Michele Weiner's Reviews > To End All Wars: A Story of Loyalty and Rebellion, 1914-1918

To End All Wars by Adam Hochschild
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's review
May 28, 2011

really liked it
Read in May, 2011

Hochschild tells the story of the British effort in WWI by telling the smaller stories of a number of individuals, including both prime ministers and common soldiers, activists for and against the war, conscientious objectors and former suffragettes. He describes a world hoping for war--a whole continent eager for war which they regarded positively as a test of their mettle, an adventure, an experience not to be missed. The British were totally caught up in war fever, and men from every level of society joined the military and went off to battle marching and singing and behaving as if it were all a lark. Anti-war activists were reviled, conscientious objectors jailed in horrific conditions. Executions of men with shell shock were relatively commonplace in the British army, and the stupidity of the British generals was legendary. The men struggled and fought, and refused to blame their leaders, at least until the end of the war, when mutinies became commonplace. After the Russian Revolution, the Germans who had fought on the Eastern front mutinied, as did the sailors who refused to leave port. The French were completely unable to participate in the war for a time when their soldiers refused to fight, leaving the British to carry the burden on the Western front alone. Even British soldiers began to be reluctant to carry on as before, and the British increased repression at home and kept soldiers sorely needed in Europe at home in case of a revolution.

It is the author's thesis that despite the fact that Germany began the conflagration by invading neutral Belgium, that they were the first to use chemical weapons and bomb civilian populations, the Allied powers also deserved a share of the blame for their reckless secret alliances and their eagerness for war. He believes that if the United States hadn't joined the war, the parties would have exhausted themselves and they would have been forced to negotiate a peace that was more sensible than the Versailles Treaty. On the other hand, he notes that the U.S. came into the war as a direct result of the German decision to carry on unrestricted submarine warfare, which resulted in many American deaths.

The war ended abruptly for the Germans, whose civilians had been aware of the successful and innovative last offensive of the war, which brought them within miles of Paris after years of stalemate. But by 1918, the Russians had revolted and left the war. The Germans on the Eastern front were infected with the socialist bug, and began to mutiny, as did the sailors. The French soldiers also questioned their leaders and mutinied, causing them to virtually withdraw from the war at the end and leaving the British to fight on alone until the Americans could arrive. When the American showed up, they appeared a super men to the exhausted, starving European armies.

The end of the war seemed abrupt and incomprehensible to the German army and the civilian population. Their last innovative offensive had been hugely successful, and suddenly, their leaders surrendered. They were largely unaware of the defeats that followed American entry, and unaware that Ludendorff had gone mad. They blamed their civilian leaders for giving up, and with the vengeful treaty that followed, the path to WWII was clear to many contemporary leaders and visionaries.

The author also lists the innovations of WWI, including tanks, barbed wire, chemical weapons, propaganda campaigns, genocide, forced labor, and so on that were perfected in WWII. Very interesting.

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