While some war poets amplify the concept of anonymity for enemy soldiers, projecting an “us vs. them” mentality, other defining voices of war counter this militaristic impulse to dehumanize the enemy. This pivot toward describing the World Wars more like humanitarian crises than an epic of good and evil is most notable in poems that chronicle both real and imagined close-range encounters between combatants. The poem “Strange Meeting” by British First World War soldier Wilfred Owen uses the vision of two enemy soldiers meeting in hell to reinforce his famous notion that war is something to be pitied. As a result of technological advancements in the Second World War and the increasing distance of combat, the poems “Vergissmeinnicht” and “How to Kill” by British Second World War soldier Keith Douglas wrestle with dehumanizing the enemy and acknowledging their humanity. “Protocols” by American Second World War soldier Randall Jarrell is an imagined view of civilian victims, and is a reckoning with the horrors human beings are capable of committing.
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