Adam Hochschild – To End All Wars (2011)

“This was a war that would change the world for the worse.”

ToEndAllWarsHochschild’s book is as much a history of class in Turn-of-the-Century-Britain, as it is a history of the First World War. His book is the story of the First World War as told from the perspective of the Wars biggest supporters, and opponents in Britain.

It’s a different take on the First World War than I am used to but Hochschild uses a familiar formula, picking a cast of characters to follow from the start of the war to its end. His characters include members of the upper classes who saw war as just a continuation of “the hunt” or as sport, and the lower classes or socialist supporters who began, and remained starkly anti-war throughout the years. He also devotes a great deal of time to discussing the suffrage movement and how many upper class women, such as Emmeline Pankhurst, compromised their pacifist ideals to further the cause for voting rights.

Sometime Hochschild does let his feelings about the war get in the way. While the conviction that the First World War was foolish and mad is not a new one, and Hochschild is certainly not the first scholar to feel this way, his language is often very charged and quite moving. While personally I liked this aspect of his writing, I could see this work being very polarizing for those who hold strong opinions.

Another problem is with the facts themselves. Through the horrific slaughter that took place between the years of 1914-1918, instances of loyalty to the crown and cause remain more numerous than the occasions of dissent. While conscious objectors did show a tremendous deal of courage (a point Horschild drives home by detailing the experiences in prison) but they did not necessarily “divide Britain” the way Hochschild would have it seem.

Hochschild has definitely done a great deal of research and it pays off in his work. It provides a different take on the First World War telling a history of dissent, an account of pacifist movements, and conscientious objectors who created more trouble for Britain than many are often led to believe.

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