General, your Tank is a Powerful Vehicle: Critical Analysis
“General, your tank is a Powerful Vehicle” was written in the third decade of the twentieth century, during the Interwar Period. This period of human history is known as the Interwar Period because it occurred between the First World War (that stretched from 1914 to 1918) and the Second World War (that stretched from 1939 to 1945). At this time, poets and authors were disillusioned with human society.
The First World War had caused more human lives and more damage to property than any war before its time. It had also increased man’s reliance on military equipment as an effective means of national protection. However, Brecht expresses just the opposite sentiment in this poem. He says that military equipment such as tanks or bomber planes cannot do anything unless a human being is operating them. On their own, they are just useless scraps of metal. Hence, it is a human being who must use them as necessary if a war is to be won with their help.
The problem is that men cannot be easily commanded to do such heinous things. Man has the capacity for independent thinking. He knows it is wrong to kill innocent people, which will certainly hamper the army officers’ attempts to command soldiers to kill and maim other people simply because they are not all on the same side. Brecht anticipates that as a result of this, there will be no more wars.
Wars will neither be won nor lost but will come to a stop naturally from man’s refusal to follow instructions that will harm others of his own kind. Instead, man will no longer be divided by artificial boundaries that are imposed on him but will stand united. Man will live in peace and harmony.
General, your Tank is a Powerful Vehicle: Poetic Devices
The poet does not use any consistent or identifiable rhyme scheme in “General, your tank is a Powerful Vehicle.” However, the first lines of the 2nd and 3rd stanzas do rhyme. And the third lines of all three stanzas are the same – “But it (or he) has only one defect”.
This rhetorical device is used when a poet addresses their poem to an absent audience. In this poem, the poet uses the device of an apostrophe when he begins every stanza by addressing a general in the army, whom we never see at any point in the poem.
The device of anaphora consists of the repetition of one word or a set of words at the beginning of every line in a sequence of lines. In this poem, the poet uses the device of anaphora when he begins the first line of every stanza with the same set of words – “General, your …” and also when he writes the same set of words in the third line of every stanza – “But it has only one defect.
General, your Tank is a Powerful Vehicle: Annotations
Please note: N= noun, V=verb, Adj=Adjective, Adv=Adverb, P=Preposition
General (N): A commander of an army or an army officer of very high rank
Tank (N): A heavily armored fighting vehicle carrying guns and moving on a continuous articulated metal track
Vehicle (N): A thing used for transporting people or goods, especially on land, such as a car, lorry, or cart
Smashes (V): Third person present tense of the word “smash,” that is, to move so as to hit or collide with something with great force and impact
Crushes (V): Third person present tense of the word “crush,” that is, to deform, pulverize, or force inwards by compressing forcefully
Defect (N): A shortcoming, imperfection, or lack
Bomber (N): An aircraft designed to carry and drop bombs
Mechanic (N): A skilled worker who repairs and maintains vehicle engines and other machinery
General, your Tank is a Powerful Vehicle: Central Idea
Man relies too much on military equipment when it comes to fighting a war. However, such equipment cannot be operated without a human being at the helm. On the other hand, human beings have the ability to think for themselves, and the poet is sure that none of them will voluntarily elect to fight and kill other humans. Hence, no wars will be fought again.
General, your Tank is a Powerful Vehicle: Themes
Wars are fought not by officers, but by common soldiers: “General, your tank is a Powerful Vehicle” is addressed only to army officers because the poet knows that they are the ones who act as puppet masters behind the scenes and issue all orders to be carried out on the battlefield. On the other hand, their role is limited to issuing orders from their ivory towers. They do not really act on the ground as such. On the ground are stationed common soldiers who are supposed to obey instructions as if they were mindless machines too. But this is where the army officers are mistaken. What happens on the ground is not completed within the officers’ control. It is the soldiers who fight, who win, who lose, or who die. Hence, after a point of time, they make the decision to obey or disobey orders upon themselves. Especially after the First World War, soldiers were able to see clearly how the outcome of their efforts didn’t really improve their lot. They had only, in fact, lost their brothers or friends on the battlefield. Hence, the common soldiers had become skeptical and would subsequently refuse to kill at any person’s orders.
The innate goodness of man: Brecht here assumes that the ability to think as an independent entity will make man refuse to obey heinous commands that tell them to maim and kill other human beings. This is an illustration of his faith in the innate goodness of human beings. He believes that once a man realizes the futility of war and its disastrous consequences, he will refuse to participate in a war. However, this is not entirely true. It is not as if the national leaders who call for war do not know the ultimate outcome. But they still go ahead and call for war because this will profit them in their own selfish ways – either by flattering their ego or by earning them commissions from arms dealers.
General, your Tank is a Powerful Vehicle: Tone
In each stanza of “General, your tank is a Powerful Vehicle,” there is a subtle change in tone between the first two lines and the next two. In each case, the first two lines show the poet acknowledging the kind of death and destruction that can be caused by military equipment at the beck and call of army officers. It is as if the poet were showing a kind of deference to the power that officers hold. However, in the next two lines, a tone of defiance comes into the poem when the poet reveals that humans cannot be that easily commanded to cause death and destruction.
“General, your tank is a Powerful Vehicle” is both typical of its times and atypical. It is typical in terms of its choice to deal with the subject of war and hint at its futility in the bigger picture. It is atypical in its optimism. While most other poets of the time, such as Siegfried Sassoon and W. H. Auden, only offered their readers a dismal and depressing view of the world around them, Brecht gave his readers hope. His hope is not even of a better future but of a valiant present. His hope is not in technological advancements but in the mere human capability of thought. This poem is utterly simple, yet its message is bound to give readers courage and strength in themselves and their fellow beings. For that reason, it is a great piece of poetry. Find General,Your Tank is a Powerful Vehicle: Summary here.
Updated by Anjali Roongta on 24th April 2023.
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