83 of 92 people found the following review helpful
"War will be impossible if all men come to the view that war is wrong",
This review is from: To End All Wars: A Story of Loyalty and Rebellion, 1914-1918 (Hardcover)
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"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."
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Initial post: May 20, 2011 3:46:40 PM PDT
Last edited by the author on May 20, 2011 5:26:47 PM PDT
Very good review. I am currently reading this book now and find that the so-called Great War was just as unjustified as the war that I ended up those many years ago which was in a place called Vietnam. I also like your recommendation of The Illusion of Victory as I found your review of that book to be more persuasive than that of the militant James Geoffrey II. But you have erred here as you have confused the pro war sentiments of Christabel Pankhurst with her sister Sylvia as the latter had definitely spoken out, along with her paramour Keir Hardie, against the war while her sister and mother became ardent supporters of that unnecessary and idiotic military conflict [pgs. 106-108]. But your misstatement takes nothing away from your endorsement of this finely written book which brings out so clearly what Barbara Tuchman had labeled as a March of Folly.
In reply to an earlier post on May 31, 2011 6:51:32 AM PDT
Andrew S. Rogers says:
Whoops. You are entirely correct that I got the Pankhurst sisters reversed. Thanks for bringing that to my attention. I have edited the review to fix the error.
Thanks, too, for your kind words about my review.
In reply to an earlier post on Oct 30, 2011 2:01:11 AM PDT
M. W. Stone says:
Regarding the title, though, I suspect that Oscar Wilde was nearer the mark
"So long as war is considered wicked, it will retain a certain fascination. When it is looked upon as vulgar, it will lose its appeal".
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