Scholar Bernard Dunlap calls War Birds a "classic of disillusionment" on a par with the work of Robert Graves and Siegfried Sassoon. As Paul Fussell reminds us in The Great War and Modern Memory, '[t]he Great War took place in what was, compared to ours, a static world, where the values appeared stable and the meanings of abstractions seemed permanent and reliable. Everyone knew what Glory was and what Honor meant.' The unthinkable disaster of World War I changed everything.


John McGavock Grider had great feelings of reget for having failed his family, but had never doubted the war; with time, would he have felt differenrly? Elliott White Springs was from the outset much more of a skeptic and iconoclast than his more idealistic friend. Springs would live to see any belief in the rightness of the war completely shattered. He detested the patriotic fervor that drove men to war. 'War is a grotesque comedy,' he wrote. 'All we'll do when we win is to substitute one sort of dictator for another.'


In his letters home Springs expressed the duality that drove him mad -- on the one hand addicted to the danger he faced day after day, on the other he was horrified by the loss of life and his own transformation, experiencing fear 'that grows on you, day by day, that eats into your constitution and undermines your sanity.'


Like most World War I pilots, Springs expected to die. 'Here I am, twenty-four years old, I look forty and I feel ninety. I've lost all interest in life beyond the next patrol.' The war's end found him in a bitter mood 'Peace!,' he wrote on Armistice Day. 'The French are still dancing in the streets. But I can find no enthusiasm. I went to bed a free man but I awoke with a millstone around my neck called tomorrow which pulls and pulls and will hang there 'til the grave.'