Disillusionment is to be neither an accusation

Disillusionment has become a
familiar phrase to describe the detrimental dissociation that veterans of war
have experienced: a feeling of complete detachment to the institution where
they used to live due to the psychological damage attributed to war (such as
PTSD). These men may have left the battlefield, but they never left the war.
Instead they have to return to their homes where father’s ask “stupid and
distressing” questions about the war (‘AQWF’), and to be judged by a society
which truly has no perspective of what these men have endured.   

This is explored within
‘Birdsong’ through the protagonist, Stephen, in his dramatic emotional journey
from explosive passion with the affair with Isabelle, to monotonous nihilism during
his time as a soldier. His internal monologue when describing the carnage that
WWI has upon the psyche (“this is not a war, this is a test of how far man can
be degraded”) is harrowing. Similarly, in ‘All Quiet on the Western Front’
Remarque makes the psychological horror of war very clear in the disclaimer at
the very start of the novel:

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book is to be neither an accusation nor a confession, and least of all an
adventure, for death is not an adventure to those who stand face to face with
it. It will try simply to tell of a generation of men who, even though they may
have escaped shells, were destroyed by the war.”

there is a marked difference when exploring this idea between both novels. ‘All
Quiet on the Western Front’ never resolves Paul’s feelings of disillusionment. Whilst
in ‘Birdsong’ Stephen’s eventual ability to finally care for something, or
rather someone, again in the form of Jeanne blunts the morbidity of the message
that both novels send to the reader. Even though Stephen will never be as
unburdened as the “Larks” and the theme of other birds in the novel, who,
despite the horrors around them continue to find joy in the fields of death
around them, Stephen’s nihilism will be broken by the grace of Firebrace’s enigmatic
passing: “There
is nothing more sir, than to love and be loved.”

Stephen is prejudiced against
the Germans; a hate which serves to fuel what motivations he has left to
continue fighting in the war as a nihilist and a spiritual agnostic. At the
beginning he can’t even find faith in his men, this apathy becomes a dangerous
indifference to the men he is supposed to protect. However, this eventually
grows (due to his pathos towards his men) to finally care for his charge. His
nihilistic lack of purpose, and feeling of detachment presents Stephen as that
of someone victimised from disillusionment. He concedes to Gray “I don’t value
my life enough. I have no sense of the scale of these sacrifices. I don’t know
what anything is worth” (164). These simple matter-of-fact declaratives
seem to embody his hopelessness. Likewise, as do Paul’s comments “we had joined up with enthusiasm and
with good will; but they did everything to knock that out of us”. Paul’s
self-inflective narrative throughout the novel helps to show the
semi-autobiographical style of writing Remarque uses; it gives more credibility
and meaning to the events in ‘All Quiet on the Western Front” as Remarque is
describing his own experiences when he served a month in WWI. Both Remarque and
Paul’s homes were not harmed in the conflict, but when they arrive back Paul
remarks he does “not belong here anymore, it is a foreign world”. 

‘Birdsong’ supports Faulks’ intentions
to- through a narrative focus on social dynamics- illuminate the fallacy of
this myth of comradeship that recruiting efforts like Kitchener’s Army created;
which thereafter has created a healthy scepticism of the military and war
today. Before the horrors of the World Wars, countries identified themselves
through their militaristic capabilities; a concept that has lived through the
histories (perhaps due to a simple biological incentive of survival). For
example, the ‘all-powerful’ thalassocracy of the British Empire was preceded by
the thalassocracy of the Athenian Navy, showing how ingrained this militaristic
gloating has become within, at the very least, Western Culture. Until when
during the World Wars we finally had the Media exercise the power we now
acknowledge it has today; the day that the first “Casualty List” was published in
(1939?) and seen by the majority of the British public was the day that finally
war was not glamourised, and war-crimes were not hidden within quiet tribunals.
Elizabeth sees this when she sets off on a journey to find the arch at Thiepval
and is shocked by the amount of the dead: “names teeming, reeling, over surfaces of
yards, of hundreds of yards, over furlongs of stone”.

Sir John Chilcot’s “Chilcot
Report” published in 2016 is a prime example of the British Public’s newfound
demand for transparency, instead of illusions. Likewise, is the political
infrastructure present today in comparison to before the 1900s; during that
time the only political parties to exist were the “Whigs” and the “Tories”
(succeeded by the Liberal Democrats and the Conservative Party respectively)  and despite the Whigs’ emphasis on liberalism
it could not be ignored that both them and the “Tories” were founded on the
backs of the privileged: The Whigs supported the great aristocratic families
and the Tories supported the Gentry, COE and the Royalty. No one supported the
Firebrace of that society.

That is until the founding of
the Labour Party in 1900 which was formed by various trade unions and socialist
societies as the Labour Representation Committee. A party which emphasised the
basis on which the trade unions began to form in the 1810s (such as the
Philanthropic Society, founded in 1818 in Manchester): the protection of
workers rights, discussions of their pay and the working standards in which
they found themselves in.

 Debatably, this political party’s explosion in
popularity for the working class who had no voice at the time, could also be
due to the vehemence of anger the British Public now felt, having lost
generations of Brothers, Fathers and Sons from the World Wars due to a lack of
transparency with the Government. Elizabeths’s inflection upon her generation
(“in her generation there was no intensity” (414)) emphasises the tragedy
of those lost, and brave generations. In light of their sacrifices, the
trivialities of our current existence are laughable.

A quote from the Chilcot
Report aptly summarises a key theme throughout the novel Birdsong: “It is now clear that policy on Iraq was made on the
basis of flawed intelligence and assessments. They were not challenged,
and they should have been.” Our Hero Stephen challenged
Colonel Barclay before the Somme Offensive, and despite this, tens of thousands
of men perished when Stephen’s intelligence was ignored.

 This tragedy is further emphasised by the news
concerning Firebrace’s son, Jack, who dies of (typhoid?). Faulks uses the
Firebrace family as a literary tool to describe the social conditions in which
the majority of the soldiers in WWI had lived in, and Faulks throughout the
novel uses Dickensian Pathos (insert quote) in the trope of the disadvantaged
wife and the sickly child, to