Publication Date: March 6, 2012
To End All Wars; a Story of Love, Loyalty and Rebellion 1914-1918 by Adam Hochschild is a look at the often ignored World War I moral objectors along with those people who wholeheartedly believed in the cause.
Is it the job of the historian to moralize and pontificate? History is propaganda written by the winners, so to read a book highlighting the moral objectors is supremely interesting. To sermonize that an event already placed in history shouldn’t have happened is not appealing. People died in World War I. It happened. It’s done. It’s 100 years in the past. History is about facts and while “woulda” “shoulda” and “coulda” are nice to suggest that a war in which an estimated 37 million people (civilian and military) died was a waste of human life. Maybe. But it happened and isn’t it a disservice to chide key figures in history-making portraying them as Keystone Cop archetypes. Despite my distaste at the author’s position, the story of the objectors is one that should be told and was presented with delicacy, mindful of the challenges they faced.
To End All Wars; a Story of Love, Loyalty and Rebellion 1914-1918 begins with the Boer War which took place from 1899 – 1902. The focus, of course, is British and the attention given to the war efforts of other countries ranges from dismissive to non-existent. Hochschild divides his attention between battlefield anecdotes and the stories of the protest movement. There’s a hero and villain mentality set. The good and just people speak out about the needless loss of life while the people whipping up a frenzy for the war twirl their mustaches and rub their hands together in a metaphorical reflection of the animated Snidley Whiplash. The new information is in relation to the protestors and I think To End All Wars; a Story of Love, Loyalty and Rebellion 1914-1918 would have been more interesting had Hochschild stuck with that angle instead of diverting to the well-tread ground in the war effort. Powerful families are divided by ideology, and people who suffered great loss that they felt was needless, are painted with a loving and valiant brush.
Okay … so I’m going a little hard on the author. It’s okay to have favorites and to agree with one side over the other. The problem with preference, in this case, is that it really is at the expense of what is, at its core, a pretty good book. We, as people, do tend to be for or against issues and do tend to paint the other side with the broad stroke of ignorance, at best, and cruelty, at worst. As a history of World War I, To End All Wars; a Story of Love, Loyalty and Rebellion 1914-1918 falls short, but as a narration of a few key players in the effort against the war, it excels even if some of what reads as hyperbole should be taken with a grain of salt.
I’m going to call a To End All Wars; a Story of Love, Loyalty and Rebellion 1914-1918 a “must be read for oneself” book. Hochschild is well regarded as a historian and has a critically acclaimed bibliography of era and occasion focused works. Pick it up if the description appeals and let me know what you think.
For more book and audio reviews about World War I, check out Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania by Erik Larson, and Christmas Eve, 1914 by Charles Olivier.
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