“ADream of Armageddon” is an anti-war short story by H. G. Wells, foretelling the horrors of aerial warfare. It was first published in the weekly magazine Black and White in 1901 and subsequently reprinted in Twelve Stories and a Dream (1903), The Country of the Blind and Other Stories (1911) and The Door in the Wall and Other Stories (1911).
The story opens as a white-faced, sickly looking man boards a train at Rugby, and strikes up a conversation with the unnamed narrator, who is reading a book about dreams. The white-faced man, who reveals himself to be a solicitor from Liverpool, says that the theories of dreaming in such books are wrong, and he knows that to be the case because his own dreams are killing him.
The man goes on to tell how he has been experiencing consecutive dreams of an unspecified future time in which he is a major political figure in the north who has given up his position to live with a younger woman on the island of Capri. His dreams are so vivid that he finds it difficult to believe that they are not something more than mere dreams. He describes the island in detail, despite never having visited it, which impresses the narrator, who has actually been to Capri. The dreamer tells how his dream idyll comes to an end. While dancing, he is approached by an envoy from his own country who implores him to return and resume his old role before his successor brings about a war. But that would mean leaving the woman he loves, and his dream self chooses love over duty:
Why, in spite of all, should I go back, go back for all the rest of my days to toil and stress, insults and perpetual dissatisfaction, simply to save hundreds of millions of common people, whom I did not love, whom too often I could do no other than despise, from the stress and anguish of war and infinite misrule?
For three weeks of dreams, the solicitor is present at the collapse of the paradisical island of Capri and the future world, while war draws closer; flights of military aircraft are described flying overhead. Global war finally erupts, and his dream life ends in worldwide catastrophe and personal tragedy: the dreamer sees his love killed and experiences his own death. The story ends as the train pulls into Euston station, with the white-faced man’s final observation to the narrator:
”Nightmares,” he cried; “nightmares indeed! My God! Great birds that fought and tore.”
The first successful flight of a heavier-than-air machine was that of the Wright Flyer in 1903. Wells had earlier hinted at the potential destructive power of such machines in “The Argonauts of the AirA short story by H. G. Wells first published in 1895, about the disastrous first flight of a heavier-than-air flying machine.” (1895):
The flying machine that will start off some fine day … all loaded up with bombshells and guns, is the easy dreaming of a literary man.