This short story (probably pre 1980) shows the puzzled authorities seeking to explain the behaviour consulting a series of so called experts such as military, engineering, psychologists, etc, culminating with a historian. The historian unsettles them by claiming to be the last representative of culture, even though they regard their society as the best, the very best.

I forget the ultimate conclusion which is why I want to read it again. It seems very relevant to today.

I think the country was fictitious, future society run as a technology dominated, authoritarian, possibly military dominated, with hardly any soft professions in humanities or arts. The behaviour of the young men, who generally showed no signs of rebellion, would suddenly change to lethally attacking people. Hence my use of the words lone wolf or berserker.

I suspect the author was contrasting two mind sets in their approach to a human problem. In the extreme perhaps no nonsense industrial, military types vs fine arts. No women involved from memory.


This sounds like Disappearing Act by Alfred Bester.

The setting is some form of unspecified war. The demands of the war require everyone trains as some form of technician:

"We must dig in against the hordes of barbarism," General Carpenter said. "Give me a thousand engineers."

One thousand engineers were forthcoming, and a hundred cities were dug and hollowed out beneath the rubble.

"Give me five hundred sanitation experts, three hundred traffic managers, two hundred air-conditioning experts, one hundred city managers, one thousand communication chiefs, seven hundred personnel experts . .."

The list of General Carpenter's demand for technical experts was endless. America did not know how to supply them.

"We must become a nation of experts," General Carpenter informed the National Association of American Universities. "Every man and woman must be a specific tool for a specific job, hardened and sharpened by your training and education to win the fight for the American Dream."

And so on.

The young men don't go berserk and attack people. Instead they have found a way to disappear into other worlds to escape the horrors of the war. They leave behind their comatose bodies, which are kept in Ward T.

In an effort to understand how they do it a number of experts are recruited including the historian Dr. Scrim:

But there was trouble locating a first-class Historian until the Federal Penitentiary operated with the army and released Dr. Bradley Scrim from his twenty years at hard labor. Dr. Scrim was acid and jagged. He had held the chair of Philosophic History at a Western university until he spoke his mind about the war for the American Dream. That got him the twenty years hard.

Scrim is as you say rather contemptuous of the military midset - that's what got him into prison. Scrim eventually tells General Carpenter that they need a poet to understand what the men are doing (I'll hide the ending since you say you don't remember it):

Carpenter snapped up his intercom. "Send me a poet," he said.

He waited, and waited ... and waited ... while America sorted feverishly through its two hundred and ninety millions of hardened and sharpened experts, its specialized tools to defend the American Dream of beauty and poetry and the Better Things in Life. He waited for them to find a poet, not understanding the endless delay, the fruitless search; not understanding why Bradley Scrim laughed and laughed and laughed at this final, fatal disappearance.

  • That seems to hit the mark! Thank you, I will now try to find it in my collection or my fathers. – Ian Jun 9 '18 at 3:07

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.