Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Review: To End All Wars by Adam Hochschild

This is one of the most intense books I've ever read.  I recently participated in a book discussion of this one with a group of about 20 adults, all over the age of 40.  Every single person in the room said "This book made me SO angry."

I joined in the group discussion because it was a book that fit into my reading for War Through the Generations.  Adam Hochschild gives us an unusual perpective of looking not only at the war but at the political and social conflicts that were occuring simultaneously.  He interweaves these themes so that we are able to see the arrogance of those conducting the war, the anguish of those fighting the war, and the frustration of those who want it to stop, or want to abolish the class structure that is seen as one of the major factors in the horrendous and unnecessary loss of life and limb.

Told almost entirely from the perspective of the British, Hochschild explains the history and concepts of Empire, class structure and struggles, and the entirely idiotic insistence of the British military of clinging to the use of calvary in spite of the invention and use of more up to date tactics and weapons being used by the Germans.

Overlaid on this discussion is the story of Britain's conscientious objectors and pacifists, along with a look at the socialist and communist movements in Russia.  The role of women in the anti-war movement is also well-documented.  I was especially appalled at the treatment the "stiff-upper-lip" aristocratic officers and military hierarchy displayed to men who refused to serve because their conscience told them that killing was wrong.  In several instances, these men were conscripted, sent to prison when they refused to serve, and even executed as traitors.  It was at this point I become so angry, I had to put the book down and return to it several days later.

The author highlights several well -known Englishmen, including Bertrand Russell, Sir John French, Winston Churchill, Charlotte Despard, and Rudyard Kipling.  Each had a specific view of the war, its rightness or its total stupidity.  Each of their stories was heart-breaking, infuriating, and so well written that whether or not we agreed with the viewpoint,  we understood it.  What was so anger inducing however, was the recognition of all who were participating in the discussion of how little the world seems to have learned.  We all could see clear and unequivocal correlations to wars that followed.  The parallels between anti-war movements during Vietnam and today's conflicts were all clearly visible, and led us to the conclusion that this is a book that should be required reading for all Americans.

We'll never again watch Downton Abbey with the same starry eyes after seeing how the British class system contributed to so many poor decisions.

Many thanks to the Maine Humanities Council for sponsoring the discussion and making copies of the book available for the participants.

Author: Adam Hochschild
Publisher-Format: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt; (May 3, 2011), 495 pages
Subject: World War I, political revolutions in Europe, UK, Russia
Setting: Theatres of World War I
Genre: history
Source: Maine Humanities Council through local public library


  1. This is perhaps the third review of this book I've read and each person recommended it and got angry reading it. It's definitely on my list to read.

  2. I still have not read this one, but it is on my list. Thanks for the review. it will appear on the main page of the war blog on June 14.


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