One of the paradoxes of war—one of the many—was that this most brutal of conflicts should set up a relationship between officers and men that was… domestic. Caring. As Layard would undoubtedly have said, maternal. And that wasn't the only trick the war had played. Mobilization. The Great Adventure. They'd been mobilized into holes in the ground so constricting they could hardly move. And the Great Adventure—the real life equivalent of all the adventure stories they'd devoured as boys—consisted of crouching in a dugout, waiting to be killed.

These lines are some of Rivers's reflections in Part Two, Chapter 9, of the novel. They are important because they highlight the immense ironies of World War I: the ultimate act of manliness results in domesticity; mobilization results in men being wedged into a hole; and the heroic adventure is not nearly as heroic as the soldiers could have hoped. Part of the madness, and of the incredible frustration with the war, is due to expectations being frighteningly different from the reality. In previous wars, there could be individual heroism—there were rules to war, a gentlemanly way to fight. The Great War is a total war; trench warfare and machine guns mean that all the rules have changed. There seems nothing heroic in crouching in a hole for months, waiting to die. Wilfred Owen's famous poem "Dulce Et Decorum Est" confronts these themes: the absence of heroism and the false tale of a "sweet" death. This passage emphasizes the realism and de-romanticization of the war.