"But you haven't told me yet, how's Merrier?"
"A shell . . . dead . . . poor chap."
"And the anarchist, Lully?"
"Why ask?" came the faint rustling voice peevishly. "Everybody's dead. You're dead, aren't you?"
"No, I'm alive, and you. A little courage. . . . We must be cheerful."
"It's not for long. To-morrow, the next day. . . ." The blue eyelids slip back over the crazy burning eyes and the face takes on again the waxen look of death.”
In 1917, the 21 year old Harvard student John Dos Passos began his service as an ambulance driver for the private ambulance service Norton-Harjes. In doing so, he joined other writers and artists such as Dashiell Hammett, E. E. Cummings, Malcolm Cowley and Harry Crosby. His novel/memoir of this time was published in London in 1920 and in New York in 1922. Dos Passos was shocked, embittered and incensed by what he saw of the reality of war, mounds of dead bodies, screaming soldiers, horses dying from poison gas and other atrocities. He was, unlike many of his compatriot writers, also enraged at the nationalist fervor of the press, the government and other official bodies. This rage fairly jumps off the page of One Man’s Initiation, which as published was less fiery than originally written (the printers required considerable changes in the language). The novel was largely ignored and sold poorly, in contrast to the angry reception and indignation which Three Soldiers was to cause. The impressionistic. experimental style of the book was to be further developed in Dos Passos’ masterpiece, the three volume
U. S. A. (1930-1936), a more trenchant criticism of the triumphal materialism and hypocrisy of American Society. This materialist ethos as well as an angry criticism of it were born in the Twenties.