Tim Cross has compiled an anthology entitled The Lost Voices of World War I: An International Anthology of Writers, Poets & Playwrights with works by more than fifty authors who died in the four years of fighting in the Great War. To read the works of these authors is unsettling, because one is constantly aware of how much talent was lost when these young men died so young.

The appendix to Cross's anthology is even more tragic in its implications, for it is a necrology of all the the creative people who were killed from 1914 to 1918. As Cross says, "A complete list of all poets, playwrights, writers, artists, architects and composers who died as a result of the First World War is an impossible task," but even so he has compiled a list of approximately 750 names. The list includes only people who had already accomplished something of note in their fields; we are left to ponder how many of the 9,000,000 young men lost in the war might have gone on to do great things in the arts, sciences, medicine, and politics.

Given the official number of military personnel killed between the years 1914 and 1918-- over one million dead soldiers from the British Empire and the United States alone-- a handful of artists might seem insignificant. Those of us who read and study twentieth-century poetry, however, cannot help wondering what the course of modern literature might have been if these promising young writers had survived and fulfilled their roles as poets. As these sobering numbers reveal, the few American and British authors represented here only hint at the devastating effects of the Great War on twentieth-century literature.

Military Casualties in World War I

Belgium               45,550
British Empire       942,135
France             1,368,000
Greece                23,098
Italy                680,000
Japan                  1,344
Montenegro             3,000
Portugal               8,145
Romania              300,000
Russia             1,700,000
Serbia                45,000
United States        116,516
Austria-Hungary    1,200,000
Bulgaria              87,495
Germany            1,935,000
Ottoman Empire       725,000
There died a myriad,
And of the best, among them,
For an old bitch gone in the teeth,
For a botched civilization,

Charm, smiling at the good mouth,
Quick eyes gone under earth's lid,

For two gross of broken statues,
For a few thousand battered books.

-- Ezra Pound, 1920

Johnny Got His Gun     "Keep the Home-Fires Burning"