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H.G. Wells: When war comes home


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

H.G. Wells: Selections on war


H.G. Wells
From Mr. Britling Sees It Through (1916)


In this fashion it was that the great war began in Europe and came to one man in Matching’s Easy, as it came to countless intelligent men in countless pleasant homes that had scarcely heeded its coming through all the years of its relentless preparation. The familiar scenery of life was drawn aside, and War stood unveiled. “I am the Fact,” said War, “and I stand astride the path of life. I am the threat of death and extinction that has always walked beside life, since life began. There can be nothing else and nothing more in human life until you have reckoned with me.”


He had always hated conflict and destruction, and felt that war between civilised states was the quintessential expression of human failure, it was a stupidity that stopped progress and all the free variation of humanity, a thousand times he had declared it impossible, but even now with his country fighting he was still far from realising that this was a thing that could possibly touch him more than intellectually. He did not really believe with his eyes and finger-tips and backbone that murder, destruction, and agony on a scale monstrous beyond precedent was going on in the same world as that which slumbered outside the black ivy and silver shining window-sill that framed his peaceful view.

War had not been a reality of the daily life of England for more than a thousand years. The mental habit of the nation for fifty generations was against its emotional recognition. The English were the spoilt children of peace. They had never been wholly at war for three hundred years, and for over eight hundred years they had not fought for life against a foreign power. Spain and France had threatened in turn, but never even crossed the seas. It is true that England had had her civil dissensions and had made wars and conquests in every part of the globe and established an immense empire…


“I tell you I never knew there was such a thing as war until this happened to me. In America we don’t know there is such a thing. It’s like pestilence and famine; something in the story books. We’ve forgotten it for anything real. There’s just a few grandfathers go around talking about it. Judge Holmes and sage old fellows like him. Otherwise it’s just a game the kids play at…And then suddenly here’s everybody running about in the streets – hating and threatening – and nice old gentlemen with white moustaches and fathers of families scheming and planning to burn houses and kill and hurt and terrify. And nice young women, too, looking for an Englishman to spit at; I tell you I’ve been within range and very uncomfortable several times…And what one can’t believe is that they are really doing these things…”

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