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To End All Wars: A Story of Protest and…

To End All Wars: A Story of Protest and Patriotism in the First World War (original 2011; edition 2012)

by Adam Hochschild

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Title:To End All Wars: A Story of Protest and Patriotism in the First World War
Authors:Adam Hochschild
Info:Pan (2012), Edition: 1, Paperback, 356 pages
Collections:Read but unowned
Tags:Non-Fiction, History, WWI, Protest, Read in 2012

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To End All Wars: A Story of Loyalty and Rebellion, 1914-1918 by Adam Hochschild (2011)


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Showing 1-5 of 35 (next | show all)
A book that brilliantly succeeds in finding a new way to talk about the First World War, by looking at the protesters and conscientious objectors who opposed it along the way. I must admit, in my head antiwar protests started sometime around the 60s with Vietnam; but it turns out that the British peace movement during 1914–18 is one of the most impressive in history.

So riveting are many of the details here that you end up feeling amazed and annoyed that they aren't included in more general histories of the conflict. I've read countless thousands of words on John French over the last year, yet I somehow had no idea that the field marshal's own sister was Charlotte Despard, one of the most intransigent, outspoken activists of the period. Despard denounced ‘the wicked war of this Capitalistic government’ while her brother was busy orchestrating it – and yet the two of them were as close as ever, regularly visiting each other and writing off their siblings' political views as charming quirks.

Despard also championed many other progressive causes of the time, notably women's suffrage. The so-called suffragettes are a key part of the story, and a good illustration of how divided liberal activists were when the war broke out. Emmeline Pankhurst and her daughter Christabel went from planting bombs in Lloyd George's house to working hand-in-hand with him from speaking-platforms and in editorials: ‘If you go to this war and give your life,’ Emmeline told a cheering crowd in Plymouth, ‘you could not end your life in a better way – for to give one's life for one's country, for a great cause, is a splendid thing.’ An argument that became impossible after Owen.

Perhaps it helped cement the votes-for-women movement as being within the establishment – sure enough, women were enfranchised in 1918 before the war ended. Nevertheless as a modern reader all your sympathies are with the younger Pankhurst daughter, Sylvia, who remained absolutely committed to the antiwar movement and was more or less thrown out of her own family as a result. Sylvia's secret lover – the pacifist independent MP Keir Hardie – is another key character in here, and one I'd previously known nothing about. Both of them were shunned, isolated, mocked.

Bertrand Russell also flits in and out of these pages, a towering moral presence. Every time I read about him I admire him more and more. Russell was jailed for six months for his antiwar activism (when the warder took down his details on arrival, he asked Russell's religion, and he replied, ‘agnostic’. Asking how to spell it, the warder sighed, ‘Well, there are many religions, but I suppose they all worship the same God’). He still managed to keep in touch with two of his lovers while in prison, too – he wrote to a French actress in French, a language his jailers couldn't understand, and sent letters to another woman smuggled out in copies of the Proceedings of the London Mathematics Society, which he told her was ‘more interesting than it appeared’.

Hochschild does a brilliant job not just in uncovering the activities of these characters, some of whom have been comprehensively neglected, but also in tying their stories together: the narrative often reads like a novel with a large but interconnected cast. The whole thing is animated by a steady but unintrusive sense of injustice, and the writing is clear, notwithstanding a few foibles (he deploys, for instance, that odd American hypercorrection ‘felt badly’).

What's particularly sad, after following these people for so long, and hoping for some kind of victory on their behalf, is seeing how desperately almost all of them latched on to the Russian Revolution in 1917. It's a harsh but enlightening test of moral character to see how quickly people could bring themselves to bail on the Soviet dream when things started going wrong – not a test many leftists passed with flying colours (but that's a story better told elsewhere). And overall, this is a story of failure and disappointment, though the tone is moving and hopeful rather than depressing. The title points up the overarching irony. President Wilson had called the slaughter the ‘war to end all wars’ – but Sir Alfred Milner was more prescient in 1918 when, peering into the future as the bodies were cleared away, he described the Treaty of Versailles as ‘a Peace to end Peace’. ( )
1 vote Widsith | Mar 24, 2015 |
A nice effort, but maybe a little disappointing for me. I have read numerous books on WW1 and he provides a decent broad overview of WW1 and the protest movement such as it was. If however, you are very familiar with WW1 much of this will be mere filler with very little new insight into the conduct of the war and it is mostly just wasted ink at that point. I was not very familiar with the protest movement and perhaps what the book does best is to make one realize how feeble the movement truly was. Maybe there is simply not an entire book there, especially confined as it is to the experience of Great Britain. Still worth a read and especially for the uninitiated to the entire picture. ( )
  PCorrigan | Mar 3, 2015 |
Adam Hochschild is a gifted storyteller, whose survey of the First World War brings to life its battles and the societies it utterly transformed. He focuses on a handful of key families and individuals, following them from a few decades before the war to the end of their various lives years or decades after the Armistice. He follows equally the pro- and anti-war factions in British and German societies (and to a lesser degree French and Russian). Filled with facts, the book nevertheless reads like a novel, smoothly, engagingly. That World War II was an inevitable consequence of World War I is repeatedly stressed from various angles. The reader can see all the social and military crises of our early 21st century mirrored in those of the early 20th. The roots are all there. The problems have not been solved. People with little interest in military history who wish to understand our own times better -- how we've become what we are and what we need to do to be more like what we ought to be -- will find this book fascinating and thought-provoking. ( )
1 vote pdgarrett48 | Jul 16, 2014 |
I think for many Americans this book will be something of a shocker. It tells the story of the British anti-war movement during World War I. First is the story of the enormous incompetence of those prosecuting the war; the highest ranking authority on the civil side was Prime Minister Asquith, and on the military side, the Generals French and Haig. This is a tale of enormous inhumanity, not just for the enemy, but for one's own troops as well, who were ordered to make suicide attacks by the tens of thousands. (Sadly things were even worse on the German side. See my review of Ernst Jünger's Storm of Steel.) Hochschild tells his tale economically thereby establishing the broader context for the other aspects of his story.

At the heart of the book, what makes it unique, are stories of the trials and tribulations of the British anti-war movement. Peopled in large part by well-meaning persons of a socialist bent, the movement was undermined and smeared by the British government who had all aspects of the national press completely under its thumb. Part of the anti-war story is about the Conscientious Objector (CO) community. I'm so glad Mr. Hochschild is getting this story out with this book, for their treatment by members of the British police authorities, who shamelessly violated their civil rights, was horrendous. Early on the COs were sent to the front anyway, where the plan was to shoot them when they refused to obey orders. Fortunately, political advocates at home prevented this from happening. They were then moved to a filthy prison in Boulogne where the rats ran over them at night, and the food was disgusting. But even this, I suppose, was better than sitting at the front listening to the big guns thunder and wondering if you'd live to see your loved ones.

Another thing Hochschild does well here is to tell the tale of the Russian Revolution and the subsequent collapse of the Czarist state in 1917 in context with how the Brits were trying to win the war. This is fascinating. ( )
1 vote William345 | Jun 11, 2014 |
Inasmuch as Hochschild’s To End All Wars is a history of the British at the Western front of the first world war, it’s readable and inoffensive, but fairly unremarkable. But the war isn’t his primary subject: that honor goes to the various individuals and social movements actively dissenting against England’s involvement in the war. We are introduced to upper-class suffragettes and working-class radicals among countless others, whose shifting loyalties and evolving philosophies didn’t stop the war, but did reshape the country that emerged in its wake. Hochschild’s focus on the characters and relationships embroiled in this conflict makes his book compelling and readable, even for those of us who aren’t history buffs. ( )
1 vote circumspice | May 22, 2014 |
Showing 1-5 of 35 (next | show all)
De leeuwentemmer John S. Clarke is één van de vele kleurrijke figuren die tot leven worden gebracht in “To End All Wars,” het recentste boek van Adam Hochschild over de Eerste Wereldoorlog. Hochschild schreef eerder over de Stalinperiode in de Sovjetunie en – bij ons wellicht beter bekend: King Leopold’s Ghost A Story of Greed, Terror, and Heroism in Colonial Africa. Nu zijn over dat eerste wereldconflict bibliotheken volgeschreven, maar de benadering van Hochschild is, althans voor een leek als ondergetekende, volslagen nieuw. Blijkt immers dat er in Groot-Brittannië ondanks het welbekende algemene enthousiasme voor de oorlog ook hardnekkig verzet was, hoofdzakelijk maar niet exclusief in linkse kringen en onder de suffragettes, de beweging voor vrouwenstemrecht.
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(Introduction) An early autumn bite is in the air as a late, gold-tinged late afternoon falls over the rolling countryside of northern France.
The city had never seen such a parade.
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Product Description
World War I stands as one of history’s most senseless spasms of carnage, defying rational explanation. In a riveting, suspenseful narrative with haunting echoes for our own time, Adam Hochschild brings it to life as never before. He focuses on the long-ignored moral drama of the war’s critics, alongside its generals and heroes. Thrown in jail for their opposition to the war were Britain’s leading investigative journalist, a future winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature, and an editor who, behind bars, published a newspaper for his fellow inmates on toilet paper. These critics were sometimes intimately connected to their enemy hawks: one of Britain’s most prominent women pacifist campaigners had a brother who was commander in chief on the Western Front. Two well-known sisters split so bitterly over the war that they ended up publishing newspapers that attacked each other. 

Today, hundreds of military cemeteries spread across the fields of northern France and Belgium contain the bodies of millions of men who died in the “war to end all wars.” Can we ever avoid repeating history?

Take a Look Inside To End All Wars
(Click on Images to Enlarge)

Passchendaele, the battle that cost British forces more than 260,000 dead and wounded
King George V and Queen Mary in Delhi

Emmeline Parkhurst, under arrest
John S. Clark, from circus animal tamer to underground antiwar activist
Charlotte Despard, suffragette, prison veteran, pacifist, communist, IRA supporter

A Conversation with Author Adam Hochschild

Q: In the past you’ve written mostly about issues of human rights and social justice, but now a book about the First World War—why?

A: I’ve long been obsessed and fascinated by the war, for it remade our world for the worse in almost every conceivable way. In addition to killing approximately 20 million soldiers and civilians, the war also ignited the Russian Revolution, sowed the anger that allowed Hitler to seize power, and permanently darkened our outlook on human nature and human self-destructiveness. But also I’ve always seen the war as a time when men and women faced a moral challenge as great as that faced by those who lived, say, in the time of slavery. Tens of thousands of people were wise enough to foresee, in 1914, the likely bloodshed that a war among the world’s major industrial powers would cause—and, courageously, they refused to take part.

Q: What are you trying to do in To End All Wars that makes it different from other books about the First World War?

A: Most books about any war, including this one, tell the story as a conflict between two sides. Instead, I’ve tried to tell the story of 1914–1918 as a struggle between those who felt the war was something noble and necessary, and those who felt it was absolute madness.

Q: Were there war resisters on both sides?

A: Yes. But I’ve concentrated on one country, Britain. For various reasons—a major one being that at the war’s outset Britain itself was not attacked—there was a stronger antiwar movement there than anywhere else. More than 20,000 British men of military age refused the draft, and, as a matter of principle, many also refused the non-combatant alternative service offered to conscientious objectors, such as working in war industries or driving ambulances. More than 6,000 of these young men went to prison under very harsh conditions, as did some brave, outspoken critics of the war. This is one of the largest groups of people ever behind bars for political reasons in a Western democracy—and certainly one of the most interesting. Their number included the country’s leading investigative journalist, a future Nobel Prize-winner, more than half a dozen future members of Parliament, and a former editor who would publish a clandestine prison newspaper on sheets of toilet paper.

Q: So the book is just about them?

A: Not only. I am equally intrigued by the people who fought the war, such as the generals who always thought the next battle was going to be the big breakthrough, and kept the cavalry ready to charge through the gap—which never came, of course. So my cast of characters includes both resisters and those who fought. And there are interesting ties between them. Few people know, for instance, that Britain’s commander-in-chief on the Western Front for the first year and a half of combat had a sister who was an ardent, vocal pacifist. Or that the Minister for War had close friends whose son was not only in jail as a resister but was in solitary confinement for refusing to obey prison rules. Two well-known sisters, the suffragettes Christabel and Sylvia Pankhurst, broke with each other so bitterly over the war that they each edited a newspaper that attacked the other.

Q: Are all of your characters well-known?

A: Not at all. Albert Rochester was a soldier who got into trouble for writing a letter to a newspaper complaining that every British officer had his own private servant. John S. Clarke was an antiwar radical, working underground—who in his youth had made his living as a circus lion-tamer. Emily Hobhouse believed the nations of Europe should be negotiating, not fighting. She evaded British government travel restrictions, went to Berlin in 1916 and talked peace terms with the foreign minister—the sole private citizen in Europe who actually traveled to the other side in search of peace. You couldn’t invent people like this.

Q: What were your sources of information?

A: When I write history, I like to hear people’s own voices, so as much as possible I relied on personal letters, diaries, memoirs and the like. But there was one additional, unexpected, rich trove of material. In 1914–1918, both civilian and military intelligence agents watched the Britain’s antiwar activists intently. They infiltrated spies into peace organizations, sometimes sent in agents provocateurs to try to get pacifists to do things they could be arrested for, and at even the smallest public antiwar meeting, one of Scotland Yard’s dozen shorthand writers would be there taking notes. These agents’ reports, even those of the agents provocateurs bragging about what they accomplished, are in Britain’s National Archives, some of them opened to public view for the first time only in the last few years.

(Photo by Spark Media)

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:45:37 -0400)

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World War I stands as one of history's most senseless spasms of carnage, defying rational explanation. In his riveting narrative, Hochschild brings it to life as never before while focusing on the long-ignored moral drama of the war's critics, alongside its generals and heroes.… (more)

(summary from another edition)

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