To End All Wars, by Adam Hochschild, A Quickie Review

Last year, I read To End All Wars, by Adam Hochschild.  It’s a history of the British anti-war movement prior to and during World War I.  I’ll keep this review short, and cut to the chase.  Read this book, ASAP!

Detailed in this book are both the military blunders, which contributed to the slaughter of millions of young Englishmen, as well as the anti-conscription protests and the fate of conscientious objectors.  Young men who failed in their attempts to gain conscientious objector status were conscripted into combat positions.  Those that continued to refuse combat were often prosecuted and jailed, and in some cases executed by firing squad.  Hochschild goes into great detail about a number of such cases.

What I found particularly disturbing about his account of the anti-war movement was the role of English women.  Just like the United States, English suffragettes were organizing and mobilizing.  I’ve often heard it said that if women ran the world, wars would be over, but Hochschild paints a rather different picture.  One would think that women, who are the ones that say goodbye to their sons and husbands to support the war effort of a given nation, would be its most vocal opponents.

Hochschild illustrates, on the other hand, where these same suffragettes, and otherwise champions of feminism and womens’ rights, were often the most vocal opponents of conscientious objectors.  They often chose to rally behind government prosecutions and executions of such men, in order to show their loyalty for the state war apparatus.

I couldn’t help but think about similarities that exist today.  Thousands upon thousands of women have sent their sons and husbands off to fight wars in the Middle East over the last decade only to see them return battered, bruised, disfigured and dehumanized, if they return at all.  What has been their response? Calls for greater veterans’ benefits, more money and greater recognition from the state that sent them off to battle.  Where are the feminists, the descendants of the suffragettes who are willing to call for an end to wars of aggression on foreign soil?  Where are the mothers demanding of the federal government that they cease and desist the recruiting of fresh cannon fodder in the public schools?

Hochschild describes a war almost a hundred years old where the womens’ movement was active in advocating for its own privileges, while at the same time siding with the state to feed the war effort.  I don’t see that things have changed very much.

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About Brian Singer

I've worn many different hats over the course of my life. It's my intention to explore throughout this podcast how all those hats have lead me to be the person that I am today, an anarcho-capitalist, gun-toting Jew who occasionally gets inspired in the kitchen and is most comfortable around nerds of any persuasion.
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7 Responses to To End All Wars, by Adam Hochschild, A Quickie Review

  1. wammtoday says:

    I have in my possession a book entitled Shoulder to Shoulder by Midge Mackenzie, a history of the suffrage movement in England. The primary figures were Emmaline Pankhurst and her daughters Sylvia and Christabel. Although they worked closely together before the war, the war caused a split. At the beginning of the war Emmaline and Christabel immediately stated their support for the war and that women should take part in it. She was an organizer, and she encouraged the whole of the women’s army who had been fighting for suffrage to participate in the war efforts. The women worked in factories, in Women’s Land Army who worked as labourers on farms in place of men, airplane mechanics, nurses, and drivers.

    However, Emmaline’s daughter Sylvia Pankhurst was a socialist and worked for the poor and around labor issues for women. This caused a split between Emmaline and Christabel and the more conservative members of the suffragist movement and Sylvia and her Federation. Sylvia says, “We worked continuously for peace, in the face of bitterest opposition from old enemies and sometimes unhappily from old friends.”

    Sylvia also said, “When I first read that Mrs. Pankhurst and Christabel were returning to England [from America] for a recruiting campaign, I wept. To me it seemed a tragic betrayal of he great movement to bring the mother-half of the race into the councils of the nation.”

    On October 31, 1914, Emmaline Pethick-Lawrence, an early ally of the Packhursts who supported Sylvia’s work, spoke in New York City, The topic was the Women of World in League to End War. A Women’s Peace Party was founded in New York and in April 1915 more than fifty representatives from the National Women’s Peace Party of America embarked for the Hague with their president, Jane Addams, for an international women’s peace conference, which was attended by 1500 people who urged the governments of the world to put an end to bloodshed and begin peace negotiations. Their delegations were received by Western countries and the U.S. president.

    The Women’s Peace Party/International Women’s Party is the precursor to the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, which still exists and is active to this day.

    Should I be surprised that Hochschild has evidently chosen to ignore this important part of the history of the time?

  2. Brian Singer says:

    wammtoday: I don’t think he ignored that part of history. One, I read the book over a year ago, as I said from the beginning. Now that you raise the issue of Pankhurst, I do seem to recall him going into quite a bit of detail about her. As my title suggests, this was a quickie review. I didn’t intend to go through the entire book and analyze everything the author said. My intent was to touch on a few of the many areas that interested me, and draw some attention to a book I really enjoyed. I would strongly encourage you to read the book yourself and draw your own conclusions. For that matter, I’d love it if you read the book and then shared your own thoughts with me. I found your comments above to be quite fascinating. Thanks so much for sharing.

  3. markstoval says:

    Brian,

    I really liked the book review. I really liked your prose. You write much better than I do; but then I can whine that I was trained in Math and did not even have to do a long paper in grad school. So there! Kidding aside, I really liked the way the essay flowed and of course I liked the conclusions you drew from the data — I have seen so many war-mongering women that is breaks my heart sometimes.

    Whatever you do, keep it up.

    Warmest Regards, Mark

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