The war that became known as World War I began more than 100 years ago, in 1914, and ushered in a new type of warfare — one built underground, in trenches, instead of above ground, on horses. This war marked many grim firsts, including the first time poisonous gases were used against enemy combatants in Europe, the first time submarines were deployed in war and the first time armies began bombing and attacking civilians in an effort to get their enemies to concede defeat.
In “To End All Wars: A Story of Loyalty and Rebellion, 1914-1918,” Adam Hochschild brings the century-old story of World War I to life in a stark and dramatic new way. Focusing primarily on the role Britain played, Hochschild tells this story as a battle of dueling loyalties. On one side were the British citizens and military and government officials who believed the war should be fought, and on the other were the equally passionate citizens, including socialists and pacifists, who opposed it.
At the beginning of the 20th century, labor unions were on the rise, workers were striking, Ireland was pushing for independence from the United Kingdom and women were marching in the streets for the right to vote. Not only were social and political establishments in Europe on the cusp of revolution, but modern-day inventions we now take for granted were just making their debut on the global stage, including machine guns, cars and barbed wire that would change how war was fought and won.
When war finally erupted in 1914, it would take four long years to stop the fighting. In that time, more than 9 million soldiers and as many as 13 million civilians died as a direct result of the bloody conflict, according to Hochschild’s account. Hundreds of miles of farmland were ravaged and 70,000 homes were razed in Belgium alone, both by the years of entrenched warfare and through the actions of retreating armies, which took pains to poison wells, crater roads, flood mines, cut down fruit trees and otherwise ensure their enemies would gain nothing from the land for years to come. In addition, it was in this broken environment that a great influenza pandemic struck during the last months of the war, killing 50 million or more around the globe.
“To End All Wars” introduces us to individuals who had passionately held beliefs on both sides of the war question — including the radical socialist and suffragette Charlotte Despard, who adamantly opposed the war, and her beloved younger brother John French, who led British troops into battle. Hochschild also introduces us to Alfred Milner, one of the British architects of the war; and the Pankhurst women, whose family united to fight for women’s right to vote, but were then fractured when the war began and they began choosing sides.
Hochschild, who was a featured speaker at the Sun Valley Writers’ Conference earlier this summer, is the author of eight books and the recipient of many literary prizes. With the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I now just a little more than a year away, his book provides a timely and thoughtful examination of the war that was supposed to end all others. “Why does this long-ago war still intrigue us?” Hochschild asks in the book’s introduction. “One reason, surely, is the stark contrast between what people believed they were fighting for and the shattered, embittered world the war actually created.”
Bob Kustra is president of Boise State University and host of Reader’s Corner, a weekly radio show on Boise State Public Radio. Reader’s Corner airs Friday at 6 p.m. and repeats Sunday at 11 a.m. on KBSX 91.5 FM. An interview with Hochschild will air this fall. Listen to previous shows at http://boisestatepublicradio.org/programs/readers-corner, or download our free app from the App Store or Google Play to listen anytime.
Literature for Lunch
“To End All Wars” is the first book in the Fall/Winter 2017 Literature for Lunch, which kicks off this week. The theme is Representing the Good Soldier: Modernism and WWI.
When: 12:10-1 p.m. Friday, Sept. 1 (and each subsequent first Friday through December)
Where: Boise Public Library main branch, 715 S. Capitol Blvd.
Here’s the rest of the lineup:
Oct. 1: “The Return of the Soldier” by Rebecca West
Nov. 3: “Jacob’s Room” by Virginia Woolf
Dec. 1: “Some Do Not....” by Ford Maddox Ford
Books are available at Rediscovered Books, 180 N. 8th St., Boise, which gives a 10 percent discount, and at the BSU Bookstore in the Student Union Building, which gives a 25 percent discount. For more information, contact BSU English Professor Cheryl Hindrichs at firstname.lastname@example.org or 345-1510.