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To End All Wars by Adam Hochschild

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Calm fell. From heaven distilled a clemency;

There was peace on earth, and silence in the sky;

Some could, some could not, shake off misery:

The Sinister Spirit sneered: "It had to be!"

And again the Spirit of Pity whispered, "Why?"

―Thomas Hardy

Adam Hochschild's (King Leopold's Ghost) readable book on World War I shifts the focus from generals and battles to people who unsuccessfully opposed it: conscientious objectors, pacifists, socialists and suffragettes; and how it split British families.

Charlotte Despard championed women suffrage (right to vote), Irish independence from Britain and was a pacifist. Her "beloved" younger brother was Field Marshal John French, the first commander of the British Expeditionary Force in France. Emmeline Pankhurst and her daughters, Christabel and Sylvia, were militant suffragettes who disagreed about the war. Emmeline and Christabel supported it, in part, to win the right to vote for women by proving the loyalty of women to the British war effort. Sylvia joined her lover, Labour Party politician Keir Hardie, in opposing the war.

French's rival and replacement, Gen. Douglas "Butcher" Haig regarded high casualties as a sign of success. On 1 July 1916, the first day of the First Battle of the Somme, more than 19,000 soldiers were killed (8,000 in one hour) and 37,000 wounded and missing in failing to break trench war deadlock, fueling the perception the British were "an army of lions led by donkeys."

One of the more unusual and humane events was the Christmas Truce of 1914, when British and German soldiers climbed out of the trenches to play football (soccer to us Yanks) and sing carols together in No Man's Land. An even more bizarre irony was a secret agreement between the British and German to trade vital war materials via neutral Switzerland to kill each other more efficiently.

The senseless slaughter of World War I and the harsh Treaty of Versailles sowed the seeds of Nazi Germany, Communist Russia, World War II, the Holocaust and other mass genocides. Maybe the peace activists knew the consequences of war better than was commonly believed. Check catalog for availability.

Submitted by Van Lingle Mungo


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This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on December 7, 2011 8:52 AM.

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