The War in the Air

Preface to the 1921 Edition

H.G. Wells

A SHORT PREFACE to The War in the Air has become necessary if the reader is to do justice to that book. It is one of a series of stories I have written at different times; The World Set Free is another, and When the Sleeper Wakes a third; which are usually spoken of as “scientific romances” or “futurist romances,” but which it would be far better to call “fantasias of possibility.” They take some developing possibility in human affairs and work it out so as to develop the broad consequences of that possibility. This War in the Air was written, the reader should note, in 1907, and it began to appear as a serial story in the Pall Mall Magazine in January, 1908. This was before the days of the flying machine; Bleriot did not cross the Channel until July, 1909; and the Zeppelin airship was still in its infancy. The reader will find it amusing now to compare the guesses and notions of the author with the achieved realities of to-day.

But the book, I venture to think, has not been altogether superseded. The main idea is not that men will fly, or to show how they will fly; the main idea is a thesis that the experiences of the intervening years strengthen rather than supersede. The thesis is this; that with the flying machine war alters in its character; it ceases to be an affair of “fronts” and becomes an affair of “areas”; neither side, victor or loser, remains immune from the gravest injuries, and while there is a vast increase in the destructiveness of war, there is also an increased indecisive- ness. Consequently “War in the Air” means social destruction instead of victory as the end of war. It not only alters the methods of war but the consequences of war. After all that has happened since this fantasia of possibility was written, I do not think that there is much wrong with that thesis. And after a recent journey to Russia, of which I have given an account in Russia in the Shadows, I am inclined to think very well of myself as I re-read the entirely imaginary account of the collapse of civilisation under the strain of modern war which forms the Epilogue of this story. In 1907 this chapter was read with hearty laughter as the production of an “imaginative novelist’s” distempered brain. Is it quite so wildly funny to-day?

And I ask the reader to remember that date of 1907 also when he reads of Prince Karl Albert and the Graf von Winter-feld. Seven years before the Great War, its shadow stood out upon our sunny world as plainly as all that, for the “imaginative novelist”—or any one else with ordinary common sense—to see. The great catastrophe marched upon us in the daylight. But everybody thought that somebody else would stop it before it really arrived. Behind that great catastrophe march others to-day. The steady deterioration of currency, the shrinkage of production, the ebb of educational energy in Europe, work out to consequences that are obvious to every clear-headed man. National and imperialist rivalries march whole nations at the quickstep towards social collapse. The process goes on as plainly as the militarist process was going on in the years when The War in the Air was written.

Do we still trust to somebody else?

H. G. WELLS.                


The War in the Air - Contents

Back    |    Words Home    |    H.G. Wells Home    |    Site Info.    |    Feedback