All armies are the same

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All armies are the same

by Ernest Hemingway

All armies are the same
Publicity is fame
Artillery makes the same old noise
Valor is an attribute of boys
Old soldiers all have tired eyes
All soldiers hear the same old lies
Dead bodies always have drawn flies

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Providing an analysis for a Hemingway poem can be tricky. His blunt style does not hide a lot of mysteries. Nevertheless, his work is worth sharing and remembering because it does inspire a lot of thoughtful introspection.

This poem is seven lines, with an AABBCCC rhyme scheme. The first two lines contain six syllables, the next two both have 9 syllables, and the final three contain eight syllables each.

The message of the poem is about the nature of the military and of war generally. Hemingway tells us right out that his message is universal in line 1 and then proceeds for the remainder of the poem to explain how every armed force is similar to one another. In a time of war – such as the time Hemingway lived through – it was worth remembering the grim realities of war. He fames the poem in such a way that it might apply to friends, foes, or anyone from history.

The poem is enjoyable in that you can spend a lot of time considering each line. For example, “Publicity is fame,” within the context of the work, tells us through subtext that the media is a necessary engine for anyone to become a well known “war hero.” Many brave men and women fight and/or die without publicity and thus without fame – despite whatever was accomplished in the fighting. Others perhaps might also be given publicity – and thus fame – without as much actual personal accomplishment as his or her peers. How then should we view publicity and how should we evaluate those who provide it?

Another line I sit and think on is “Valor is an attribute of boys.” The grim truth of wars throughout history is that they have been fought largely by men who are scarcely more than boys. The fate of nations during wartime thus hangs on the valor of those boys. There is a great sense of tragedy you can feel from this statement, knowing that it is often much older men and women who send their children – or the children of others – to war. There is also a great sense of wonder and pride that comes with the statement. The young can and do achieve unbelievable things and they do it while exercising unfathomable courage.

“All soldiers hear the same old lies” is a statement about the nature of being in the military, namely that lying is a core component of the entire war enterprise. This line is interesting because I think you can infer different ideas as to what those lies are, depending on your own experience and perspective. In any case, though, it’s not a line that glorifies war in any way and it leads well into line 7 which also fails to present the army life as a positive.

“Dead bodies always have drawn flies.” Fighting involves the likelihood of death – either for yourself, your comrade, or your enemy. Some portray this in a stylized or positive way. Hemingway, though, provides a bleak picture of a corpse attracting flies. There is nothing grand about that end.

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