War and sacrifice: WWII and now

I have been astonished that men could die martyrs for their religion – I have shudder’d at it. I shudder no more. I could be martyr’d for my religion. Love is my religion and I could die for that.  I could die for you.

John Keats

In my novel, Why Aren’t You Sweet Like Me? one of the themes is represented by this quotation by John Keats: the ability or willingness to die for love. One of the expectations of war is that soldiers go into battle fearlessly: men are traditionally thought of as being willing to sacrifice everything for those that they love and their country. Perhaps this might be more reasonable during a time where America has a volunteer-only military, but during WWII – when many men were drafted (or “conscripted” as my grandfather says) – men were taken for the war effort like guns, rations, silk: tools to help the US Army become a more effective machine. These draftees could either run away or succumb to the idea that they could be sent into combat abroad. My grandfather felt that enlisting would be a better choice than being a draftee because, then (he thought), he could control when he was in the Army and hopefully get out quickly; however, he didn’t anticipate the Army’s ability to hold one over.

So in this time of intense love and intense fear, men were thought of as these honorable creatures that would perish to protect others. Women were not given this same expectation (women are expected to die for their children, but not their husbands). They were, however, expected to deal with loss gracefully: to wait without the power to intervene (and this was only recently changed).

My question is, do you feel that this is natural? Who would you die for? What would the circumstances have to be for this to be an acceptable end? Is this axiom still held today? Or has it been replaced by one more suited to this time?


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