War Is Kind
by Stephen Crane
Analysis: What's Up With the Title?
"War Is Kind"? War is kind?
Not so much, bucko.
We agree—this is a very strange title for a poem, especially when it becomes clear that the whole point of the poem is that war is, ahem, not kind at all. Not in the least. Nope nope nope. So why bother with this little game of saying war is kind to mean "war is not kind"?
First and foremost, the title is meant to bug you just a little bit by its absurdity. The speaker writes a pretty obviously anti-war poem, and in an effort to stir up his readers a little bit, he offers up this irritating little title. Okay, okay, fair enough. In order to get people angry about the injustice of war, you have to stir the pot a little bit. Well, you have our attention, Mr. Crane.
After reading the first few lines of the poem, it becomes clear that the poem aims to expose the absurdity of the claim that war is kind and, more importantly, of those who might possibly say such a thing. Case in point: the speaker of the poem, especially in those stanzas (2 and 4) where he's on the battlefield and says all that stuff about soldiers being born to drill and die. You know, all that glory and valor mumbo jumbo.
This guy—the speaker—attempts to console a number of people that have lost loved ones in battle (a maiden, a babe, a mother) by telling them that war is kind. But it is precisely this type of thinking—that war isn't all that bad and soldiers are meant to go out there and die anyway—that perpetuates wars in the first place, and all the bloodshed and destruction that goes with them.
So, then, the title "war is kind" is, quite clearly, meant to be ironic, in the most savage of ways, especially since it's coming from the pen of Stephen Crane. But, more than that, it is also pretty much a stand-in for all sorts of military clichés—"born to drill and die"— that attempt to justify killing ("virtue of slaughter," 20) or mitigate the grief that warfare causes.