'So, you agree with his views but not his actions? Isn't that rather an artificial distinction?' 'No, I don't think it is. The way I see it, when you put the uniform on, in effect you sign a contract. And you don't back out of a contract merely because you've changed your mind.'

This dialogue between Rivers and Graves is found in Part One, Chapter 3. Rivers asks Graves to explain his views about war and about Sassoon's protest. Graves responds that he does not see it as artificial to agree with someone's views but disagree with his actions. Graves's response is important because it reveals a complex attitude toward war and protest, one shaped by a traditional English public education and traditional values. Although Graves agrees with Sassoon that the war is wrong, he cannot condone Sassoon's method of protest. He believes that when one agrees to fight for one's country, one is bound by an unalterable contract. Graves's words are based upon traditions of duty and honor, concepts that have been taught to the English people—and especially to the English upper classes—for centuries. Graves cannot imagine anything worth risking one's honor. Rivers, however, skeptically draws Graves's distinction into question, asking whether one does not have a duty to his beliefs as well as to his contract. This question, which is unresolved in the novel, is a central conflict that drives the plot.