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A war is a historical event that has the ability to change a person's life both positively and negatively. Ironically, during the months preceding both World War One and World War Two, for many men the opportunity of going overseas to prove themselves worthy as men was rarely refused. However, many of the soldiers who were involved in either the First or Second World Wars quickly realized that war was not only a brand new experience; it was a new lifestyle. In both novels, Band of Brothers by Stephen E. Ambrose and The Wars by Timothy Findley, the soldiers share a common bond with one another. Soldiers learn how to become one unit, fighting for the same cause. However, although they are one unit, not all soldiers have the mental and physical toughness to face the hardships that accompany war. In fact the gain and sequential loss of friends, the immense pressure to perform, and the need to become a real man are all factors that affect a soldier's performance both on and off the battlefield. These are the circumstances that define a soldiers experience of war and reveal that it takes more then than physical toughness to survive; mental stamina is also needed to cope with the surrounding environment.
During a soldier's tenure, countless relationships develop between himself and his fellow comrades, and many soldiers have a hard time letting go of these friendships. Only the strong willed soldiers have the ability to look the other way whenever a friend or comrade has been killed. Numerous friends and comrades of both Robert Ross (The Wars) and the men of Easy Company (Band of Brothers) were killed or wounded, but these characters almost always persevered with no regrets or second thoughts. However, not all relationships that were made by the men of Easy Company came easily. As quoted by Stephen Ambrose,
"They (the men of Easy Company) drank beer. Lots of beer. They sang soldier songs. Toward the end of the evening, invariably someone would insult someone else with a slurring reference to his mother, his sweetheart, his home town, or his religion. Then they would fight, as solider boys do, inflicting bloody noses and blackened eyes, before staggering back to their barracks, yelling war chants, supporting each other, becoming comrades .
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When a group of people become involved with each other to the extent of brotherhood, it is important to realize that there are always ups and downs of a relationship. However, many soldiers contest that the experiences of friendships during a war are those which you never want to let go of.
The character Robert Ross experiences his own hardships in regards to the friendships he made during the First World War. Robert was the type of person who didn't have that many genuine friends while he was at war, but the ones he had made, were cherished. For example, Timothy Findley wrote about Robert,
"But love- yes. Robert loved Harris. It was clear in the way he dealt with his death and in the way he spoke of him afterwards to me. "
For Robert, the gain and sequential loss of Harris was detrimental to his sanity at first. However, as a true soldier would, he put the memories of his departed friend behind him and in a sense soldiered on through the war. It is extremely important for a soldier to avoid at all cost showing any sign of weakness in regards to death.
Many soldiers learn that during combat, numerous situations arise where any mistakes would be detrimental to the entire company. These situations create mood and the pressure to perform becomes almost unbearable. For the men of easy company, the highs and lows of their combat created close call situations, yet somehow, many of the soldiers were able to adjust themselves accordingly. The fact that many were able to perform under pressure is amazing considering many of the soldiers had never experienced any form of combat in the past. As a matter of fact, Lieutenant Winters of Easy Company wrote,
"I prayed the whole time over, prayed to live through it, prayed I wouldn't' fail. Every man I think had on his mind, How will I react under fire? '"
The ability to overcome these doubts and questions is truly a testament to the fortitude for the men of Easy Company. In many instances, personal doubts and fear of failure were the main issues on the men of Easy Company's minds, rather than the combat itself.
Robert Ross' war experience was a true testament to his personal fortitude because he was involved in the First World War; a war where many new techniques and tactics of fighting were developed. Such tactics as air-to-ground fire, gas attacks, and so forth created a buzz of confusion whenever they occurred. Robert's quick decision making skills helped save the lives of his fellow comrades, as well as his own. When Robert's first experience with a chlorine gas attack occurred, he was calm and collective, but his unit wasn't. He quickly decided that in the event of the chlorine gas reaching them, the soldiers must urinate on their handkerchiefs and use them as gas masks. However, many of the soldiers couldn't urinate out of fear and immense pressure, so Robert took control.
"At last his fingers took hold. He closed his eyes. He prayed: dear Jesus let me piss. But he couldn't. Neither could the other men and this other man began to weep, till Robert shouted at him Damn you! Damn you! Give it to me! '"
As a result of his quick thinking, Robert exemplifies the perfect soldier. The ability to perform under immense pressure was the determining factor that saved the lives of many, as well his own.
During the First and Second World Wars, enlistment in the army was seen as a very masculine action. Grown young men had to prove themselves worthy in society at the time and it seemed that media and pressure from the government was exactly the catalyst needed for millions of men to head off to war. The men of Easy Company were unique because they were all volunteers for a new war regiment; airborne infantry. Airborne infantry was viewed as a new and exciting aspect of war, and many men decided there was no better way to show your worth as a man than through jumping from the sky into enemy fire. Timothy Findley wrote about Easy Company's training that,
"They had been told the physical training was tougher than anything they had ever seen, or that any other unit in the army would undergo. They expected that, when they were finished with their training, they would be bigger, stronger, and tougher than when they started. "
Self ambition played a huge role in the increased enlistment statistics during both wars. Many men went to war because they thought it was a game, but the majority went because they knew that once the war finished, they would become better men, stronger than before.
Although many men went to war as a sign of masculinity, Robert Ross decided to go because of his relationship with his mother at home. His mother treated him as an insignificant weak man, he decided to prove to his mother that he was more that what she thought he was. However, once Robert experienced his first taste of action, it was no longer a case of proving his mother wrong. Robert needed to prove something to himself. In one instance, Robert was paralyzed with fear but he needed to prove to himself as well as his unit that he was a good commanding officer. Findley says,
"Robert could barely move in his panic, but he knew that he had to show his nerve and his ability as an officer. "
In this instance, Robert proved not only to himself but to everyone around him that he was both mentally and physically fit to handle any situation. Unfortunately, later in the novel he proves this theory wrong by losing his mind and putting others in danger and even killing his fellow comrades.
It can be said that being a soldier is the toughest occupation that anyone can overtake. No other occupation can claim that basic survival skills are required for the job, let alone man-to-man combat. In both cases of Robert Ross and the men of Easy Company, demonstrate what it means to be a soldier through countless instances of bravery, smart decisions, and strong willed nature. Any soldier who was unable to exemplify the ability to disregard fellow comrades in their time of death, show their worth as a man, or perform under pressure was often killed. Robert Ross and the men of Easy Company prove that it takes more than a gun in hand and a patch on the shoulder to be called a soldier.