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.