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Read the full text of Amanda Gorman's poem, "WAR: WHAT, IS IT GOOD?", and go deeper with annotations from Amanda. Click the blue links below to explore material that inspired her words.


.-- .- .-. / .-- .... .- - / .. ... / .. - / --. --- --- -..


How much toilet paper,

Hand sanitizer,

Were we allowed?

In battle, everything,

Even hope, is rare & rationed,

Creating competitors from comrades,

Making monsters of men.

This mask is our medal of honor.

It has our war written all over it.

* * *

The 1918 influenza killed 50 million people (though some

scholars suggest it could be 100 million), far more than

those killed in World War I. The death toll of the influenza

was intrinsically tied to warfare. The movement of large

numbers of troops across the continents contributed

to the spread of the virus; meanwhile millions of

noncombatants were uprooted from their homes. The

influenza was particularly devastating to Indigenous

communities, which had already barely survived ethnic

cleansing campaigns. No matter what we’re told, violence

is never little.

* * *

War, like a whale, is all consuming—

Everything fits into its mesh mouth.

Like a whale, a virus can wolf

Down the globe whole.

The bullet is a beast, as are we.

Our invisible battles

Are the hardest ones to win.

* * *

The first step in warfare & pandemics is the same:

Isolation, to rupture the channels of communication of



The British pioneered cable cutting during WWI, using

the CS Alert to dredge Germany’s underwater telegraph

cables. Wartime censorship also slashed communication

& truth-telling; the US Sedition Act of 1918 outlawed

speech or expression that damaged the country’s image or

war effort. Fearing punishment, newspapers minimized

the threat of the virus, often refusing to print doctors’

letters warning the public not to gather or travel. This

censorship & misinformation only contributed to the

further communication of influenza across the country &

globe. Fire barrel of the throat. Words, too, are a type of

combat, for we always become what we refuse to say.

* * *

After we fight

Someone we love,

We offer a question:

Are we okay?

Are we good?

The First World War was once called “Great,”

So named “The War to End All Wars.”


What is called “great”

Is often grievous & gruesome,

But what is good is worth our words.

Good trouble.

Good fight.

Good will.

Good people.

To be good is to be larger than war.

It is to be more than great.

* * *

The body is a walking

Chaos of meat & bones.

Deaths & injuries in armed conflicts

Are called casualties, casual meaning

“By chance” or “accident.”

But bloodshed in war is no misfire.

Perhaps casualty means that war itself

Is the accident, unmistakably a mistake,

Our big, fat, bloody oops!

* * *

The second step in warfare & pandemics

Is the same: continuation,

To uphold remaining modes of connection &

communication. Writing letters to the home front was

encouraged among WWI service personnel & volunteers

abroad so as to raise national morale. The British Army

Postal Service delivered around 2 billion letters during

their involvement in the conflict. In the US, 1917’s

General Orders No. 48 stated that “Soldiers, sailors, and

marines assigned to duty in foreign countries are entitled

to mail letters ‘free’ ” . . . by marking on the envelopes On

Active Service . . . During the war, A. E. F. Camp Crane in

Allentown, Pennsylvania, reported its post office handling

nearly 70,000 pieces of mail per week. The home front is a

pen. Pen us in. We swear we can be good.

* * *

Listen closely.

Are you listening?

There is no such thing as gentle war.

There is no peace

That can’t be flung aside.

Our only enemy is that which would

Make us enemies to each other.

* * *

Snail mail?

More like whale mail.

It is the only thing

With a mouth wide enough to speak

When we have nothing left

To say. All this to say,

Writing our stories

Is an essential service.

It is how we go to war.

Most importantly,

It is how we end it.

We’re still willing to believe

Peace is a place on earth.

* * *

A century past World War I, condolence cards sold out

in 2020. A majority of United States Postal Service users

agree that receiving letters raises their spirits & one in six

send more mail now during the pandemic. In pandemics,

everything is scarce except for grief. Writing, truth-telling

to one another, is an act of hope-making when hope is

hardest found. What place have we in our histories except the present.

* * *


The hole in the eye

Through which light travels.

The word peace shares history

With pact. That is to say, harmony

Is a tomorrow we agree on.


We’re more conditioned

To contagion than combat.

But a virus, just like a war, separates us

From our fellow people.

Yet if we are willing, the cut

Can be an aperture, the hole

Through which we reach for the whole

Of one another.


A virus is fought inside us,

While violence is fought amongst us.

In both, our triumph is not in conquering others,

But conquering the most destructive agents

& instincts that we carry

Within our mortal forms.

Hate is a virus.

A virus demands a body.

What we mean is:

Hate only survives when hosted in humans.

If we are to give it anything,

Let it be our sorrow

& never our skin.

To love just may be

The fight of our lives.



The title “War: What, Is It Good?” is a play on the song “War” by Edwin Starr, from the 1970 album War & Peace.

“The 1918 influenza killed”: Kenneth C. Davis, More Deadly Than War: The Hidden History of the Spanish Flu and the First World War (New York: Henry Holt and Co., 2018).

“the British pioneered cable cutting”: Gordon Corera, “How Britain Pioneered Cable-Cutting in World War One,” BBC News, December 15, 2017,

“refusing to print doctors’ letters”: Becky Little, “As the 1918 Flu Emerged, Cover-Up and Denial Helped It Spread,” History, last modified May 26, 2020,

“The British Army Postal Service delivered”: “Letters to Loved Ones,” Imperial War Museums, last modified December 14, 2020,

“General Orders No. 48”: “Soldiers’ Mail,” The National WWI Museum and Memorial, last modified July 8, 2021,

“reported its post office”: “Archive Record,” The National WWI Museum and Memorial, last modified September 1, 2021,

“condolence cards sold out in 2020”: Michael Corkery and Sapna Maheshwari, “Sympathy Cards Are Selling Out,” New York Times, April 28, 2020,

“a majority of United States”: “USPS Market Research and Insights: COVID Mail Attitudes—Understanding & Impact (April 2020),” United States Postal Service, last modified May 1, 2020,

The line “What place have we in our histories except the present” is influenced by D. H. Lawrence’s poem “Under the Oak,” specifically the final line, “What place have you in my histories?”

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