Home > Uncategorized > H.G. Wells: Either man will put an end to air war or air war will put an end to mankind

H.G. Wells: Either man will put an end to air war or air war will put an end to mankind


Anti-war essays, poems, short stories and literary excerpts

H.G. Wells: Selections on war


H.G. Wells
The Common Sense of War and Peace (1940)


The world is full of warfare. We in this country are spending seven or eight million pounds a day, I gather, on the war. It is not only costing us seven or eight million pounds a day. In spite of everything that sincere supporter of the present monetary system, Mr. Maynard Keynes, may say or do, this war plainly means bankruptcy and inflation within quite a reasonable time. In quite a little while we may find money in our pockets that will practically buy nothing. So far as I can see, all the gold in the world is gravitating now to the vaults of the United States of America.


For consider: what we call war to-day is not war as history has known it. It is a different thing. Its destructive effect is immeasurably greater. It is now a truism that if we do not end war, war will end us.


War in the air has been foretold for more than a century. I need scarcely quote Tennyson’s “airy navies grappling in the central blue.” What I have more particularly in mind is a book I published in 1908, The War in the Air, a year before Bliriot flew the Channel, and I want to direct your attention to the spirit in which it was written and read. It told of a German surprise air raid upon the world (in Zeppelins), of the rapid supersession of the airship by the aeroplane, of the extension of the air war to the whole world and the collapse of civilisation under it. The argument of the book was perfectly clear and sound, and it has been sustained by the experience of the intervening third of a century. It was that air war would be enormously destructive and inconclusive.


The peculiarities of Air War, evident from its very dawn – Bleriot flew the Channel in 1909 – were this – that it was a war in three dimensions and not two; that it abolished war fronts and spread the conflict over the entire countries of the two combatants, so obliterating the distinction of combatant and non-combatant; that since its opening blows could be prepared for in profound secrecy and delivered with unprecedented swiftness, no country could henceforth feel safe from attack without warning; and that consequently it must dominate the world from now on either in the apprehension felt by a nominal neutral or in full and declared belligerence, until it is made impossible.

Advances in the science of tactics of explosives and of destructive inventions generally have merely enforced and sharpened the edges of this forecast. It becomes more and more plainly evident to every clear intelligence that at any price the possibility of air war must be banished from the earth. Either man will put an end to air war or air war will put an end to mankind; that is the plain alternative before us…

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