2. I had seen nothing sacred, and the things that were glorious had no glory and the sacrifices were like the stockyards at Chicago if nothing was done with the meat except to bury it. There were many words that you could not stand to hear and finally only the names of places had dignity. Certain numbers were the same way and certain dates and these with the names of the places were all you could say and have them mean anything. Abstract words such as glory, honor, courage, or hallow were obscene beside the concrete names of villages, the numbers of roads, the names of rivers, the numbers of regiments and the dates.
When Henry meets the young patriot, Gino, on the ruined Bainsizza in Chapter XXVII, the two have a conversation that confirms Henry’s ambivalence about war. Gino prattles on about the sacredness of the fatherland and his own willingness to die for his country. To Henry, such abstractions as honor, glory, and sacrifice do little to explain or assuage the unbelievable destruction that he sees around him. What matters, he decides, are the names of villages and soldiers, the concrete facts of decimated walls and dead bodies. He believes that in order to discuss the war honestly, one must dismiss artificial concepts and deal with terms grounded in the reality of the war. He tarnishes the romanticized ideal of the military hero by equating the “sacrifices” of human lives in war with the slaughter of livestock. He further compares romantic riffs about honor and glory to burying meat in the ground. Nothing can be sustained or nurtured by such pointlessness.