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Soldiers and War

Armies are held up as the epitome of order, but these etchings show soldiers with no sense of order at all. They are outside the ordinary coordinates of space and time in some grotesquely disordered universe.

Frontline fighters are usually shown doing 'manly' things and enjoying 'manly' past-times: they are even shown suffering death or injury in a 'manly' way.

War memorials do not show soldiers reduced to the level of animals, or war veterans suffering the consequences of their service after hostilities have ended.

The new use of machines in World War I heightened the vulnerability of the human body and the irrelevance of human capacities for action. The almost ghost-like soldier/father figures in John Walker's etchings are not doing anything heroic. They are hardly doing anything at all. They are portrayed as helpless, as victims, knocked about by forces beyond their control - machine-gun bullets, artillery shells, tanks, shrapnel, barbed wire and gas, in those trenches 'where death becomes absurd and life absurder,' as Wilfred Owen put it.

It has been said that in Walker's etchings the plates themselves seem to have been 'wounded;' in Passing bells he uses etching to provide visual equivalents to the personal damage caused by war.

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