First, the speaker of “The Man He Killed” discovers that war makes enemies of those who would otherwise be friends. The speaker of the poem is a soldier that is on the battlefield facing his enemy. In the first stanza, the speaker of the poem exclaims “Had he and I but met…we should have sat us down to wet right many a nipperkin”! In other words, the speaker of the poem means to say that if he had met his enemy during times of peace, they probably would have sat down to have a drink together. Furthermore, in the second stanza of the poem, it becomes increasingly clear that the speaker of the poem feels guilt over killing his enemy. To enumerate, the speaker of the poem shoots his enemy because he realizes that it is a kill or be killed confrontation. Above all, it is apparent that if not for the dreadful war that they both enlisted in, the speaker of the poem would not have shot the man that the war made his enemy.
Secondly, the speaker feels guilty for taking the life of his enemy because he realizes that he has much in common with his foe. In the fourth stanza, the speaker speculates that his enemy enlisted in the army casually because he was out of work and forced to sell his tools, just as he was. To illustrate, the speaker states, “He thought he’d ‘list, perhaps, off-hand like—just as I—was out of work…”. In addition, the speaker of the poem expected to hate his enemy, but ironically, he realizes that he and his enemy could have been friends. In fact, the speaker emphasizes the detail that if they had met in times of tranquility, he would have bought his enemy a drink, or even loaned him some money.
Similarly, the conflict in “Old Mother Savage” by Guy de Maupassant turns friends into enemies. During the Franco-Prussian War in 1870, four soldiers are billeted upon Old Mother Savage as Prussian soldiers occupy the village of Virelogne, France. As a result, the hardy old woman was forced to accommodate the soldiers. Due to this order, Old Mother Savage cooked for the soldiers and in return, they did their fair share of housework. In time, Old Mother Savage and the four soldiers developed a mother-son relationship. Eventually, Old Mother Savage received the news that her only son, who was in the army, had been killed by the Prussians. From that moment forward, Old Mother Savage began to seek revenge.
Finally, after receiving the news of her son’s death, Old Mother Savage devises a plan to kill the four Prussian soldiers. In the process of fulfilling her plan, Old Mother Savage allows the soldiers to sleep in the attic, and provides them with plenty of hay so that they will be warm. Ironically, she then removes the ladder to the attic, locks the door, and sets the house on fire. As she stands outside with her shotgun, she tells the German officer that she was the one that set the fire and takes out a piece of paper with the names and addresses of the Prussian soldiers. From this, it is evident that Old Mother Savage wanted the mothers of the soldiers to feel the same pain that she felt. At the conclusion of the story, Old Mother Savage is executed by a firing squad. Through the short story, it is apparent that war turned Old Mother Savage into a vicious killer.
In conclusion, both works explore the theme that war is absurd and a senseless tragedy. Throughout both works, the theme that war is illogical because it makes enemies out of those who would otherwise be friends is illustrated.