The Good Fight
Revisiting the harsh lessons of the First World War
To End All Wars:
A Story of Loyalty and Rebellion, 1914-1918
by Adam Hochschild
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
$28.00 List Price
There's not much good that reform-minded liberals can take away from the First World War. If the American Civil War was the first modern "total war," World War I greatly accelerated the West's passage into such conflict, involving fully mobilized home fronts and new modes of technological combat that produced unprecedented casualties. The Great War also proved a major setback to the European left, which was helpless as the international socialist movement's working-class constituencies fanned out in support of their home countries' nationalist causes.
For Adam Hochschild, author of two well-regarded accounts of Europe overcoming some of the ugliest parts of its past—King Leopold's Ghost, a 1998 account of the legacies of colonialism in the Belgian Congo, and Bury the Chains, a 2005 chronicle of the nineteenth-century crusade to abolish slavery in the possessions of the British Empire—the Great War still resonates with cautionary lessons for champions of social improvement. Hochschild effectively sums up the dilemma in the subtitle to his new To End All Wars—A Story of Loyalty and Rebellion, 1914–1918. The periods political struggles forced participants to declare which side they were on, and for Hochschild the inner dynamic of the Great War pivots on the question of loyalty and rebellion. But this is not a story in which the rebels carry the day, and so To End All Wars does not have the Whiggish uplift that buoyed Hochschild's earlier studies—whatever the obvious brutality associated with their subjects.
The Great War presents supreme narrative challenges for any historian.