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John Brown and the ugly face of war

John Brown is an interesting anti-war lyric that describes the numerous horrors of war that many young men find themselves to be trapped in. Throughout the whole poem, you find these ‘’soldiers’’ try to gain an idea of heroism which is often driven by a false sense of bravado and machismo.

However, it is too late for them to realize the situation and that power and glory are nothing more than just political puppetry where the strings are pulled by much more powerful people who start the war but don’t take part in it.

The first paragraph starts with the main protagonist, John brown, going to war on a foreign shore, the name of the place isn’t known, but it doesn’t matter anyway since war is a war whatever it may be.

His mother is proud and excited to send him off without thinking of much as she wants her son to bring home medals and fame. She is only focused on the way people would think about her son being a noble soldier bringing home medals and is too optimistic to even realize the realities of war and the fact that she is sending her own son to battle for his life.

The idea of ‘glory’ in a piece of metal is just the imagination of the mother and of the people who do not think twice about the horrible casualties of war. This is showcased by Brown’s mother openly boasting about her ‘’brave’’ son about to fight for his country.

In paragraphs, two and three the son, John Brown, decides to fight this war and his mother goes around telling the whole neighborhood about her it. The romanization of war, medals, and glory are shown in the expressions of the mother’s treatment towards the letter he sends her. She shouts and glorifies this letter that she gets from her son blaring out the words ‘good old-fashioned war’ as if it was a norm to go to such horrendous things and fight for your life.

The letters cease to come for ten months or so, but his mother’s attention doesn’t go to the fact that he may or may not be well or alive, but on the fact that she has nothing to show off anymore.

When a letter finally does arrive, it is to pick her son up from the train station and welcome the ‘soldier’ to his house safely.

As she waits for her son to show up, she sees the condition in which he is in and the brutality of war is all too evident. The poet, Bob Dylan doesn’t leave a single word while describing the gruesome picture of the proud mother’s son whose face was ‘’all blown up’’ and ‘’hand is all blown off’’ and who had to wear a metal brace around his waist just so he could stand and walk although with much-needed help.

The debilitating effects of war and the long-term consequences of it is a sad reality which many war veterans have to deal with in their day-to-day life’s just for the sake of a ‘good old-fashioned war’

By the time John Brown has returned home, he had become a different man, one who was not thoroughly disillusioned by the idea of heroism and war, on who could barely move his mouth to speak and whose own mother could hardly recognize him.

He, with much pain explained, how she thought sending him to war was the best thing he could do, while he was on the battlefield not knowing when he could die, she was at home acting proud but she was never in my shoes thinking about how her son felt.

As he thought to himself on the battlefield about why he was there trying to kill somebody just so he could not be killed, but that according to him was not the scariest thing, it was the fact that when his enemy came close, he could see that his face was just like his, scared, confused not knowing what got him in a situation like this to risk his life.

As he thought and stared into the stranger’s eyes as if he was looking at his own there was thunder and the foul smell of his dying comrades, all he could feel was like a puppet in a play run and written by the upper powers. And as the thunder broke, his strings snapped and a cannonball blew his eyes away.

Above all of this, it is the rending away of humanity that is the most brutal component of war as it denies the humanity of the very people involved in it.

Lastly, with whatever little strength he had, he began to walk and called his mother close, and dropped the much-desired medals she wanted down on her hand.

His mother finally waked to the shock and the horror of the gruesome realities of war when she sees her son unable to stand without the aid of the waist brace. She sees no glory, no bravery, only devastation. And now as he walks away, the pieces of metal in his mother’s hand seemed useless.

He is no longer the John Brown we saw at the starting of the poem, his name only mentioned once was a gesture of saying how by the end of this war he was just another handicapped soldier who had been damaged by the system and was now nothing more than damaged good, and the only compensation he got? A piece of metal is attached to a string. 

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