Technology and Nature in Timothy Findley’s The Wars
“The Wars can be interpreted as exploring the modern conflict between nature and technology. ” The Conflict of Nature and Technology The wars is a story about Roberts life primary in the Great War, or WWI, throughout the story there are many elements of nature and technology that are introduced to the story, often in which, the two collide. Timothy Findley uses the Elements of Nature (Air, Water, Earth and Fire) and shows them in two different perspectives, sometimes harmful, sometimes helpful.
The reason however that they have become harmful, is due to the perversion of nature that happens within a war. Nature is corrupted by the technology around it created by man to kill one another, it can be damaged (e. g. when chlorine gas seeps into the earth) or it can be used to cause damage (The flamethrowers). All in all, the whole war was a massive struggle between technology and nature; however one individual throughout the story is the link between Nature and Technology.
Robert Ross uses technology to kill others throughout the war, an unnatural thing, but he also cares deeply for those things that are of nature. He is the bridge between the natural and technological world. The war on nature via technology is one of the most common themes in The Wars. It is very prominent when they bring the horses over on the S. S. Massanabie, and what condition the live in while on that boat while they are transported. “Each horse was lifted in a harness by a gigantic crane and lowered into the hold like cargo. 1 This is an example where cruelties against things that are natural are portrayed by the fact that the animals are treated no better than inanimate objects. The soldiers saw the horses as nothing more than another piece of technology that they would use in the war. Robert Ross has to take over from Harris while he is on the boat, and is charged in taking care of the animals. He then finds himself in the situation of having to kill the horse because it broke its leg. Robert doesn’t want to do it but he decides that he has to do it to prove himself.
Unfortunately Robert doesn’t kill it with the first shot and is emotionally disturbed. “Robert forced his eyes to open: aimed-and fired again. This time the horse was hit on the withers. Robert sank to his knees. He could hear himself breathing. He held the gun in both hands. He pressed it hard behind the horse’s ear and swore at the horse: God damn it, damn it, damn it-stop. His knees were wet and he drew himself into a ball and pushed with all his strength. He began to squeeze the trigger and he squeezed it gain and again and again-so many times that when the Sergeant-Major pulled him away the gun went right on clicking in his hands. ”(60-61) Robert has to use technology on something he cares a lot about, animals, something natural, and it bothers him greatly. Having this is another perversion of nature, and demonstrates and re-emphasizes how the horses are seen as little more than another part of the war machine. Chlorine gas is a development in technology that the German’s have made towards the war effort and it is one of the most detrimental things to nature in the whole war.
It is a prime example of how nature things can be corrupted my things that are man-made, because not only does the chlorine gas kill people it also “kills” the surrounding natural things. All of the surrounding land and terrain has the chlorine gas seep into it, and naturally destroys it, making the land barren and devoid of life, and the air toxic. Robert notices the green fog in the air when he and his bugler are riding. “The air was thick with green fog. There was a smell Robert could not decipher. ‘What’s that smell? ’ he said to Poole. prob’ly chlorine,’ Poole replied…. ‘You mean you think there’s a gas attack going on up front? ’ Robert had not yet had this experience. Poole had had it twice. ‘No sir. But the groun’ is full of it here. There’s some that says a handful of this clay could knock a person out. ’” The earth and the air have been corrupted with the chlorine gas, so much so that the area will not be viable for living or growing anything for quite some time. This is yet another example of the atrocities of war technology on nature, one that will harm the area for a long time to come.
When Rodwell goes down the lines, it is shown to its truest extent how corrupted nature has been by the mechanized chaos that is war. For now it is human nature that has been corrupted, so badly they the have turned into savages. These were men who had spent the entire time while the flamethrowers burned around them, and this new technology had damaged their primal instincts. Rodwell arrive to a scene of horror, were the men were burning rats and mice alive in their cooking pots, not for food, but for pure entertainment.
He tried to stop them, but he could not and they would not listen. They then did something that he could not deal with “Seeing that he took an interest, they forced him to watch a killing of a cat. Half an hour later, Rodwell wandered into No Man’s Land and put a bullet through his ears” (135) The corruption of the human mind has gone to an extent, that once normal human-beings had reverted to taking out the pain that they felt from the Germans and inflicting it on helpless creatures.
Robert Ross can relate to Rodwell’s pain, because like Rodwell he also was deeply compassionate for animals. Over the course of the book technology takes its toll on nature, be it natural instincts of humans, or natural things being destroyed. Technology is one of the most detrimental things to nature there can be, and it is up to mankind whether or not it is controlled within reasonable limits, or unleashed, to an extent in which it could destroy everything. One of the largest underlying themes in the whole book is the war within the war, or technology against nature.