Dulce et Decorum Est and Base Details
‘Base Details’ is entirely speculative. The word ‘base’ in the title has two distinct meanings. It could be used as a noun, to mean ‘place’, as in a centre of operation; or you could interpret the word as an adjective meaning ‘morally low or unacceptable’. Sassoon has used play on words in the title so that the reader may more adequately perceive the irony and sarcasm expressed in this poem. The adjectives used in the first two lines of ‘Base Details’ reflect the author’s perception of his superiors: If I were fierce, and bald, and short of breath,
I’d live with Scarlet Majors at the Base, The first line indicates that Sassoon is contemptuous of these officers. He has classed the Majors as unpleasant stereotypes, to be criticised and jeered at. In the following line, the word ‘scarlet’ has a double meaning. On face value, it could be taken to mean that the officers have bright red cheeks. However, Sassoon has used the word as a metaphor, meaning that the Majors have been metaphorically splattered with the blood of the young men they had sent to the front line to die. The stanza continues:
And speed glum heroes up the line to death. Here, ‘speed’ indicates haste. The Majors are unnecessarily rushing soldiers to their deaths. The soldiers are referred to as ‘glum heroes’ because that is exactly what they are. Their country is expecting them to be noble, intrepid and courageous. Instead they are despondent because they know that as soon as they are out of the trenches their grisly demise could come about at any second. All the hope, joy and energy that is a part of youth has vanished from these men. Sassoon then regales us with further speculation thus:
You’d see me with my puffy petulant face Guzzling and gulping in the best hotel, The first thing we notice about these two lines is that Sassoon has used alliteration in order to make more of an impact on the reader, and to vary his writing style. Also worth noting is the fact that Sassoon uses rhyme throughout ‘Base Details’ to good and memorable effect. Saying that the Majors are ‘puffy and ‘petulant’ indicates incredulity on Sassoon’s part, similar to that conveyed in the first lines of the poem. The phrase ‘guzzling’ and ‘gulping’ indicates greed, and animal-like actions.
The Majors are inhuman. Then, we are told that the Majors stay in ‘the best hotel’. This brings home the stark contrast between the lives of the soldiers in the vermin-infested trenches, and the sedentary lives of their superiors. Sassoon continues: Reading the Roll of Honour. ‘Poor young chap’, I’d say. ‘I used to know his father well: Yes, we’ve lost heavily in this last scrap. ‘ The Roll of Honour referred to here was an official list of those who died in the war. The Major’s words regarding one of the deceased are not at all heartfelt.
They are meaningless, detached and emotionally void. He is unconcerned and he has placed himself above feelings of pity for those lost and their families. Each new death is just another name on the register and another letter to be dispatched. In the last line of the stanza, the Major refers to trench warfare as a ‘scrap’ or ‘game’, which is identical to Jessie Pope’s view of war. This is a direct reflection of how little the Major knows about the fighting going on outside his quarters; and similarly, how unequipped he is for his job of directing troops. Base Details’ closes with the following: And when the war is done and youth stone dead, I’d toddle safely home and die – in bed. By using the words ‘stone dead’ to describe the deceased soldiers, Sassoon makes a brutal and graphic impression on the reader. It is a cold and unfeeling phrase, and seems to render those who died as useless and unimportant. The Major wishes to die peacefully, and in bed – unlike those he sends out to the front. The Major considers himself superior in all aspects, even in death. Base Details’ attempted to show the ignorant public back in Britain the hypocritical attitudes of many of these Majors; and how soldiers in the trenches were being treated in comparison to those who had obtained top jobs merely on the basis of their public schooling. Whilst ‘Base Details’ depicts the life of a typical Major serving during World War One, another of Sassoon’s poems, ‘The Hero’, depicts the sequence of events on the home front following the death of a soldier. The poem ‘Base Details’ by Siegfried Sassoon is a sarcastic attack against the army generals who view the war as a game similar to checkers.
It is therefore evidence of why Siegfried Sassoon is known as the “voice of protest”. The first noticeable thing about the text is the title. The word base is a pun for the fact that base means headquarters as well as dishonourable or cowardly, which implies that he will talk about the dishonourable activities at the Army headquarters. Secondly, Sassoon appeared to have blamed the officers for the purposeless deaths of his fellow men, while they were behind the front line and had no idea what it was like.
Sassoon uses many adjectives to describe his generalisation of those at the top “fat and bald and short of breath” which shows the hatred that he has. In this poem, Sassoon writes “poor young chap… I used to know his father well. ” This statement alone is typical of an army general. To show the fact that army generals can not comprehend what war is like he uses the phrase “we lost heavily in this last scrap”. The army generals are calling this a scrap like it’s a fight between boys at school. Sassoon calls the army generals “Finally, Sassoon rounds the poem of with a phrase by reinforcing that they are unfit and fat.
He also shows that those at the front line could die any moment by saying “When the war is done and youth stone dead, Id toddle safely home and die, in bed” which is a good ending because it says that the generals will die in a nice warm peaceful place, while the soldiers will die among the rats. Sassoon’s feelings towards the officers are best described in the poem ‘Base Details’. In this poem, Sassoon shows his resentment towards the officers by describing them drinking in the best hotels, and reading the names of those who died, saying ‘poor young chap …
I used to know his father well’ and saying ‘yes, we’ve lost heavily in this last scrap’. The poem is finished with the lines “and when the war is done and youth stone dead, I’d toddle safely home and die – in bed” This poem truly shows the bitterness and resentment Sassoon felt towards the officers. He felt that they didn’t really care about those who died, because they were safe themselves and had no idea of what was going on at the front line – calling the battle that was fought a ‘scrap’, like it was nothing more than a small fight.
In the last two lines of the poem, Sassoon’s feelings are clearer than ever, the way he says that they’ll ‘toddle home and then die in bed shows that he thought that the officers were safe and living comfortably while the soldiers, who were actually fighting the war, were living in shocking conditions, where they would die at any moment. Sassoon uses many different ways to convey his feelings, and particularly his bitterness and resentment towards the war and the officers, but in all his poems, his true meanings are clear and he writes in such a way that shows us clearly what he thinks and feels about the war.