War is glorified. Whether to increase troop morale, further support at home, or simply to capitalize from the coverage of its action filled events, historically there is usually a surge of nationalistic propaganda when two countries enter a major conflict. Because of this, the average citizen is led to believe that war is a justified, and even good and beneficial thing. For instance, someone uneducated, or even simply failing to pay attention, may support a war for a foreign people’s freedom without realizing that another’s is taken away, or for religious reasons even though war seems counter to the ideologies of many of the major creeds in today’s world. In the poem “World War II”, Langston Hughes captures the ignorance of those who consider war to be full of glory and triumph, using simplistic language and bare-bones rhyming with repeating phrases.
In the main body of the poem, before the moment of the speakers insight, there is only one two-syllable word. The rest are one syllable, with over a third of the words consisting of merely two letters. This limited vocabulary mimics, and perhaps exaggerates, the undereducated quality of the average population in the United States. One could see, by reading this poem, how easy it would be to convince someone this simple-minded of the benefit of anything, even something harmful at its base level such as war. Interestingly, at the end of the poem , upon expressing the realization that war is full of death, the narrator finally utilizes a longer, three syllable word.
To further the view of America as ignorant, Hughes employs some of the least complex rhyming available in the English language. Only two lines truly rhyme in the main body of the poem, unless one counts the almost verbatim repetition of previous lines, akin to the rhyming of “masses” with “masses” in a certain classic rock song concerning porcine military figures. This repetition and easy isolated rhyme give the poem an almost sing-song quality which one might expect to hear at an old-timey bar as people celebrate a holiday.
At first, the lampooning of average America, exaggerating their way of speaking and imitating what might be their idea of interesting literary form, seems solely condescending. However, by the end of the poem, it becomes grim indeed, as only an echo of a question about war’s greatest drawback remains in a sea of positive propaganda. In twelve lines, Hughes succeeds in terrifying the reader.