addition, Borowski conveys not only the cruelty of the war in general but also the cruelty of the Nazi army that was famous for inhuman attitude towards the Jews. When Borowski creates an image of the real war, it is represented only as an extreme expression of the cruelty that does not promise a future peaceful existence. Therefore, in these two stories, war is a social conflict that focuses on the immediate authorities’ ambitions rather than the future of the world prosperity in terms of humanity well-being.
It is obvious that such cruelty provides certain moral contradictions in the minds of people who should participate in it. Unfortunately, the history of mankind is the story of wars. Therefore, they have become an inseparable and integral part of life. If the task of ethics is an indication of how valuable human life is, war ethics has to provide a person with the correct behavior during the war in order not to contradict the morality. However, the problem is that there are the prescribed rules and the real state of order when victims cannot neglect their desire to obey human values. For instance, in the story of “Silence,” soldiers should “not commit lawless deeds, which may only lead to trouble, and …pass the sons of bitches over to the camp guards”. It is obvious that such position is morally more acceptable. However, it also creates the sympathy to the soldiers suffering from the objectives of the authority, therefore, their deeds are not considered as totally unacceptable by the audience. If to analyze this situation, personality undergoes inner confusion regarding the correspondence to the general human values and their appropriateness in the context of war actions.
The human life consists of many troubles and difficulties, but war adds a new burden, which can overshadow everything else by its size and sharpness. The impact of war suppresses the genuine perceptions on the practical problems and needs diminishing all life horizons and perspectives. It can be seen how Mary Ann’s outlook differs when she saw war: “Naturally we’ll still get married…but it doesn't have to be right away. Maybe travel first…Just test it out” (Brien 8). War influences a human soul changing the quality and content of the tasks that the individual should face, even if he or she is spiritually unprepared to resolve them. They are forced to deal with moral controversies of the tasks that life prepares. Unfortunately, because of this, many suffer from severe changes in personality.
However, since war is a historical event that covers the whole society, there is a problem to analyze the role of an individual and his social role in the war because they are constantly changing under different circumstances of life. The members of the society involved in different conflicts have their special purpose. Thus, people are divided into the militants (active participants) and civilians (passive participants). The main task of the active group is to kill the enemies, even if they are not directly involved in the war. It is enough if they share the territory, culture, tribe, race, political system, and other characteristics with the rivals. This attitude evokes the misunderstanding on the nature of the war actions from the side of those who are involved, and those who are not. O’Brien introduces this polarity with the characters of Mark Fossie and Mary Ann: “I know what you think, but... it's not bad. You just don't know”. By these words, Mary Ann depicts those borders in personality comprehension of the situation that are determined by the military action. Those people who are not involved in the war cannot experience the inner change and understand its purpose. The same distinction provided by the influence of the direct war cruelty on the personality can be observed in the “Silence:” “Comrades, ... gives you his word of honor that all the criminals of the S.S. ... will be punished”. Although the American officer tries to reconsider the possible lynching, he cannot prevent it. He does not understand why soldiers should gain this horrible experience, and, thus, he truly believes in their tolerance and loyalty. These examples show how the war sets the borders between the people by giving them different influence. It provides the ground for moral dilemmas that are based on the degree of personal involvement in the war.
Another feature of the war and its adverse effect on the society is represented by the authors with the depiction of war as a disease. The peaceful conditions are the most favorable for the spiritual development and material well-being. The war in the world is a phenomenon that resembles the disease in a human body. This connotation is represented in Mary Ann’s character: “For Mary Anne Bell...Vietnam had the effect of a powerful drug...The endorphins start to flow, and the adrenaline... you become intimate with danger...as it's another hemisphere”. The description of the biological processes that a person experiences during the battle relates this condition to the kind of disease with its symptoms that are difficult to resist. The same is expressed by Borowski in his story when he describes the agreement of the soldiers with the American officer’s request, they take a revenge unconsciously. This situation shows an unhealthy impact of the war that might be compared with the great evil. People who appear in the war are supposed to face the ‘evil’ or the ‘disease’ without a proper chance to discover an effective ‘cure.’ The research of the https://prime-essay.net/ has shown that the main problem of the military service is an inability of involved to understand the situation completely. Unfortunately, they usually decided to follow the orders without much thinking. Therefore, the further negative impact on their inner state is inevitable as when they see the aftermath of their actions, it is too late to disregard the orders.
However, the main controversial subject that arises from the war experience is the involvement of the person in the revenge and murder. The bright example of this dilemma is represented in “Silence” as it is difficult to both justify and blame the soldiers for their revenge. The war changes good intentions and moral principles fundamentally. Even though soldiers care about the lives of their friends and family members, they hate their enemies and act against them in the same way. The mind is helpless in front of the incomprehensible and ethically impossible phenomenon. Primarily, the primitive moral laws and initial instincts were based on vengeance. People could hardly define the distinction between good and evil. Thus, considering the story depicted by Borowski, people during the war experienced the extreme conditions where their primary instincts prevailed over the social values. Doubt in the previous moral traditions is the first profound outcome determined by the war. Therefore, there is no clear answer to the question whether revenge and murder without consideration of the social norms can be justified during the war that influences the certain system of values of the personality.
“Silence” by Tadeusz Borowski and “Sweetheart of the Song Tra Bong” by Tim O’Brien provide a vivid representation of the way war influences personality and determines moral contradiction in terms of the general values. The inner change of personal values, inhuman nature of the war, and the ethical dilemma regarding revenge are represented by the images of the stories. However, the main idea of these stories is to provide the unambiguous representation of the events and people who have changed during the war. However, it still hard to solve the riddle whether the notion of war could be both a tool of justice and its main enemy.