WWI Veterans “Backed the Wrong Horse”

American flag waving in breeze

Since this is Memorial Day weekend when America stops between barbeques and ball games to remember those who served in its military, this excerpt from Conningsby Dawson’s 1924 bestseller The Coast of Folly is perhaps apt. The speaker, an American heiress in her twenties, is reflecting on how World War I —”the Great War” — affected her generation.

While it had lasted, it had made us postpone our youth by dazzling us with visions of the rewards of sacrifice. From the moment it had ended, we had grown increasingly certain that, if such rewards had ever existed, during our generation they were going to be withheld. We grew cynical about the advantages of goodness. They seemed to be more profitable to preach about than to practice. We saw those who had gone in search of them in the face of wounds and death, sleeping out in parks like broken speculators. They’d backed the wrong horse in doing their duty; the bottom had fallen out of the hero-market. Selfish people and shirkers had come out on top. No one thought the worse of them. They were fussed over and courted, these far-seeing investors who had refused to accept ideals at an inflated value. They’d kept their heads in the frenzy of patriotism, their hands in their pockets, their skins whole. While the gullible had been smashed in trenches, they’d converted calamity into business opportunity. We girls who had looked on, had learned a lesson in disillusionment: sin was a bug-a-boo; God a legend; right and wrong party cries in the game of self-advantage. To live for oneself and go in quest of pleasure seemed the only wisdom to adopt.

In the wake of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, has the bottom fallen out of the hero-market again?


The Coast of Folly is slated for review here July 29.

© 2014 Linda Gorton Aragoni

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Linda G. Aragoni

I make big ideas simple for learners. In eight sentences, 34 words, I taught teens and adults to write competently. Now I'm writing guides to turn willing volunteers into great nursing home visitors.

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