World War I

World War I
   HPL joined amateur journalism in April 1914, just four months before the outbreak of World War I. He wasted little time in writing of the conflict. In the first issue of the Conservative(April 1915), he wrote the controversial essay “The Crime of the Century,” which asserted that the war was a shameful battle of “blood brothers” — the British and the Germans, the two great branches of the Teutonic race—and that it might lead to “the self-decimation of the one mighty branch of humanity on which the future welfare of the world depends.” HPL vigorously condemned American neutrality during the first three years of the war, claiming that the nation ought to align itself to its natural ally, England (see “Old England and the ‘Hyphen,’” Conservative,October 1916). HPL also took note of a side issue of the war—the Irish rebellion of 1916. He discusses it in the letters to the Irish-American John T.Dunn and also in the satirical poem “Ye Ballade of Patrick von Flynn” ( Conservative,April 1916).
   But HPL felt more inclined to express his views of the war in verse. He wrote numerous poems on various aspects of the war, including a condemnation of the sinking of the Lusitania (“The Crime of Crimes,” Interesting Items,July 1915); tributes to England (“An American to Mother England,” Poesy, July 1916; “The Rose of England,” Scot,October 1916; “Britannia Victura,” Inspiration,April 1917; “An American to the British Flag,” Little Budget of Knowledge and Nonsense,November 1917; “Ad Britannos—1918,” Tryout,April 1918); paeans to the uniting of America and England to battle the Germans in 1917 (“Iterum Conjunctae,” Tryout,May 1917; “The Link,” Tryout,July 1918); attacks on Germany (“1914,” Interesting Items,March 1915; “Germania—1918,” Tryout,November 1918); a patriotic ode (“Ode for July Fourth, 1917,” United Amateur,July 1917); attacks on pacifism (“The Beauties of Peace,” [Providence] Evening News,June 27, 1916; “Pacifist War Song—1917,” Tryout, March 1917; “The Peace Advocate,” Tryout,May 1917); a tribute to the American poet Alan Seeger, who died in battle (“To Alan Seeger,” Tryout,July 1918); and poems on volunteers and conscripts, respectively (“The Volunteer,” [Providence] Evening News,February 1, 1918; “The Conscript” [unpublished in HPL’s lifetime]). But HPL’s finest war poem is the moving ode “On a Battlefield in Picardy,” National Enquirer,May 30, 1918 (rpt. Voice from the Mountains,July 1918, as “On a Battlefield in France”).
   HPL’s most dramatic action during the war was to enlist in the R.I. National Guard in early May 1917, a short time before President Wilson’s signing of the draft bill on May 18, 1917 (see SL1.45–49). Although he passed his initial physical examination, he was prevented from joining the National Guard by his mother, who had HPL’s physician declare him physically unfit to serve. (HPL would not have gone overseas had he remained a member of the National Guard; probably he would have been stationed at Fort Standish in Boston.) In December HPL registered for the draft, as he was legally obliged to do; he was declared “totally and permanently unfit” (see SL1.52).
   After the war HPL participated in the “Red Scare” in the brief but intemperate article “Bolshevism” ( Conservative,July 1919); he also expressed cynical doubts as to the efficacy of the League of Nations in “The League” ( Conservative,July 1919). But the end of the war, and the nation’s subsequent lack of foreign threats, allowed HPL to develop his political theories at greater leisure (see “Nietzscheism and Realism,” Rainbow,October 1921). HPL’s writings on the war cannot be said to be notably acute, but they at least refute the notion that he was an “eccentric recluse” who had no interest in the political, social, and cultural events of his time.
   World War I enters fleetingly but provocatively into HPL’s fiction. “Dagon” (1917) was written a few months after American entry into the war and is set in the war-torn Pacific. “The Temple” (1920) purports to be the account of a German commander of a U-boat. The fifth segment of “Herbert West —Reanimator” (1921–22) is set in Flanders, as West and the narrator are, in 1915, among “the many Americans to precede the [U.S.] government itself into the gigantic struggle.” Thurber, the narrator of “Pickman’s Model” (1926), adduces his war experience as testimony to his physical and mental toughness; an electrical repairman in “Cool Air” (1926) is terrified at the sight of Dr. Munoz, even though he “had been through the terrors of the Great War without having incurred any fright so thorough.” In “The Silver Key” (1926) Randolph Carter is said to have “served from the first in the Foreign Legion of France.” Because he has doubled back upon his own time-line, Carter, in 1897, pales at the mention of the French town of Belloyen-Santerre, where he was almost mortally wounded in 1916. (The town is where the poet Alan Seeger was killed.) Most intriguingly, Peaslee in “The Shadow out of Time” (1934–35), after being a captive mind of the Great Race and learning the secrets of the universe both past and future, finds that “The war gave me strange impressions of rememberingsome of its far-off consequences—as if I knew how it was coming out and could look backupon it in the light of future information.”

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