And its sleep within the dark tomb has begun,
Come, look down upon us, world, file past
And be ashamed of what our age has done.
Inscribe our stone, that everyone may see
What this dead era valued most and best:
Science, progress, work, technology
And death - but death we prized above the rest."
These verses, written by early 20th-century Czech playwright and author Karel Capek, sounded a fitting leitmotif as I read Adam Hochschild's "To End All Wars: A Story of Loyalty and Rebellion, 1914-1918." The 20th century was one ravaged by two world wars, genocide, and countless `smaller' wars. But for sheer brutality, for the slaughter that turned hundreds of miles of trenches into a charnel house of unprecedented proportions it is hard to imagine a place or time when death was prized more than it was during the war to end all wars.
Histories of World War I abound, from Barbara Tuchman (The Guns of August) to Winston Churchill (The World Crisis, 1911-1918) to John Keegan (The First World War). There are no shortage of books about the bravery of the soldiers who rose from their trenches and marched into certain death. Similarly there are no shortage of books about the almost criminally incompetent British and French Generals whose strategic planning (if you could call it that) was horrifically simple: send hundreds of thousands of men forward against entrenched positions and hope the Germans ran out of machine gun bullets before the British and French forces ran out of men. Not so readily available are books that take a look at the relatively few people who stood up and spoke out against the indiscriminate slaughter. Hochschild balances the scales a bit by taking a look at the stories and motivations behind those few souls who opposed it.
The book is set up as a straightforward chronological narrative beginning with Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee in 1897 celebrating the 60 years of her monarchy, through the Boer War and the introduction of concentration camps and the use of machine guns as one of the original weapons of mass destruction, the lead up to war, and then a chronological narrative of the war itself. This is all well-plowed ground and if this were simply a narrative of the war it would be a well-written popular history that would serve as a good introduction to the period. However, Hochschild intersperses the traditional narrative with a parallel narrative that was not nearly so familiar to me. While focusing on Britain's role in the war, Hochschild tells us the stories of people like Keir Hardie, Sylvia Pankhurst, Charlotte Despard (the brother of General John French, who was to become Commander in Chief of the British Expeditionary Forces), Emily Hobhouse, Bertrand Russell and others. These were people from all walks of life who for various reasons, political, social, or religious, opposed the war. Hochschild also looks at some of those who stridently supported the war from the sidelines, including Rudyard Kipling and the author John Buchan (The Thirty-Nine Steps (Dover Thrift Editions)) who lashed out at those who did not adopt the motto For King and Country.
What Hochschild does very well in his book is to explore the family and social connections between the groups leading Britain into war and those few who opposed it. Causalities in World War I, as Hochschild points out hit the upper classes particularly hard. The officer class in the British military was almost exclusively drawn from the upper echelons of British society and their losses in the war were very high. One cliché about the American Civil War describes it as one in which brother fought against brother. Here we had upper class families rent asunder between those who fought (and often died) and those within their ranks who opposed it and sometimes went to prison for those beliefs.
The Russian memoirist Nadezhda Mandelstam once wrote of the great deeds that can be accomplished by people who with great courage stand up and speak out on behalf of their conscience: that "a person with inner freedom, memory, and fear is that reed, that twig that changes the direction of a rushing river." Hochschild does an excellent job writing about the twigs that desperately wanted to change the rushing river of blood that carried millions of people off to die. Their failure to achieve this goal, however, in no way diminishes their value and the value of this book. Highly recommended. L. Fleisig
on July 25, 2011
This is a review of the Kindle edition specifically. The publisher did a terrible job of putting this together as an ebook. (1) There are no footnotes in the text even though there are footnotes at the end. (2) There are lots of photo credits listed a the end but you can't find the photos in the text. Perhaps they are there, buried somewhere, but I can't find them. (3) The index isn't text, it's a series of photos of the index from the printed book! I have asked Amazon for a refund. Kindle owners need to let publishers know that we will not tolerate this nonsense.
UPDATE: Please see the comment that "college_student" makes
"If we were allowed to magically roll back history to the start of the twentieth century and undo one -- and only one -- event," author Adam Hochschild asks toward the end of this powerful and sobering book, "is there any doubt that it would be the war that broke out in 1914?" Books that tell of the horrors of the trenches, and the blindness and stupidity of the generals who so relentlessly stoked the inferno with the bodies of young men are far from rare. But despite this book's covering well-furrowed ground, two things make "To End All Wars" especially worth reading.
One is the author's skill as a historian, storyteller, and portrait-painter. The other is the spotlight he shines on an element of British society not often included in the standard war histories: those who opposed the war, those who refused to fight in it, and those who, however ineffectually, tried to prevent or end it. As Thomas Fleming did for American participation in the war in his outstanding The Illusion Of Victory: America In World War I (which I highly recommend as a companion read to this one), Hochschild here not only rescues British antiwar activists from historical obscurity, but shows the length to which the government tried to silence and suppress them. Particularly interesting and powerful is his technique of contrasting specific individuals with a common tie: For instance, Britain's military commander Field Marshal Sir John French and leading antiwar agitator Charlotte Despard were brother and sister. Sylvia Pankhurst, who also spoke out against the war, was opposed and shunned for the rest of her life by her exceptionally belligerent and nationalistic mother and sister, Emmeline and Christabel.
This was an era when even Christian ministers could preach (as Field Marshal Douglas Haig approvingly quoted) that "three years of war and the loss of one-tenth of the manhood of the nation is not too great a price to pay in so great a cause" (p. 180), and when a government lawyer could argue for the arrest and imprisonment of conscientious objectors on the grounds that "war will become impossible if all men were to have the view that war is wrong" (p. 191). Then as now, calling into question the reason so much blood was being shed takes its own kind of heroism. As the author notes, "For [officers and men at the front] to question the generals' judgment would have meant, of course, asking if their fellow soldiers had died in vain. From the need to avoid such questions are so many myths about wars born" (p. 165).
Still, such questions have to be asked eventually, and it's a historian's job to do so. Hochschild should be commended for his effort and this book, I think and hope, should be widely read. At one point, the author mentions the well-known recruiting poster featuring "two children asking a frowning, guilty-looking father in civilian clothes, `Daddy, what did YOU do in the great war?'" (p. 151). We should be quicker to honor those like labor leader Bob Smillie, who said his answer to that question would be, "I tried to stop the bloody thing, my son."
This is great reading and is one of those books you have to read in bits to let it all sink in. The narrative and the characters provide for a new angle on the war England fought in WWI, and it started in the Boer War of South Africa at the turn of the century, the opening era of this story. While the US, with its new imperialistic goals, was basking in victories against the Spanish, England was holding on to its South African lands because of the diamond mines there, not realizing that German troops were coming in from the north to spy on these troops. The Germans used British intelligence against the English later in WWI.
The Boer War and its heroes (and its pacifists) was another war women suffragettes were opposing, as English soldiers brutalized native tribes in Africa. Characters come to life here in a minor but powerful opposition against the English empire, and that is its own women who are tired of war and appression and abuse. Because these women are vocal about their demands, their right to vote is delayed until well after WWI.
And this shows how England and the US developed in unison when it came to female suffrage.
The characters depicted in this narrative are not the charactes we know so well with WWI, and this makes for eye-opening and interesting reading. We read about influential women, Irish freedom fighters, patriotic writers, wealthy business men, patriotic monarchs. This isn't the standard Good vs Bad guys fighting a war that tends to make it in history textbooks, but the people on the sidelines who struggle just as much. Winning WWI for England was imperative; all other things were secondary and this narrative shows how that all came about.
The writing style is akin to Barbara Tuchman, with great detail to the social happenings of the time. This is definitely a must read for WWI fans, fans of English/European history. This book is not a rehash of events, but rather a story about all those heroes that never made it into the standard history textbooks.
on December 17, 2011
This review is of the Kindle version, not the content. I read the Kindle sample, it grabbed my attention and I purchased it. Other Kindle reviewers mentioned problems with the Kindle edition, but I ignored their warnings because the content was so good.
The Kindle version is missing:
The Kindle version has other defects:
The index is a photocopy of an index
Footnotes are not annotated in the text
Fonts and position of chapter headers kept changing when I turned pages
I enjoy the convenience of my Kindle. However, I don't enjoy publishers cutting corners, the Kindle content being edited and different from the hard copy, and Amazon not holding publisher's feet to the fire to make it the same as the hard copy. In fact, it's deceptive of Amazon not to point out the content that has been edited from the Kindle. In the short and long run, Amazon will lose customers by continuing this practice.
I've heard Jeff Bezos say numerous times "we do everything for the customer's benefit". Perhaps he can explain how we Kindle customers benefit from deceptiveness and edited content.
on April 13, 2011
I must admit I was a bit worried I wouldn't like this book. From the product description, I feared the subject might be commandeered as a platform for equating modern political perspectives, given the world conflicts of today and the opposition they generate.
I am very pleased to say that TO END ALL WARS is a scholarly (but by no means boring!) work of history. Author Adam Hochschild crafts a marvelous story of the war years in Britain--and, in fact, across Europe. No bias (in either direction) intrudes onto the complex story of the War and a deep look into the small, but sometimes vociferous opposition.
Don't think it's one-dimensional, though. It also explores the rationale behind the pro-war side, allied strategy, life in the trenches, the personalities of the British field commanders John French and Douglas Haig, French's anti-war sister, the Pankhurst family of suffragettes (who never overcame the schism in the family the war caused), conscientious objectors and more.
I found the book quick paced, fascinating and hard to put down. It also gives one pause to think about the war from a different perspective.
At the end, author Hochschild completes the post-war stories of the characters he's introduced throughout the book. After that, and ONLY then, does he opine some of his thoughts on how the history he's written of may possibly relate to today. Agree or disagree, I found no objection to his stating his thoughts in such an entirely appropriate manner. The reader is left to form their own opinion on what we can learn from this war. Was it avoidable? Were lives wasted to no purpose? Or was it a worthy fight in defense of freedom and innocent peoples? Was it both or all or none of the above? You decide. It is important to note that at no point in the main body of the book, did anything other than a presentation of historic FACT occur.
I've read a great many books on the First World War (as my Grandfather was a medic in the AEF which makes the subject have personal interest for me), from all different time periods. The blatently biased immediate post-war histories by the victors to recent scholarly works and everything in between. But, I can say that there are few which I found as interesting and thought provoking as TO END ALL WARS. I've often wondered how General Haig could initiate an operation like the Somme and continue throwing men into it for months on end. I've also wondered what kept those men marching dutifully into such a battle instead of staging a mutiny. The First World War is not an easy conflict to rationalize, because much of it makes no sense when viewed with hindsight. Was a whole continent just swept up into events which spiraled to a point where all control was lost? And how exactly does such a catastrophe happen? TO END ALL WARS, while not answering any of these questions, does provide some different perspectives from which to consider them.
I give FOUR STARS to TO END ALL WARS. A well-written, well-researched history book. Easy to read and holds your interest. An aspect of the subject that I haven't seen covered in such detail before and an important aspect to learn and understand. If we want to learn from history, we have to learn about history from all sorts of angles, whether or not we agree with what the participants were thinking. Were the people in this book right or wrong in either their opposition or their "patriotism"? With this book, you'll be able to delve into that question and maybe come up with some answers of your own.
on October 30, 2011
As another reviewer noted, the footnotes, photos, and TOC are nonexistent in the Kindle version. Not suited for even a casual reader - does a disservice to the author. Houghton Mifflin should be ashamed.
My great uncle, a U.S. soldier killed in 1918, in the Second Battle of the Marne, is buried in the immaculate Oise-Aisne military cemetery, about an hour north of Paris. The graves there are part of " the thin band of territory" that as Adam Hochschild notes in his book "To End All Wars," "has the greatest concentration of young men's graves in the world." This great uncle, a man I never met, was much on my mind as I read this new history of the Great War, about which many books have been written. What remains to be said?
As it turns out, a great deal. First of all, "To End All Wars" is a general history of the war based on the British experience, useful if you're not familiar with World War I. Even if you do know your battles and diplomats, Hochschild, in the engaging narrative style that made "King Leopold's Ghost" so interesting, fashions his history around certain personalities: the army generals John French and Douglas Haig; Rudyard Kipling; the diplomat Sir Alfred Milner, and others. However, it's fair to say that readers already familiar with this war may find themselves skimming through accounts of battles like the Battle of the Somme, about which entire books have been written. This is not a fault in the book; Hochschild's presentation (carefully sourced) of the work of other historians is deft and also necessary as background for his own particular interest.
This interest is represented in the subtitle, "A Story of Loyalty and Rebellion, 1914-1918," and this story is woven like a vivid stripe through the book. Here, Hochschild looks at people who opposed the war, everyone from conscientious objectors and labor leaders to Bertrand Russell. Particularly interesting is the account of the suffragette Pankhurst family, mother and daughters, whose different loyalties left them permanently estranged. In addition, his depiction of the labor unrest that increasingly roiled the governments of combatants on both sides brings out an aspect of the war that one is unlikely to encounter in a general history and may be of interest to those more familiar with the military and diplomatic aspects of the war.
"To End All Wars" is very well written but it will doubtless satisfy no one---perhaps a good thing, since many readers will almost surely make want to read something else about the war. While Hochschild provides a good bibliography, his book is the perfect lead-in to the finest novels ever written about Britain in World War I: Pat Barker's "Regeneration" trilogy. Read the Hochschild for the background, then read the Barker novels to truly understand the terrible irony of the title Hochschild has chosen for his book. At Oise-Aisne, looking at the marker for my great uncle, I felt the sadness that still lingers "between the crosses, row on row."
N.B. There is a fine, thought-provoking review of this book by Christopher Hitchens in the May 15, 2011, issue of the New York Times Book Review.
on March 15, 2012
The publisher has done terrible job preparing this volume. The pages lack numbering, footnotes are absent, references are unlinked to the text and the table of content excludes photos and illustrations. Don't buy this very badly prepared kindle edition.
If Adam Hochschild went off to a conference of ichthyologists, I'm sure he would return with a compelling narrative about an obscure kind of spiny fish that no one had ever previously suspected was of any importance, and create a passion for oceanography and all the related disciplines among all his readers. That's the kind of storytelling prowess that Hochschild brings to all his books and that makes this latest narrative one of the best I've read about the First World War -- a part of history that is so replete with histories and first-hand narratives ranging from the mundane to the literary that prior to reading this I would have been prepared to swear there simply wasn't any room for a top-notch work offering a new perspective on the war or the issues it raised. Or, for that matter, any need for yet another tome on the subject.
I am delighted to have been proven dead wrong. Hochschild has chosen a fresh angle to explore, one that most of those who write about war shy away from altogether. Is war moral? Is it necessary? Is it something to be celebrated and glorified, or something we should avoid as a socially destructive force? When World War One ended, it became known as the war to end all wars -- so horrific had the experiences of survivors been, that they insisted war could NOT be contemplated again. And yet, at the outset, the mood was something quite different -- even socialists who had celebrated the global union of working men voted in favor of war and, with rare exceptions like Britain's Keir Hardie (one of the heroes of Hochschild's story) supported it and turned out to fight men whom they had embraced as fellow workers only months earlier but who had suddenly become "the enemy".
Hochschild does a superb job of finding the characters through which to tell his story -- the divisions within the Pankhurst family, with Emmeline the matriarch suddenly becoming an ultra-patriot, abandoning her violent campaign for womens' suffrage, even as her daughter Sylvia clung to her pacifist convictions. Sir John French, one of the generals who seemed unable to grasp the way that technological developments such as the machine gun and barbed wire had transformed the nature of war and who thus oversaw and commanded battles that resulted in unprecedented carnage, had his own cross to bear: his elder sister, Charlotte Despard, was a vehement critic of the conflict at home. Hochschild puts forth both sides with tremendous empathy, telling of the loss of Rudyard Kipling's son in battle and Kipling's wrenching grief and unshaken support for the war, as well as the fate of conscientious objectors who were shipped overseas to the front lines (against government policy) to serve in the ranks, and who faced being court-martialed and shot if they refused to pick up their rifles.
While the war was a long and complex conflict, stretching literally around the world, Hochschild's narrative is both easily digestible and makes the Great War comprehensible on a basic level. It doesn't purport to be a comprehensive survey of all the fronts and all the battles -- there is little here about the Galician front, the battle of Jutland or other naval conflicts, for instance, and there is a definite bias toward the experiences of war in the trenches of the Western front, from Flanders to Alsace-Lorraine. What is it is, however, is a book that will give even a reader who isn't familiar with the war an overview of its causes and major events, even as it prods them to think about the nature of war itself.
World War One changed the world -- it accelerated technological developments, transformed societies around the world, and laid the groundwork for subsequent conflicts that endure to this day in the Middle East. It did NOT end all wars, but it did make the question of whether war can be considered as valid a means of pursuing a nation's self interest as it was in the 16th or 17th centuries a legitimate one. Hochschild has done a brilliant job exploring the complex moral issues that surrounded that debate, without ever lapsing into platitudes or polemics.
I first received an advance review copy of this book from NetGalley; I liked it so much that I ended up purchasing my own hardcover copy as soon as the book was published. Highly recommended.