1. What is it?

War literature is writing that has war as a central concept or setting.

War literature is generally based on real wars. However, occasionally fictional conflicts are used.

2. How is it made?

War is established as a setting or background.Conflict affects the characters, especially psychologically. This is caused by loss, sacrifice, stress, or moral conflicts.
Battle scenes are sometimes included. Other scenes include waiting for battle, and hearing of victories or defeats.Characters must adjust to post-war life.

3. Examples in literature

Dolce et Decorum Est 
by Wilfred Owen

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Title: Dolce et Decorum Est
Author: Wilfred Owen (1893-1918)
Published: 1920
Language: English
Genre: Poetry; war poetry
Synopsis: Wilfred Owen was a soldier on the front line in WWI. His poem describes the horrors of war and notes how pointless war’s misery is. Unusually for the time, it also states that the idea of there being honour in dying for your country is a lie: the final, line, ‘Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori’ (‘it is sweet and proper to die for one’s country’) approaches bitter sarcasm.

Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs
And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots
But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind;
Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
Of disappointed shells that dropped behind.

GAS! Gas! Quick, boys!– An ecstasy of fumbling,
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time;
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling
And floundering like a man in fire or lime.–
Dim, through the misty panes and thick green light
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.

In all my dreams, before my helpless sight,
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.
If in some smothering dreams you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil’s sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,–
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori.

*’Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori’ translates as ‘it is sweet and proper to die for one’s country’

Skimming, Scanning and Basic Comprehension

1. To what are the soldiers ‘deaf’?
2. What happens in the second stanza?
3. What is ‘the old lie’? 
Identifying Techniques

4. What rhyme structure is used in the poem?
5. How are sights, sounds and smells used to create imagery within each of the poem’s three stanzas?
6. Underline the similes used in the poem. 
Text Analysis

7. Highlight the words that create a negative tone within the poem.
8. Compare the tones of the three stanzas. How does the mood change within each one?
9. How is the idea of hypocrisy covered in the poem?
10. When the poem says ‘If in some smothering dreams you too could pace / Behind the wagon that we flung him in’, what is the relationship between the poet and the reader? 
Theme Exploration

11. How does Wilfred Owen describe war? On what aspects of it does he concentrate within this poem? 
Provoking Opinion

12. ‘Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori’ is now sometimes referred to as ‘The Old Lie’. Do you agree that it is a lie?
13. What other works about war do you know? Do they see war in a positive or negative light?
14. In a world of visual arts, is there a place for war poetry? Is war poetry still effective?

War and Peace 
by Leo Tolstoy

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Title: Война и мир (*trans: War and Peace)
Author: Лев Толстой (Leo Tolstoy) (1828-1910)
Published: 1865-1867 (serial), 1869 (novel)
Language: Russian
Genre: Fiction; novel; historical novel
Plot: Two connected families, the Bezukhovs and the Rostovs, are amongst the elite of  St Petersburg and Moscow respectively. The young men and women of the families have loves and ambitions, but the Napoleonic Wars make military officers of men such as Pierre Bezukhov, his acquaintance Prince Andrei, and Nikolai Rostov. With marriages and philosophies struggling, and new battles beginning, the question of what makes a moral or happy life is contemplated before death.
Setting: Moscow; St Petersburg; 1805-1820
Characters: Pierre Bezukhov; Prince Andrei Bolkonsky; Nikolai Rostov; Sonya; Natasha Rostova; Napoleon

Excerpt from Book IX ‘1812’, Chapter I (translated from Russian):

From the close of the year 1811 intensified arming and concentrating of the forces of Western Europe began, and in 1812 these forces—millions of men, reckoning those transporting and feeding the army—moved from the west eastwards to the Russian frontier, toward which since 1811 Russian forces had been similarly drawn. On the twelfth of June, 1812, the forces of Western Europe crossed the Russian frontier and war began, that is, an event took place opposed to human reason and to human nature. Millions of men perpetrated against one another such innumerable crimes, frauds, treacheries, thefts, forgeries, issues of false money, burglaries, incendiarisms, and murders as in whole centuries are not recorded in the annals of all the law courts of the world, but which those who committed them did not at the time regard as being crimes.
What produced this extraordinary occurrence? What were its causes? The historians tell us with naïve assurance that its causes were the wrongs inflicted on the Duke of Oldenburg, the nonobservance of the Continental System, the ambition of Napoleon, the firmness of Alexander, the mistakes of the diplomatists, and so on.
Consequently, it would only have been necessary for Metternich, Rumyántsev, or Talleyrand, between a levee and an evening party, to have taken proper pains and written a more adroit note, or for Napoleon to have written to Alexander: “My respected Brother, I consent to restore the duchy to the Duke of Oldenburg”—and there would have been no war.
We can understand that the matter seemed like that to contemporaries. It naturally seemed to Napoleon that the war was caused by England’s intrigues (as in fact he said on the island of St. Helena). It naturally seemed to members of the English Parliament that the cause of the war was Napoleon’s ambition; to the Duke of Oldenburg, that the cause of the war was the violence done to him; to businessmen that the cause of the war was the Continental System which was ruining Europe; to the generals and old soldiers that the chief reason for the war was the necessity of giving them employment; to the legitimists of that day that it was the need of re-establishing les bons principes, and to the diplomatists of that time that it all resulted from the fact that the alliance between Russia and Austria in 1809 had not been sufficiently well concealed from Napoleon, and from the awkward wording of Memorandum No. 178. It is natural that these and a countless and infinite quantity of other reasons, the number depending on the endless diversity of points of view, presented themselves to the men of that day; but to us, to posterity who view the thing that happened in all its magnitude and perceive its plain and terrible meaning, these causes seem insufficient. To us it is incomprehensible that millions of Christian men killed and tortured each other either because Napoleon was ambitious or Alexander was firm, or because England’s policy was astute or the Duke of Oldenburg wronged. We cannot grasp what connection such circumstances have with the actual fact of slaughter and violence: why because the Duke was wronged, thousands of men from the other side of Europe killed and ruined the people of Smolénsk and Moscow and were killed by them.

1. The passage gives the impression that the writer believes war is

a) heroic
b) necessary
c) inevitable
d) glamorous
e) senseless

2. The first paragraph notes that numerous horrific acts were

a) completely justified
b) deemed justifiable because it was wartime
c) covered up by authorities
d) avoided by a last-minute ceasefire
e) ordered by military leaders

3. The writer notes that responsibility of war in 1812 – and not stopping the war – falls with

a) blind faith in patriotism
b) leaders and authorities
c) the military
d) religious fervour
e) public apathy

4. Which of the following statements describes an attitude expressed in the passage?

a) I shall burn my enemies’ cities to the ground
b) My enemy’s enemy is my friend
c) All it takes for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing
d) It’s always somebody else’s fault
e) It’s a thin line between love and war

5. What concept do both Dolce et Decorum Est and the passage from War and Peace share?

a) Sometimes conflict is necessary to destroy a greater evil
b) It is common people who die in wars fought for the social elite
c) Adversity can strengthen the bonds between people
d) Patriotism and nationalism are the cause of most wars
e) Mankind will never stop killing itself