World War I stands as one of history's most senseless spasms of carnage, defying rational explanation. In a riveting, suspenseful narrative with haunting echoes for our own time, Adam Hochschild brings it to life as never before. He focuses on the long-ignored moral drama of the war's critics, alongside its generals and heroes. Thrown in jail for their opposition to the war were Britain's leading investigative journalist, a future winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature, and an editor who, behind bars, published a newspaper for his fellow inmates on toilet paper.
These critics were sometimes intimately connected to their enemy hawks: one of Britain's most prominent women pacifist campaigners had a brother who was commander in chief on the Western Front. Two well-known sisters split so bitterly over the war that they ended up publishing newspapers that attacked each other.
Today, hundreds of military cemeteries spread across the fields of northern France and Belgium contain the bodies of millions of men who died in the "war to end all wars". Can we ever avoid repeating history?
Would you recommend this audiobook to a friend? If so, why?
This is the history of the First World War which a generation who lived through the years of Vietnam war protest can begin to connect to, not from an understanding of the scale of the carnage (prey that is never the case) but from an appreciation of the courage and ultimate vindication of the small band of conscientious objectors and their supporters who stood against the tide of blind patriotism which carried so many millions to their deaths and maiming. As an Australian whose great uncle died as a 19 year old in the hopeless attack at Fromelles in July 1916, conceived as a diversion of German forces from the Somme offensive, Hochschild's history has some important references to the role of 'dominion' (Canadian, Australian and New Zealand) forces in the bigger canvas of the war. Readers interested in pursuing this issue further might find Hochschild's acceptance of Haig's conversion in 1918 to military strategy which relied less on mass casualties than logistical superiority unconvincing, given the critical role of dominion divisions and their leadership in arresting the 1918 German offensive and leading the counter-attack in the critical battle of Amiens. In the context of Hochschild's moving description of the execution of British soldiers for what Haig considered cowardice, it should also be noted that the Australian army had no death penalty. The Australian public also twice rejected referendums to introduce conscription, a judgement which history, Hochschild's book, and Arthur Morey's powerful reading vindicates with a vengeance.