World War I Gas Attacks

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EN 102
April 7, 2013
WWI Paper: Draft One
In the poem “Dulce et Decorum Est” written by Wilfred Owen, the audience is introduced to the horrifying experience of a gas attack in World War I. Owen goes into excruciating detail on every effect of the gas, and describes almost everything about the physical state of the infected, dying man. Thousands of soldiers were exposed to gas in the war, and unfortunately, many of them died from the effects. The first attack that the Germans unleashed on the allies was devastating. Over 5000 soldiers were killed with many more incapacitated (Christianson 30). While the attack was detrimental to the strength in numbers of the group, the effect reduced the psychological strength of the group as well, striking terror into the hearts of the soldiers. Overall, Wilfred Owen was accurate in his depiction of a World War I gas attack on a group of soldiers.

From the very beginning of the poem, the soldiers are shown to be exhausted from the war. They are “Bent double, knock kneed, march[ing] asleep, [and] drunk with fatigue” (Owen 1). Clearly the reader can see the exhausted soldiers pushing on through the fields of mud and clay. All of a sudden, gas shells fall behind the men and the deathly green cloud slowly began to overtake the men. By the time the men realized what was happening, only some were able to apply their masks in time. From this point on, the description of the infected soldier begins. After the horrific description of the effects of the poison, the author tells the readers that if they had seen the attack then the parents would not tell their children “The old lie: Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori.” (Owen 1). Translated to “It is sweet and fitting to die for one’s country.” The reason for this quote is because it is not always sweet to die for one’s country, which is clearly displayed in the poem. This is an example of verbal irony because while the meaning of the words are strong and inspiring, they are difficult to actually act upon and carry out when the true time comes.

Wilfred Owen was born in England, and he grew up to be a poet and soldier. He actually wrote a handful of poems that were very realistic in their depiction of the trenches and gas warfare in World War I. The reason that his poems are so realistic is that he spent a short, very traumatic amount of time in the service (Salter Owen 1). He was thrown into the air by a mortar where he remained for several days amongst the remains of another soldier (Salter Owen 1). Soon after this experience he was brought to the hospital and diagnosed with shell shock (Salter Owen 1). About a year after writing “Dulce et Decorum Est” Owen was “awarded the Military Cross for gallantry in resisting an enemy counter attack” (Hughes 162). He was different from other poets of his era including Siegfried Sassoon and Rupert Brooke. They differed mainly by the fact that Owen was not very patriotic in the writing of his poems. He concludes “Dulce et Decorum Est” by saying that the statement Dulce et Decorum Est Pro patria mori is a lie (Owen 1). This effectively reveals that Owen does not feel extremely nationalist for England, and in fact he states that if the readers could even vaguely dream of what happens in gas attacks, they would feel the same way that he does (Owen 1). Unfortunately, most of his literary works were published after his death so he received no fame for his most famous works.

The effects of the chlorine gas are terrible. While Owen goes in depth on the drowning sensation of the attack, there are many more effects. While most of the effects could have been avoided with the simple M2 gas mask, occasionally the mask was defective and nothing could be done for the soldier with the faulty mask (Hook 28). The effects of the chlorine gas are almost immediate, and once inhaled, nothing can be done for the poor victim. This symptom is supported by Joel Vilensky, Professor of Anatomy and Cell Biology: “[The soldiers]...
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