H.G. Wells, Arthur Conan Doyle & Other British Authors Sign Manifesto Backing England’s Role in WWI


Thinkers have said a great deal about the rel­a­tive might of the pen and the sword—often one well-known phrase in particular—but still, the sub­ject of intel­lect ver­sus might remains a mat­ter of active inquiry. But what if might har­ness­es intel­lect? What if those who live by the pen pick up their writ­ing tool of choice to endorse the nation­al use of weapon­ry infi­nite­ly more pow­er­ful than all the swords ever forged? This very thing hap­pened in the Britain of 1914: “FAMOUS AUTHORS DEFEND ENGLAND’S WAR,” read the head­lines, and Uni­ver­si­ty of Ottawa Eng­lish pro­fes­sor Nick Milne has more his­tor­i­cal analy­sis of the event in the first post of “Pen and Sword,” a series focus­ing on British Pro­pa­gan­da at the open edu­ca­tion­al resource World War I Cen­te­nary: Con­tin­u­a­tions and Begin­nings.

“In Sep­tem­ber of 1914,” writes Milne in a ver­sion of the post up at Slate, “as the armies of Europe were engaged in the Race to the Sea and the stale­mate of the trench­es loomed, Rud­yard Kipling, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and oth­er British authors col­lab­o­rat­ed on a remark­able piece of war pro­pa­gan­da. Fifty-three of the lead­ing authors in Britain — a num­ber that includ­ed Thomas Hardy and H.G. Wells — append­ed their names to the ‘Authors’ Dec­la­ra­tion.’ This man­i­festo declared that the Ger­man inva­sion of Bel­gium had been a bru­tal crime, and that Britain ‘could not with­out dis­hon­our have refused to take part in the present war.’ ” Oth­er men of let­ters the War Pro­pa­gan­da Bureau could con­vince to sign on, in addi­tion to Kipling, a fel­low rarely called insuf­fi­cient­ly patri­ot­ic, includ­ed “defend­er of unortho­dox thought by unortho­dox meth­ods” G.K. Chester­ton.

You can take a close-up look at the com­plete list of sig­na­to­ries with their brief bios, as well as the sig­na­tures them­selves, by click­ing at the image of the New York Times page up above. (Then click again to zoom in.) Eng­land may not, in the event, have lost the First World War, but the buoy­an­cy its writ­ers pro­vid­ed its fight­ing spir­it had lit­tle to do with it. Ger­many “respond­ed to the dec­la­ra­tion by bring­ing togeth­er an even larg­er assort­ment of artists, authors, and sci­en­tists to sign the Man­i­festo of the Nine­ty-Three, an astound­ing doc­u­ment which denied any Ger­man wrong­do­ing in Bel­gium and bewil­der­ing­ly accused the Allies of ‘incit­ing Mon­go­lians and negroes against the white race.’ ”

Sev­er­al of the British writ­ers involved, most notably H.G. Wells, even­tu­al­ly devel­oped a pub­lic cyn­i­cism toward the war. “The uni­ty of vision and pur­pose the dec­la­ra­tion so strong­ly implied,” as Milne mild­ly puts it, “did not endure.”

via Slate

Relat­ed Con­tent:

The First Col­or Pho­tos From World War I, on the Ger­man Front

Watch World War I Unfold in a 6 Minute Time-Lapse Film: Every Day From 1914 to 1918

British Actors Read Poignant Poet­ry from World War I

Frank W. Buck­les, The Last U.S. Vet­er­an of World War I

Col­in Mar­shall hosts and pro­duces Note­book on Cities and Cul­ture and writes essays on cities, lan­guage, Asia, and men’s style. He’s at work on a book about Los Ange­les, A Los Ange­les Primer. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

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