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Peace to End Peace

  • May 7, 2011

Sir Alfred Milner, whose British leadership played a part in the Boer War to close the 19th century and then the Great War to start the 20th century litany of horrors, coined the phrase I used as my title for this review to describe the Versailles treaty of 1919.  A play on Woodrow Wilson's claim that the war just ended was to end all wars, Milner's bon mot would prove the more prescient.  

Hochschild's history of the well0-documented Great War focuses on such issues of war and peace, finding its niche in examining how the efforts and leaders of the Boer War in South Africa would carry their lessons and leadership styles, good and bad, back to the seat of Empire.  In parallel, he also examines how the critics and protesters of the Great War learned their craft in the same schools of war.   By focusing on these parallel threads of personal, poignant and sometimes amazingly interconnected relationships on both sides of the battle Hochschild is able to bring a fresh look to the war.

Besides Milner, we meet General French, who lead the British troops in both wars while carrying on numerous affairs and spending money so profligately that he had to borrow money from his sister. We also meet his sister, Charlotte Despard, who was a well-known activist for women's voting rights--and a very public and violently anti-war activist!  She was joined by the Pankhurst family--mother and three daughters--whom we meet and follow through twists and turns in their relationships to each other and the issues of the war and women's voting.

Hochshild is very good at taking these vast scopes of time, geography and characters and focusing on the fascinating and compelling stories within them.  For example, we learn that even today, nearly a century later, tons of unexploded munitions from this war are unearthed by farmers and construction crews and must be removed by demolition squads, with a few deaths every year when they explode without warning.  With these small details, Hochshild builds a worthy account of the war that began all wars of the century ahead.

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May 07, 2011
This article is great for history buffs.
About the reviewer
Todd Stockslager ()
Ranked #36
I love reading and writing about what I have read, making the connections and marking the comparisons and contrasts. God has given man the amazing power to invent language and the means to record it which … more
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Starred Review. WWI remains the quintessential war-unequaled in concentrated slaughter, patriotic fervor during the fighting, and bitter disillusion afterward, writes Hochschild. Many opposed it and historians mention this in passing, but Hochschild, winner of an L.A. Times Book Award for Bury the Chains: Prophets and Rebels in the Fight to Free an Empire's Slaves, has written an original, engrossing account that gives the war's opponents (largely English) prominent place. These mostly admirable activists include some veteran social reformers like the formidable Pankhursts, who led violent prosuffrage demonstrations from 1898 until 1914, and two members of which enthusiastically supported the war while one, Sylvia, opposed it, causing a permanent, bitter split. Sylvia worked with, and was probably the lover of, Keir Hardie, a Scotsman who rose from poverty to found the British Labor party. Except for Bertrand Russell, famous opponents are scarce because most supported the war. Hochschild vividly evokes the jingoism of even such leading men of letters as Kipling, Conan Doyle, H.G. Wells, and John Galsworthy. By contrast, Hochschild paints equally vivid, painful portraits of now obscure civilians and soldiers who waged a bitter, often heroic, and, Hochschild admits, unsuccessful antiwar struggle. (May)
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ISBN-10: 9780618758289
ISBN-13: 978-0618758289
Author: Adam Hochschild
Genre: History
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
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"Peace to End Peace"
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