ENGLISH 685:004  /  SUSAN TICHY  /  FALL 2003




Back to War Poetry
Guidelines Page
Fall 2005

    ...Simon Featherstone’s discussion of gender also spends a lot of time on masculinity as it is constructed, deconstructed, and reconstructed by war poems.  He is particularly interested in the utopian recasting of masculine values, whether homoerotic or otherwise, in poems that are ostensibly “anti-war.”  Briefly summarize Featherstone’s development of these ideas, then choose one poem from each war and discuss their constructions of manhood and masculinity.
     Featherstone argues that male war poetry from both the First and Second World Wars questions the alliance between militarist values and masculinity, though in the First World War this is revealed through sensual or homoerotic representations of masculinity, while in the Second World War it appears as a questioning of militarist heroic ideals.

        Featherstone shows the redefinition of masculine relationships by First World War poets through a sensual, sometimes homoerotic, language applied to the militarist values of bravery and fellowship.  This language moves ideas of community, intimacy, and caring from the realm of heterosexual relationships to the realm of masculine relationships formed in combat.  Male war poets of the First World War use this new language to present emerging male relationships as not only intense, but also as strikingly utopian in contrast with the dystopia of battle:  supportive, gentle, and loving, rather than destructive, violent, and unfeeling.  By emphasizing certain existing militarist values—comradeship, loyalty—the military power structure is subverted, coming to celebrate emotional complexity and self-reliance over stoic heroism and blind obedience.  Because it celebrates the intense (and intensely masculine) relationships which result from the extraordinary experience of war, this poetry cannot be unequivocally anti-war, and male war poets writing in response to the First World War often include some level of nostalgia which is not anti-war sentiment, but rather an attempt to find language which can express the extraordinary experience of war and the loss of heterosexual self-identification.

        Featherstone admits that male war poets of the Second World War rarely use the language of homoeroticism which arose from the First World War, but he argues that these poets’ representations of masculinity remain complex, moving from empathy and protest towards a questioning of heroic ideals.  He shows the development of heroes who are neither sexually attractive nor linked to public patriotism, and who triumph through endurance rather than bravery; this causes traditional masculine constructs of heroism to become blurred and unsettling. Featherstone cites war poetry which observes combat while refraining from any valuative response, giving analytical descriptions of killing without empathy for the dead.  This analytical style is fascinated with traditional male power structures and the effect of war on combatants, but does not revert to pre-war militarist ideals.  It celebrates symbols of traditional heroism, but surrounds celebration with irony and frustration, and it distances itself from moral responsibility, forcing the reader to form a personal moral response.  As the male First World War poets went beyond ideals of sacrifice and honor to empathize with combatants, offering the sensual community of men as an antidote to the dehumanization of war, the male Second World War poets supercede “pity and protest” to analyze war without making explicit judgments.  This language ultimately denies its apparent callousness by a self-conscious need for analysis and ways to conceptualize the dead.  It acknowledges the militarist ideals of sportsmen, the male power of the killer, but also goes against militarist ideals to reveal the vulnerability of these figures. 

    Though Second World War poets move away from the utopian ideals which First World War poets showed in sensual male communities, Featherstone concludes that they are similarly ambivalent about war and do not revert to traditional ideals of heroism, using heroism as a means of re-examining rather than reinforcing ideals.

    Edmund Blunden’s poem “Preparations for Victory,” (see p.11 of this exam) from the First World War and Randall Jarrell’s poem, “The Lines,” (see p.12 of this exam) from the Second World War both question militarist values and construct masculinity, but, more than this, they demonstrate the way in which war erases masculinity and creates the need for reconstruction of what was lost.
    In “Preparations for Victory,” the speaker instructs himself in how to behave like a man, and attempts to follow his own instructions.  When he is unable to rise to the militarist ideal, the attempt to conform to this construction of manhood first strips the speaker of individuality, and, finally, strips all humanity from the poem.  There are suggestions of the sensual language which poets like Owens and Gurney used to describe almost utopian communities, but Blunden’s soldiers never coalesce into a utopian community capable of salving the dehumanizing experience of war.
    “Manly move among/These ruins, and what you must do, do well,” (Blunden, lines 5-6) the speaker says in address to his soul.  Though his body is young (line 2), his words indicate a desire to be an adult, a man in full; his words suggest that achieving manhood will come through living up to  a militarist ideal: unflinching courage in the face of terrain ruined by war.  To spur himself to courage, the speaker attempts to reassure himself that he will not die when he says, “as yet may not be flung/The dice that claims you,” but the use of the phrase “as yet” —and, in truth, the repeated use of the word “yet” throughout the poem—gives a sense of the inevitability of death, even in the opening stanzas.  In the first line of the second stanza, the speaker’s courage already flags, “ ‘I’ll do my best,’ ” his soul answers, and sadly:  he is already setting up excuses in case of his failure to achieve manhood, and that failure begins to seem as probable as his death.

    In the second stanza, the speaker again explicitly comments on how a man becomes a man, saying, “The body, poor unpitied Caliban,/Parches and sweats and grunts to win the name of Man.” (lines 17-18) These words are not in direct opposition to the previous, “what you must do, do well,” but something has shifted; instead of the “manly” movements of a young, heroic body, the reader sees the labored movements of a slave.  The name of man is not given to a hero drenched in glory, but to a “Caliban” drenched in sweat.

    In the first lines of the third stanza, the speaker switches from identifying himself as “I” to identifying himself as a member of a group, “we,” but unlike the gentle, loving communities Featherstone points to, this group is composed of slaves, drudges.  The group has moved from the garden of the first stanza to “slimy cellars,” (line 23), the underground realm of the corpse, where their “pale sleep” is eerily deathlike.  In the final lines of the poem, even this faceless group of half-dead laborers disappears, and the only combatants left are earth and air.  The speaker, who longed for manhood in the first stanza, has lost not just his quest for masculinity, but his individuality and his very existence.  Far from reinforcing militarist ideals of masculinity, “Preparations for Victory” shows the desire to achieve these ideals as the first step towards utter loss of self.

    From the beginning of Randall Jarrell’s “The Lines,” there has already been an utter loss of self, and until the final poetic line there are no men in the poem, there are only things:  so long as men remain within the state, the military machine, they are completely lacking personhood.  As things, they can only reclaim masculinity upon release from the state, either through death or through discharge from the military.  If military experience denies manhood, rather than creating it, it cannot be seen as an ideal landscape for the formulation of masculine identity.

    The “things” in “The Lines” are slaves, just as the men in “Preparations for Victory” are slaves, but in “Preparations for Victory,” it seemed that the guiding force commands their labor toward some specific goal.  The controlling force may ask that its soldiers toil in preparation for a victory which never manifests, but it does have victory as its goal.  It does not seem as capricious as the childlike bureaucracy of “The Lines,”  which has its soldiers “wait/To form a line to form a line to form a line.” (line 5).  This state seems to set soldiers up in pointless lines merely for the fun of knocking the lines down and setting them up again with new soldiers.  Given that the state speaks the language of a child, and therefore seems to understand the world in the manner of a child, the soldiers, being essentially subjugated to a child, cannot never be men.

    Even telling these things they are men cannot make them men.  They remain within the state for another line and a half (both poetically and semantically), and therefore they remain things.  It is only when they are completely free of the state and released into survival that, at least for the space of a breath, they are men.  The only moment where the thingness of the soldiers is in question is when “the things die as though they were not things.”  Death does not return personhood to a soldier, but somehow, in becoming a corpse (a thing)—in that instant of changing into a corpse—the soldier is wholly un-thinglike.

    War is rote, things are obedient, and the relationship between the “things” in this poem is not that of members of a community, but that of interchangeable parts.  Featherstone has pointed to the analytical treatment of war and militarist ideals by male poets of the Second World War, and here Jarrell is almost hyper-analytical, writing without sentimentality for the faceless things that move through war like soldiers.

    In Blunden’s poem, though men try to act as men, they are ultimately reduced to nonexistence; in Jarrell’s poem, men are prevented from being men for the duration of the war experience.  Both poets demonstrate the way war experience can erase personhood, and it is easy to imagine, that for those men who survived to breathe that first, long breath of freedom, it would be imperative to start thinking of ways to reconstruct their lost selfhood.  Where First World War Poets began to reconstruct themselves in terms of each other, instead of in terms of their relation to fate, or the state, it seems that the analysis of the Second World War Poets represents a desperate searching for a place to begin that reconstruction.

    Part Two, Question #12
    Jon Silkin has pointed out that Rosenberg’s poems begin at an earlier point in experience than Owen’s, which are structured as recollection.  (In class I said this makes Rosenberg “more modern” than Owen.)  When we reach World War II, we encounter a group of American poets (e.g. Jarrell, Nemerov, Wilbur, Simpson, Eberhart, Ciardi, and both Shapiros; Dugan might fit except for his avoidance of metaphor) strongly in favor of recollection and of the unifying, intellectualizing functions of received form, metaphoric structure, consistent tone, and a restrained speaker.  Walsh refers to these values when he characterizes the war poets as adopting “an ironic and slightly self-mocking tone,” “verse forms and linguistic expression communicative of detached observation,” and “a propensity towards cultural diagnosis.”

    Jon Silkin has pointed out that Rosenberg’s poems begin at an earlier point in experience than Owen’s, which are structured as recollection.  (In class I said this makes Rosenberg “more modern” than Owen.)  When we reach World War II, we encounter a group of American poets (e.g. Jarrell, Nemerov, Wilbur, Simpson, Eberhart, Ciardi, and both Shapiros; Dugan might fit except for his avoidance of metaphor) strongly in favor of recollection and of the unifying, intellectualizing functions of received form, metaphoric structure, consistent tone, and a restrained speaker. Jeffrey Walsh refers to these values when he characterizes the war poets as adopting “an ironic and slightly self-mocking tone,” “verse forms and linguistic expression communicative of detached observation,” and “a propensity towards cultural diagnosis.”

    Choose one American poem of the second war and discuss how the poet uses “raw experience” as one source for the poem while creating an aesthetic structure that distances both poet and reader from “too much” direct emotional contact with that experience.  What tactics prevent “too much” reaction to war’s barbarity?  Be sure to include some discussion of form.

    In Louis Simpson’s poem, “Carentan O Carentan,” (see p.13 of this exam) a strict balladic form sustained through fourteen stanzas distances the reader from the horror of the battle described.  Euphemistic descriptions push the reader even further away from the reality of what is described.  And yet, in spite of this distancing, the eerie imagery of lovers, the childlike search for guidance, the blurred distinction between death and sleep, and the slow build of information ultimately result in an emotional impact more unexpected and therefore more persistent than a more explicit poem might produce.

    The poem is written in Sicilian quatrains, and most of the end rhymes are true rhymes.  The rhyme emphasizes the rhythm of the verse, giving it an almost nursery-rhyme sound on the first reading.  Although the meter could be described as accentual, it is also strongly iambic, in several places continuing without substitutions for three lines or more.  Again, the emphatically iambic rhythm can produce a tendency towards exaggerated pronunciation of the stresses.  This almost sing-song rhythm seems too light for the subject matter it contains, and effectively slows the reader’s recognition of the weight of the subject matter.

    The images in the poem frequently demand that the reader infer what is actually happening, as in lines 25-26, “I must lie down at once, there is/a hammer at my knee,” where the speaker is shot and wounded, possibly fatally.  Here, though the words like pain, or bullet, or shot are never used, the pounding of the wound is articulated in precise diction.  When the soldiers march out, they are described not as soldiers, but as farmers (line 19), and in lines 37-38, instead of being told what does cause “a whistling in the leaves,” the reader is only told “it is not the wind” (emphasis mine).  When ships attack unseen towns, they are described only as “speaking” to the towns.  Simpson insists that his reader deduce much of the action for herself, and when he does state an element of war explicitly, it is surrounded by pastoral images:  guns sound between bright dew and blue skies.  (lines 10-12)  The effect is that of two separate mental images, the smoke and sound of attack weirdly superimposed on the blue idyll of a rural landscape.

    There is an haunting recurring reference to lovers in the poem, starting in the first stanza—in fact, if one read only the first stanza, one might expect a completely different poem:

                Trees in the old days used to stand
                And shape a shady lane
                Where lovers wandered hand in hand
                Who came from Carentan.

    Only the fact that the trees no longer stand provides the merest suggestion that something ominous may happen in the poem, but in the next stanza, it is infantry who are marching two by two like the lovers of old.  Later, in the ninth stanza, the speaker, apparently dying, cries out that he did not have the experience described in the first stanza, and, having been shot, he never will have this experience.  This stanza simultaneously evokes the image of a “leafy lane” (line 35) and reiterates that this lane does not exist.

    After being shot in lines 25-26, the speaker uses what Walsh refers to as “an ironic and slightly self-mocking tone,” saying, “call it death or cowardice,/don’t count again on me.” (lines 27-28)  Instead of valiant death in battle being presented as the opposite of cowardice, it is shown that the end-result of death is identical to that of cowardice:  corpses cannot be depended upon.  It not only blurs the line between death and cowardice, but blurs the narrative:  is the speaker dying, or, having been wounded, running from further engagement with the enemy?  This also sets up certain overtones to the deaths of the officers in the final stanzas.

    The ironic tone continues as the speaker calls out to his mother, “everything’s all right,” (line 29) deceptively seeming to reassure her that he is unharmed, when the next stanzas tells that, far from unharmed, he is merely reassuring her that his death is unsurprising, nothing to be overly horrified by.  The hollow, unreassuring nature of this does the opposite of reassuring, serving instead to unsettle and upset. He laments what is undone in his life, and looks briefly away from the scene of battle to the destruction of vegetation.  This is somewhat confusing, coming, as it does, on the heels of a reiteration of the absence of trees.

        At this point, the speaker begins to call out to officers for guidance:  the Master Sergeant, the Captain, the Lieutenant.  All are “sleeping.”  The speaker seems childlike as he begs for guidance, “the way to turn” (line 42), “what’s my duty,” and the “sleep” of his officers seems almost enchanted, or fabulistic, especially when he reaches the Lieutenant, who is “a sleeping beauty.” (line 51).  The alignment of death and cowardice in stanza seven shows the betrayal the speaker feels, and it is reinforced by the use of sleep to represent death.  If, in fact, the officers were sleeping while their men fell in battle, they would be cowardly, indeed.  Though they are dead, the speaker still feels a certain betrayal that they cannot come to his aid.  Also in this section, the narration switches between an “I” voice and a “we,” voice, and, given that some six stanzas previously he has been shot and bid farewell to his mother, it almost seems he is speaking posthumously, and the “we” represents his voice joined with the other voices of the slain, expressing their communal bewilderment, need for guidance, and sense of betrayal.

        In the second half of the poem, the speaker seems like a child, crying out to his mother and then to others in need of aid.  In the first half of the poem, he walks where lovers have walked and appears as a farmer toiling at harvest.  He is aligned with various innocent parties, and thus his death seems more tragic.  As the reader works through the poem, in order to see what happens she must constantly strip away images in order to bare the combat scene:  in this poem, there are no trees, no lovers, and no farmers.  A company of soldiers in battle dress march through a field with guns ready, and are ambushed by the enemy.  The entire line of command is slaughtered, and most of the enlisted men as well—or so it is implied in the final stanza, where the lines, “before we met with you/we never yet had lost a man/or known what death could do,” (lines 54-56) imply a staggering destruction of what was once whole.

        Instead of explicitly describing war experience, Simpson doles out details like clues written in riddles, forcing the reader to infer and internalize the experience.  The weird tension between innocence and destruction and the negative writing—telling what is by telling what is not—combine to a slow, eerie unfolding.  It is the slowness and complexity of the revelation that draw the reader in; she cannot at first see clearly what is going on, so she looks closer, and then, again, closer.  By the time she realizes what she is seeing, she has seen so clearly that she can never shut her eyes—but, more:  she almost feels complicit in the horror for having pulled out a magnifying glass in order to really get a good look.  The soldier who speaks, speaks as an innocent somehow trapped in a horrible experience, and Simpson manages to leave his reader feeling a similar appalling confusion at how she ended up knee-deep in corpses, when a minute ago she was wandering down lover’s lane, admiring foliage.  These tensions—between form and narrative, between fabulistic or classical tones and personal narrative, between images and realities—are incredibly effective in combination, and though they do slow the reader’s receipt of the images, the subversive tactic of making the reader create the images for herself ultimately increases their impact and persistence.

    Historians say that in World War I the privileged/educated classes encountered for the first time, up close and personal, the barbaric consequences of the Industrial Revolution and modern technology – developments they had previously experienced primarily as advances in personal convenience. By World War II, critics say, this new destructive vision of mechanization had become a familiar trope for the modern world in general, so poets of the new war witnessed the spectacle of techno war with a mature cynicism and/or a mature philosophical need to confront its implications. Jeffrey Walsh’s phrases “the machine and God” and “aesthetics after war” point to these conflicts. Other critics have written extensively about the pervading image of bombers in World War II poetry.

    Choose one poem from each war, or two poems from the second war, and discuss their presentation of mechanization and technology. You may wish to include some discussion of form in the poems. For example, does poetic craft falter under the power of weapons? contain it? extol it? make it ironic?

     By the Second World War, technology had greatly changed how battles were fought, increasing the amount of destruction that could be done. In particular, aerial warfare allowed for devastation on a massive scale through the use of both conventional and chemical weapons. Poets writing from their experiences in these aerial assaults explore the aesthetics of technological warfare and the particular psychological effects it causes, which linger long after the war. The treatment of technology in James Dickey’s “The Firebombing” and Harvey Shapiro’s “Battle Report” reveals how aerial assaults isolate the flyer from destruction on the ground and how this detachment continues to resonate long after the war as they grapple to understand the damage done and to measure their own culpability for it.

    In “The Firebombing,” James Dickey reflects back on the beauties and horrors of mechanized warfare, remembering, twenty years after the fact, the bombing of Beppu. One of the poem’s two epigraphs –“Or hast thou an arm like God” –recalls what Jeffery Walsh argues in “Second World War Poetry: the Machine and God,” that the poetry of World War II “dramatiz[es] the encroachment of technological warfare in which the machine, the creator of illusory aesthetic spectacle and the dispenser of death, expropriates many of the powers and functions traditionally attributed to God” (153). In Dickey’s case, however, technology does not become the figure of supremacy; instead, it causes him to take on god-like power. When Walsh discusses Richard Eberhart’s poem “Aesthetics After War,” he makes a point about the sick beauty of war fought from a god’s-eye view.  Dickey was a radar observer on a fighter-bomber (Shapiro 226), which makes Walsh’s observation about Eberhart particularly relevant: “The glowing and eerie radar screen parked aircraft ‘wings folded back ethereal as butterflies’ and the arithmetical purity of the mark 18 gunsight, such objects belie their own reality. In perceiving their formal perfection, the poet should also be aware of their illusory nature, for they contribute to a masking of machine-destruction” (173). The blue light of the radar screen recurs in Dickey’s poem, reducing experience to flashing images.  Due to the distance of the airplane and the minimizing effects of radar,

    when those on earth
    Die, there is not even sound;
    One is cool and enthralled in the cockpit
    Turned blue by the power of beauty,
    In a pale treasure-hole of soft light
    Deep in aesthetic contemplation (171-76)

    From this view, reality is disguised; the dying do not scream and “the death of children is ponds/ Shutter-flashing”(159-60). The many individual deaths are “one death” (153). This view evinces how greatly distance affects perception in aerial warfare: The reality of the loss cannot be understood from afar. Consequentially, the deaths are minimized because individuality disappears in the collective sacrifice. 

    The expanse separating the plane and the victims causes the speaker to feel “The honored aesthetic evil/The greatest sense of power in one’s life” (186-87). Yet this power does not satisfy. He longs “To get down there or see/ What really happened,” but he can only imagine the annihilation that resulted from his actions (249-50). Unable to shed a position of power in this assessment, his voice sounds like an omnipotent proclamation: “All leashes of dogs / Break under the first bomb” (123-24). Since these depictions are imagined, he takes on the role of creator, which gives him the same god-like power he had as destroyer. The speaker wants to span space and time in order to view the destruction close up, without being its victim, but he is aware that this is impossible. Comparing the victims to homeowners in his own neighborhood, he knows he cannot say to them, “Come in, my house is yours, come in” (260). There is a greater distance than between himself and his neighbors, but this comparison indicates that there is a similarity. The disassociation he felt in the cockpit has carried over to his post-war life. The lawn mower takes on great significance; it is a machine that keeps neighbors at a distance. As physically close as he may come to his neighbor while they both push their mowers, their yards are distinctly separated by different-colored grasses. If they do ever cross these boundaries, it is only for the meaningless interaction of “borrow[ing] the hedge-clippers” (258). Psychologically, the speaker cannot bridge the gap between himself and his neighbors, let alone his aerial view and that of the napalmed villagers.

        Since “The Firebombing” weaves back and forth from past to present, some sections feel disconnected and surreal, and these disjointed thoughts are amplified in the poem’s form. Dickey uses enjambment and the expansion of space between words and phrases to mirror the psychological fragmentation of thoughts and memories. They reflect an oneiric state of suspension, whether the speaker is up in the bomber or just hovering between his past and his present. For example, referring to the “red dust” of the firebombing, he states, “That is what should have got in / To my eye”(162-5). This use of enjambment splits the word ‘into’ in half, which indicates that this break in the line is very intentional. The phrase, “To my eye” reflects an essential theme of the poem: perspective is everything. Another line taken out of its immediate context emphasizes an acceptance of blame that is stated more subtly when looking at the whole sentence: “And when a reed mat catches fire / From me, it explodes through field after field / Bearing its sleeper” (215). When in the second line of this quote the speaker asserts, “From me, it explodes”, it acts as an acceptance of responsibility for the bombing.

        By surrounding words and phrases with extra space, Dickey slows the pace of the poem and causes the poem to take on the airy quality of a dreamscape. It also represents thoughts and images as not properly connecting. Dickey employs this device to describe his memory of flying: “Going   invisible   passing   over   on/ Over   bridges   roads for nightwalkers” (40-1). The disconnectedness he feels while above enemy land is mirrored in the form, and the lasting effects of this detachment are reflected in a later passage. Long after the war, he stands in a pantry, overwhelmed by his past to the extent that he is unable to access the present:

            Blinded by each and all
            Of the eye-catching cans that have gladly caught my wife’s eye
            Until I cannot say
            Where the screwdriver is    where the children
            Get off the bus    where the fly
            Hones his front legs    where the hammock folds
            Its erotic daydreams (79-85).

    The fact that the same visual fragmentation he felt flying reoccurs when describing the speaker’s suburban life indicates that his experience has had a lasting impact, resulting in these disjointed thoughts. It points to his difficulty reconciling the brutality of war with the quotidian details of his normal life.

        Harvey Shapiro’s treatment of mechanized warfare in “War Report” shares some of the same implications as Dickey’s, but he focuses more on the life of war’s machinery and judges that it shares a greater part of the blame. The poem begins by saying that “the Adriatic was no sailor’s sea,” claiming it for the Air Force, most likely because of the dead men in downed planes the sea as claimed, which is more clearly hinted at as the poem continues. The plane’s crew “raced above the water for [their] lives,” hoping to make it to land (2). At the end of the first stanza, we see why: their engine has been hit by “rank, meaningless fire / that had no other object but our life” (4-5). This description, by omission of the actual enemy attacking them, gives the bullets the power and the will to potentially take lives. In the third stanza, the airmen retaliate, and Shapiro phrases it in such a way as to make it ironic. The flyers “Gave to the blue expanse can after can / Of calibers, armored clothes, all / The rich paraphernalia of our war”(10-12). Instead of describing the bombing of their enemy as a destructive act, Shapiro treats it as more of a gift offered to the sky. Again, the enemy does not exist in this passage and this lack of a human target elicits the same detached feeling Dickey addressed through other means. In this detached reality, there is no enemy, just weaponry.
    The crew survives this battle, and there is further example of the disconnected nature of aerial warfare in the second section. Shapiro calls the “flak” firing at the plane “impersonal,” an adjective that we tend to associate with human beings rather than inanimate objects (25). Perhaps he does this because bullets and bombs do take action and are animate, taking on the will of the humans who control them. Only here, as before, the reader does not see these enemies, so the bullets act as their emissaries, taking their place, and through this, seeming to take on some of the culpability for these absent figures. Moreover, it points out that there is nothing personal between these enemies, especially because they do not even come into face-to-face contact. In warfare fought at great distances rather than in hand-to-hand combat, the enemy is unseen and can only be assessed and measured by the weapons they deploy. Further humanizing the weaponry, they are also treated as having a sexual nature, at least metaphorically: “Europe rolled to its murderous knees/Under the sex of guns and cannon”(31-32). However, instead of having the power to create, these phalluses destroy, acting as the opposite of a life-giving force. So instead of embodying a god-like power, these weapons represent humanity.

    The psychological harm of this kind of warfare is depicted at the end of this section, revealing that the gunner is haunted by images of war in his dreams. The strongest image of this poem, particularly in its relation to the theme of war’s cold technology and the mental reverberation of war experience, takes place in the fourth section:

            In this slow-dream’s rehearsal
            Again I am the death-instructed kid,
            Gun in its cradle, sun at my back,
            Cities below me without a sound (62-65).

    In this passage, the speaker refers to the dreams of war that still haunt him, within which he is forced to kill again. Unlike Dickey, rather than accept the blame for his actions in wartime, he seems to point the finger at a “capitalist military system operating beyond his control” that Walsh describes (179-180). He has been “death-instructed,” emphasizing that he is a “social being acted upon” rather than being the one in power. Walsh notes, “in such a poetic analysis the stress is upon exploitation rather than upon sin and damnation” (180). Furthermore, to say that he was instructed in death rather than in killing disassociates him from the actual act, falling back on the idea that he was just following orders. An earlier dream passage seems to indicate that his actions are performed by rote and without reflection, as if the gunner has become the machine: “From target to target he rode. / The images froze, the flak hardly mattered”(29-30). First of all, in this section, Shapiro switches tenses, talking about the gunner in the third person rather than the first person. This choice serves to further remove the speaker from his own experience in the war and from his dream self. In this section, the gunner seems more mechanized than human, even to the extent that he seems unconcerned with incoming fire and the death it could bring.  Reflecting Dickey’s line about the soundlessness of the earth from the height of an airplane, Shapiro is also unable to understand the reality of the violence in which he participated. In the end, even though he “faces the mirroring past,” his mind hesitates to try to comprehend what is happening in the silence below him.       
    For the flyer crews of World War II, the technology of airplanes, radar, and napalm deceptively distanced them from the victims of their acts of war. Both Dickey and Shapiro grapple with their own roles in the war and come to different conclusions, but their participation in aerial warfare has forever influenced their thoughts and perceptions of the world. Regardless as to whether the weaponry of war takes on the characteristics of hidden enemies or offers, to its operator, a god-like power, it functions to distance these airmen from the reality of their destructive acts, even making them aesthetically stunning. This unreality reverberates in their consciousnesses long after the war as they try to reconcile the beauty and the horror.