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The Ongoing Five Centuries of Colonialism, Imperialism & War

Adam Hochschild: King Leopold's Ghost (2005) and To End all Wars (2011)

Greetings Freethinkers

Two must read books.....

(1) King Leopold's Ghost

Adam Hochschild's incredible book on the horrors of colonialism called King Leopold's Ghost  I will always remember, not exclusively because I vividly recall reading it while in hospital awaiting heart surgery in January 2005, but because it was one of the most shocking and horrific accounts of Western Imperialism I've ever read. And Hochschild, a gifted writer, really knows how to bring history alive.

In the horrid history of colonialism there was first the rapacious and cruel Spaniards. This was soon followed by the equally greedy and brutal English and marauders from other Christian Western European countries. Since 1945 most of the pillage of the Third World can be attributed to the United States. We've made minor ethical advancements in the past 500 years but the state of affairs has really not been much improved.

King Leopold's Ghost is an historical account of a crime of epic proportions perpetrated by the tiny country of Belgium. It involved the slaughter of ten million (yes that's 10,000,000) African people in the Congo by means of enslavement and mass murder.

In the 1880s, as the European powers were carving up Africa, parts of Asia and elsewhere, King Leopold II of Belgium seized for him the vast and mostly unexplored territory surrounding the Congo River. Carrying out a genocidal plundering of the Congo, he looted its rubber and other natural resources, enslaved, brutalized and tortured its people to extract the rubber from the trees, and slashed its population by ten million--all the while shrewdly fabricating his reputation as a great humanitarian.

Heroic efforts to expose these horrific crimes eventually led to the first great human rights movement of the twentieth century, in which everyone from Mark Twain to the Archbishop of Canterbury participated. King Leopold's Ghost is the haunting account of a monarchical megalomaniac psychopath of monstrous proportions, a man as cunning, charming, and cruel as any of the great Shakespearean villains and other Western European colonial murderers who preceded him. It is also the deeply moving portrait of those who fought Leopold: a brave handful of missionaries, travelers, and young idealists who went to Africa for work or adventure and unexpectedly found themselves witnesses to a holocaust.

Adam Hochschild brings this largely untold story alive with the wit and skill of a great historian like Howard Zinn. And not unlike Zinn, he knows the histories of ordinary people who usually provide a far richer and more interesting cast of characters than any novelist or historian writing from the perspective of the rich and powerful. Ordinary working class heroes, chief among being Edmund Morel, a young British shipping agent who went on to lead the international crusade against Leopold. Another hero of this tale, the Irish patriot Roger Casement, ended his life on a London gallows. Two courageous black Americans, George Washington Williams and William Sheppard, risked much to bring evidence of the Congo atrocities to the outside world. Sailing into the middle of the story was a young Congo River steamboat officer named Joseph Conrad. And looming above them all, was the duplicitous billionaire King Leopold II. With great power and compassion, King Leopold's Ghost will brand the tragedy of the Congo--too long forgotten--onto the conscience of the West.

It is disturbing to think that so much of Europe & North America was built on the backs of slave labour, exploitation, genocide of native peoples, theft of their land and looting of their resources not just in Africa, but in the Americas and elsewhere...unfortunately, this still persists today. Moral progress has been extremely slow and minimal. One could argue that in the past thirty years of regressive neo-conservative free for all capitalism that we've witnessed some considerable backsliding.

(2) To End All Wars: A Story of Loyalty and Rebellion, 1914-1918

Having read his riveting King Leopold's Ghost, as soon as I discovered it, I ordered Adam Hochschild's latest book To End All Wars from The Book Depository in London; it arrived within a week and I've just finished reading it. It's an extremely important anti-war book viewed through the lens of World War I (the "war to end all wars") which is approaching its 100th anniversary in 2014. The book focuses primarily on people I perceive to be the real heroes - the war resisters, pacifists, conscientious objectors (COs) and social reformers from various walks of life such as Keir Hardie, Sylvia Pankhurst and Bertrand Russell. It was people like Russell and others like them who objected to the war primarily on political and moral grounds; but also on the incompetence, arrogance, blind resolve and contempt for the lives of millions of young men by the military hierarchy, conservative politicians and war mongering propagandists.

For the militarists, it was especially true of the many inept egotistical military dinosaurs like Field Marshall John French and General Douglas Haig. The pompous colonialist and monarchist Haig, from the Scottish whiskey distilling family, proudly proclaimed "I am not one who is ashamed of the wars that were fought to  open the markets for our traders." Haig routinely evaluated the "success" of many battles on how many of his own troops were killed (his logic being that "if lots of our guys are dying, lots of Germans must be dying too"). Yes, as outrageous as it sounds, General Haig and his equally arrogant subordinate General Henry Rawlinson actually complained when British casualties were too low, and rejoicing - presumably because enemy losses were deemed comparable - when they moved into the tens of thousands. What this meant in stark terms was the annihilation of whole regiments, often comprising (as in the cases of Newfoundland and Ulster) entire communities back home who had volunteered as a group and stayed together as cannon fodder. They vanished, in clouds of poison gas, hails of steel splinters and shrapnel, barbed wire and massive bogs of sucking mud and shell holes and trenches filled with water (many men drowned and died of horrible diseases from prolonged exposure to putrid water). Or lay in lines, reminding all observers of mown-down corn, along the impassable barbed wire and waiting machine-gun emplacements against which they had been thrown.

The propaganda of the British government in promoting the war was relentless and some of the most reprehensible supporters of the War were writers like  Rudyard Kipling whose son was missing in action following his very first military encounter and whose body was never found. Despite the ongoing carnage and agony over his son's death Kipling remained resolute in his support for the war and the gratuitous slaughter. Hochschild portrays Kipling as an altogether blind reprehensible jingoistic, belligerent flag waving supporter of the war. Kipling was an aristocratic conservative class snob and racist who revelled in extolling the virtues of the monarchy but detested Germans, democracy, taxes, labour unions, Irish and Indian nationalists, socialists, women suffragettes and the working classes in general, labelling Irish Catholics "'the Orientals of the West.'" And John Buchan, author of The Thirty-Nine Steps", was virtually a propaganda prostitute for the British, cranking out novel after novel for which the British had an insatiable appetite.

Bertrand Russell, however, remained against the war throughout and was sentenced to six months in prison for his erudite writings against the war.

Part of Russell's intellectual bravery lay in his willingness to confront that last set of conflicting loyalties. He described himself poignantly in the autumn of 1914 as being "tortured by patriotism...I desired the defeat of Germany as ardently as any retired colonel. Love of England is very nearly the strongest emotion I posses, and in appearing to set it aside at such a moment, I was making a very difficult renunciation." What left him even more anguished was realizing that "anticipation of carnage was delightful to something like ninety percent of the population...As a lover of truth the national propaganda of the belligerent nations sickened me. As a lover of civilization, the return to barbarism appalled me. As a man of thwarted parental feeling [he a yet had no children], the massacre of the young wrung my heart." Over the more than four years of fighting to come, he never yielded to his belief that "this war is trivial, for all its vastness. No great principle is at stake, no great human purpose is involved on either side... The English and French say they are fighting in defense of democracy, but they do not wish their words to be heard in Petrograd or Calcutta." He was dismayed to see two-thirds of Cambridge and Oxford under­graduates enlist in the wars opening months, their powers of reasoning "swept away in a red blast of hate." These convictions, expressed in an unceasing blizzard of articles and speeches, would soon land him in the forefront of a slowly growing antiwar movement, while losing him old friendships, his Cambridge lectureship, and his passport. Eventually, they would put him behind bars.

Antiwar beliefs were severely tested by the mass patriotic hysteria of the war's first months. "One by one, the people with whom one had been in the habit of agreeing politically went over to the side of the war," as Russell put it, "and as yet the exceptional people . . . had not yet found each other." How hard it was, he wrote, to resist "when the whole nation is in a state of violent collective excitement. As much ef­fort was required to avoid sharing this excitement as would have been needed to stand out against the extreme of hunger or sexual passion, and there was the same feeling of going against instinct."

While dissenters like him tried to make their voices heard against the torrent, generals and cabinet ministers feverishly debated strategy, and men thronged recruiting stations, messages from the War Office were reaching thousands of British homes. (To End all Wars, p. 112-13)

The casualty statistics for World War I are staggering. On July 1, 1916, the first day of the Battle of the Somme 21,000 British soldiers were killed or fatally wounded. (That or course is about one third of all the U. S. soldiers killed in the entire Vietnam War.) On the same day another 36,000 British troops were wounded. At the end of the war one half of all French soldiers between 20 and 32 died. The U. S. War Department puts the total deaths from all countries at 8.5 million. Other counts would add another million to that number. Twenty-one million were wounded. Civilian war deaths are estimated at 12 to 13 million. A half million more died in the war's final five weeks. On the final half day of the war, after the Armistice was signed, 2,738 men "from both sides" were killed and another 8,000 wounded. Mr. Hochschild in the chapter entitled "The Devil's Own Hand" speculates on the deaths that probably should be counted from the war, later suicides, deaths in other conflicts triggered by this war, the deaths of "underfed" African porters that probably numbered 400,000, the spread of the great influenza pandemic connected to the war took 50 million lives or more. The list seems endless. Furthermore, 20,000 British men of military age refused to go to war with 6,000 of them serving prison terms for their beliefs.

One disturbing Machiavellian revelation, which didn't surprise me by the way, was that when Great Britain desperately needed high quality optical instruments (binoculars, gun sights, etc.) that they had previously purchased from Germany through companies like Carl Zeiss AG, they approached the enemy through a neutral country and set up a deal to purchase thousands of them. In return, Germany got the rubber it desperately needed but hadn't been able to smuggle through the British blockade.

Here is Hoschild from one the last chapters of To End all Wars:

To End all Wars (pp. 341-43)

That illusion persisted long after the fighting stopped, because front-line army units returned home to march in orderly columns into German cities full of cheering crowds arid banners of welcome. Politi­cians gave speeches praising them as heroes undefeated on the bat­tlefield— which was, in a sense, true. All of this, of course, was the raw material out of which the Nazis within a few short years would build their deceptive but powerful legend of Germany's noble soldiers stabbed in the back and robbed of glorious victory by communists, pacifists, and Jews. And when, in 1940, they would overrun France in a new war to avenge this loss, Hitler would order that the French surren­der be signed in the very same railway car.

In laying down the Armistice's terms on behalf of the Allies, Mar­shal Foch was representing a country that had suffered a staggering toll: 1,390,000 men killed. The marshal demanded that the German army withdraw from France, Belgium, the provinces of Alsace and Lorraine that had been captured from France in 1870, from Russia, and from parts of Germany itself, particularly all land on the west side of the Rhine. Germany was also to pay the cost of stationing Allied troops there, and more. And all this preceded a more detailed and far more onerous peace treaty that would be forced on the Germans at Versailles months later.

Many people, even at this early moment, foresaw the dangers of such harsh terms. The retired Admiral of the Fleet John Fisher, the for­mer First Sea Lord, was asked how long it would be until the next war. "Twenty years time," he replied. Surprisingly, someone similarly wor­ried was a man who, whatever his limitations, had always had a shrewd sense of politics, Douglas Haig. Shortly before the fighting stopped, but when the shape of the Allied demands had become clear, the field marshal wrote to his wife, "It is important that our Statesmen should . . . not attempt to so humiliate Germany as to produce the desire for revenge in years to come."

The Armistice was signed in Foch's railway car at 5 a.m. on Novem­ber 11,1918, to go into effect six hours later. Senselessly, to no military or political purpose, Allied infantry and artillery attacks continued full steam through the morning. On this final half day of the war, after the peace was signed, 2,738 men from both sides were killed and more than 8,000 wounded. The first and last British soldiers to die in the war—16-year-old John Parr of Finchley, North London, a golf caddy who lied about his age to get into the army, and George Ellison, a 40-year-old miner from Leeds who survived all but the last 90 minutes of fighting—were killed within a few miles of each other near Mons, Belgium. It was recently discovered that, by coincidence, they are bur­ied beneath pine trees and rosebushes in the same cemetery, Saint-Symphorien, seven yards apart.

In the newspapers secretly supplied him by his Irish fellow inmates, Fenner Brockway read of socialists rising to power in Germany. He was in his prison cell, still on a punishment diet, when he heard the news that the Armistice was to take effect at 11:00 a.m. on November 11th. Since he was allowed no watch, he had learned to tell time by the position of a sunbeam on the wall.

I remember sitting on the shelf table in the denuded cell, my feet on the stool, watching the sun creep along the wall towards eleven o'clock. I cannot reproduce the chaos and intensity of my thoughts.

Was the slaughter of four years to end? . . . Was I to see my family and children? . . . Was I to see the fields and woods and hills and sea?

The line of the sun on the wall approached eleven.

When horns began to blare all over the city, Brockway wept. In a prison at Ipswich, another resister, Corder Catchpool, recorded an event that afternoon when he and other COs Were in the exer­cise yard: "An airman suddenly swooped down from 3,000 feet and skimmed over our heads, waving a black arm and oily rag. I was deeply touched by this little incident. I took it as peace overtures from the Army to us—a message of goodwill for the future, by-gones by-gones, all recrimination and misunderstanding, all heart-burnings over, wiped out by that kind, dirty bit of cloth."

Bertrand Russell, recently released from prison, walked up Totten­ham Court Road and watched Londoners pour out of shops and offices into the street to cheer. The public jubilation made him think of the similar mood he had witnessed when war was declared more than four years earlier. "The crowd was frivolous still, and had learned nothing during the period of horror.... I felt strangely solitary amid the rejoicings, like a ghost dropped by accident from some other planet.

Alfred Milner was woken that morning by a message that the Armi­stice had been signed. At 11 a.m. fireworks were shot off, bugles sounded, church bells rang, and Big Ben began striking again after more than four years of silence. Later in the day, Milner and other War Office offi­cials were received by the King and Queen. They emerged from Buck­ingham Palace to join a huge crowd wildly cheering the appearance of the royal family on the palace balcony while bands played. Another crowd started a celebratory bonfire in Trafalgar Square, ripping signs off the sides of London buses to feed the flames. That evening, "Lady Edward dined with me," Milner noted in his diary. Then, like the con­summate bureaucrat he was, he recorded escorting her to her lodgings "through crowded streets of rejoicing people—very orderly. Walked home again and sat up working till 2 a.m."

As church bells rang triumphantly throughout Britain, Carrie Kip­ling wrote in her diary, "A world to be remade without a son."

John Buchan toured the Department of Information, shaking hands with members of his staff. Above all, he felt exhausted: "I never realized how tired I was till the war stopped." The war had cost the lives of his brother and half of his closest friends. At the end of the year he wrote, "There are far more dead than living now."

At only 25, Wilfred Owen had never published a book but had in his notebooks the finest body of poetry about the experience of war written in the twentieth century. At noon on November n, an hour into the celebrations, Owens mother received the black-bordered War Office telegram telling her that, a week earlier, her son had been killed in action.

In verses about this day, another poet, Thomas Hardy, wrote:

"Calm fell. From heaven distilled a clemency; there was peace on earth, and silence in the sky; some could, some could not, shake off misery: The Sinister Spirit sneered: "It had to be!" And again the Spirit of Pity whispered, "Why?"

I've read many of the great anti-war novels such as All Quiet on the Western Front, The Red Badge of Courage and Johnny Got His Gun, books I read as a young teen and they have all had a profound impact on my views about the quintessence of human stupidity called War. Movies have been made of all three of the aforementioned novels, including Johnny Got His Gun by Dalton Trumbo who was blacklisted during the disgraceful McCarthy "red scare" witch hunts of the late 1940s and early 1950s. Last night on TCM they featured the superlative 1930 version of All Quiet on the Western Front which I had to watch again. If you've never seen the 1971 movie version of Johnny Got his Gun, it's a must. Trumbo, a brilliant author and screenwriter wrote the screenplay for Kirk Douglas' World War I film Paths of Glory (1957), arguably the best anti-war movie of all time. But Douglas, who was brilliant in the leading role, was also the producer and insisted that Dalton Trumbo start using his real name rather than the pseudonym he'd been using. You'll see Trumbo's name in the credits. Another of my favourites, qualifying as both one of the best all-time science fiction and anti-war movies is The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951) that was re-run on TCM the other night.

Read Hochschild's book, enlighten yourself - and weep....


The outstanding article below by Adam Hochschild is based on his new book.

The Untold War Story -- Then and Now

Going Beyond the Tale of a Boy and His Horse

by Adam Hochschild

Well in advance of the 2014 centennial of the beginning of “the war to end all wars,” the First World War is suddenly everywhere in our lives. Stephen Spielberg’s War Horse opened on 2,376 movie screens and has collected six Oscar nominations, while the hugely successful play it’s based on is still packing in the crowds in New York and a second production is being readied to tour the country.

In addition, the must-watch TV soap opera of the last two months, Downton Abbey, has just concluded its season on an unexpected kiss. In seven episodes, its upstairs-downstairs world of forbidden love and dynastic troubles took American viewers from mid-war, 1916, beyond the Armistice, with the venerable Abbey itself turned into a convalescent hospital for wounded troops. Other dramas about the 1914-1918 war are on the way, among them an HBO-BBC miniseries based on Ford Madox Ford’s Parade’s End quartet of novels, and a TV adaptation of Sebastian Faulks’s novel Birdsong from an NBC-backed production company.

In truth, there’s nothing new in this. Filmmakers and novelists have long been fascinated by the way the optimistic, sunlit, pre-1914 Europe of emperors in plumed helmets and hussars on parade so quickly turned into a mass slaughterhouse on an unprecedented scale. And there are good reasons to look at the First World War carefully and closely.

After all, it was responsible for the deaths of some nine million soldiers and an even larger number of civilians. It helped ignite the Armenian genocide and the Russian Revolution, left large swaths of Europe in smoldering ruins, and remade the world for the worse in almost every conceivable way -- above all, by laying the groundwork for a second and even more deadly, even more global war.

There are good reasons as well for us to be particularly haunted by what happened in those war years to the country that figures in all four of these film and TV productions: Britain. In 1914, that nation was at the apex of glory, the unquestioned global superpower, ruling over the largest empire the world had ever seen. Four and a half years later its national debt had increased tenfold, more than 720,000 British soldiers were dead, and hundreds of thousands more seriously wounded, many of them missing arms, legs, eyes, genitals.

The toll fell particularly heavily on the educated classes that supplied the young lieutenants and captains who led their troops out of the trenches and into murderous machine-gun fire. To give but a single stunning example, of the men who graduated from Oxford in 1913, 31% were killed.

“Swept Away in a Red Blast of Hate”

Yet curiously, for all the spectacle of boy and horse, thundering cavalry charges, muddy trenches, and wartime love and loss, the makers of War Horse, Downton Abbey and -- I have no doubt -- the similar productions we’ll soon be watching largely skip over the greatest moral drama of those years of conflict, one that continues to echo in our own time of costly and needless wars. They do so by leaving out part of the cast of characters of that moment. The First World War was not just a battle between rival armies, but also a powerful, if one-sided, battle between those who assumed the war was a noble crusade and those who thought it absolute madness.

The war’s opponents went to jail in many countries. There were more than 500 conscientious objectors imprisoned in the United States in those years, for example, plus others jailed for speaking out against joining the conflict. Eugene V. Debs had known prison from his time as a railway union leader, but he spent far longer behind bars -- more than two years -- for urging American men to resist the draft. Convicted of sedition, he was still in his cell at the federal penitentiary in Atlanta in November 1920 when, long after the war ended, he received nearly a million votes as the Socialist candidate for President.

One American protest against the war turned to tragedy when, in 1917, Oklahoma police arrested nearly 500 draft resisters -- white, black, and Native American -- taking part in what they called the Green Corn Rebellion against “a rich man’s war, poor man’s fight.” Three were killed and many injured.

War resisters were also thrown in jail in Germany and Russia. But the country with the largest and best organized antiwar movement -- and here’s where the creators of those film and TV costume dramas so beloved by Anglophile American audiences miss a crucial opportunity -- was Britain.

The main reason opposition to the war proved relatively strong there was simple enough: in 1914, the island nation had not been attacked. German invaders marched into France and Belgium, but Germany hoped Britain would stay out of the war. And so did some Britons. When their country joined the fighting on the grounds that Germany had violated Belgian neutrality, a vocal minority continued to insist that jumping into a quarrel among other countries was a disastrous mistake.

Keir Hardie was a prominent early war opponent. A trade union leader and Member of Parliament, he had, by the age of 21, already spent half his life as a coal miner and he never went to school. Nonetheless, he became one of the great orators of the age, mesmerizing crowds with his eloquence, his piercing, heavy-browed eyes, and a striking red beard. Crushed with despair that millions of Europe’s working men were slaughtering one another rather than making common cause in fighting for their rights, his beard white, he died in 1915, still in his 50s.

Among those who bravely challenged the war fever, whose rallies were often violently broken up by the police or patriotic mobs, was well-known radical feminist Charlotte Despard. Her younger brother, amazingly, was Field Marshal Sir John French, commander-in-chief of the Western Front for the first year and a half of the war. A similarly driven family was the famous Pankhurst clan of suffragettes: Sylvia Pankhurst became an outspoken opponent of the conflict, while her sister Christabel was from the beginning a fervent drum-beater for the war effort. They not only stopped speaking to each other, but published rival newspapers that regularly attacked the other’s work.

Britain’s leading investigative journalist, Edmund Dene Morel, and its most famous philosopher, Bertrand Russell*, were both passionate war critics. “This war is trivial, for all its vastness,” Russell wrote. “No great principle is at stake, no great human purpose is involved on either side.” He was appalled to see his fellow citizens “swept away in a red blast of hate.”

* [My (JR) footnote]

"Bertrand Russell's crime was pacifism, writing a pamphlet condemning the war and pleading with young men to avoid the conscription and impending slaughter. During the First World War Russell's anti-war activism challenged British society and especially it's conservative elites who were passionately promoting the war. In July 1914 he collected signatures from fellow professors for a statement urging England to remain neutral in the impending  war. When the British were swept into the war and 90% of the population favoured the fighting and killing, Russell was horrified and reassessed his views of human nature. In a letter to the London Nation for August 15 he criticized the pride of patriotism which promotes mass murder. In 1916 Russell began to work for the "No Conscription Fellowship"; he became its chairman when all of the original committee members were sent to prison. He wrote a pamphlet to defend the case of Ernest Everett, who had refused military service. When six men were arrested for distributing the leaflet, Russell wrote to The Times declaring he was its author. Russell was accused of hampering recruiting, and as his own attorney he explained that the case of a conscientious objector could hardly influence someone who is considering volunteering. He cited the English tradition of liberty, but he was convicted nonetheless. When he refused to pay the fine, the authorities preferred confiscating some of his possessions to putting the famous mathematician and philosopher in prison. This conviction, however, prevented him from getting a passport to visit America to plead with their government to stay out of the war. Russell also felt that the more policemen and officials they could occupy with the innocent work of monitoring their pacifist activities, the fewer men would be available for the "official business of killing each other."

After Woodrow Wilson's re-election in 1916 in the US, Russell wrote an open letter to the President which Katherine Dudley smuggled across the Atlantic. He appealed to the United States Government to make peace between the European governments. Russell's speeches to munitions workers in South Wales were inaccurately reported by detectives, and the War Office forbade Russell from entering prohibited areas. In January 1918 an article by Russell appeared in a little weekly newspaper called The Tribunal suggesting that American soldiers were likely to be used as strike-breakers in England, because they had been employed in that way in the United States. This statement was backed up by a Senate Report. For this, Russell was sentenced to prison for six months.

Russell, one of the greatest intellectuals of the twentieth century, by an accident of birth and the harsh British class system, was deemed an "aristocrat", and consequently was able to spend the six month prison sentence under more humane conditions than ordinary mortals. However, he spent his time in prison productively writing a very excellent introduction on the Philosophy of Mathematics, a book still as lively and relevant today as it was then. He was also punished by Cambridge University where, despite the fact he was a world renown mathematician, philosopher and public intellectual, he was dismissed from his position at the University.

He [Russell] wrote with remarkable candor about how difficult it was to go against the current of the national war fever “when the whole nation is in a state of violent collective excitement. As much effort was required to avoid sharing this excitement as would have been needed to stand out against the extreme of hunger or sexual passion, and there was the same feeling of going against instinct.”

Both Russell and Morel spent six months in prison for their beliefs. Morel served his term at hard labor, carrying 100-pound slabs of jute to the prison workshop while subsisting on a bare-bones diet during a frigid winter when prison furnaces were last in line for the nation’s scarce supply of coal.

Women like Violet Tillard went to jail as well. She worked for an antiwar newspaper banned in 1918 and was imprisoned for refusing to reveal the location of its clandestine printing press. And among the unsung heroines of that antiwar moment was Emily Hobhouse, who secretly traveled through neutral Switzerland to Berlin, met the German foreign minister, talked over possible peace terms, and then returned to England to try to do the same with the British government. Its officials dismissed her as a lone-wolf eccentric, but in a conflict that killed some 20 million people, she was the sole human being who journeyed from one side to the other and back again in search of peace.

Why We Know More About War Than Peace

By the war’s end, more than 20,000 British men had defied the draft and, as a matter of principle, many also refused the alternative service prescribed for conscientious objectors, like ambulance driving at the front or working in a war industry. More than 6,000 of them were put behind bars -- up to that moment the largest number of people ever imprisoned for political reasons in a western democracy.

There was nothing easy about any of this. Draft refusers were mocked and jeered (mobs threw rotten eggs at them when given the chance), jailed under harsh conditions, and lost the right to vote for five years. But with war’s end, in a devastated country mourning its losses and wondering what could possibly justify that four-year slaughter, many people came to feel differently about the resisters. More than half a dozen were eventually elected to the House of Commons and the journalist Morel became the Labour Party’s chief Parliamentary spokesperson on foreign affairs. Thirty years after the Armistice, a trade unionist named Arthur Creech Jones, who had spent two and a half years in prison as a war resister, was appointed to the British cabinet.

The bravery of such men and women in speaking their minds on one of the great questions of the age cost them dearly: in public scorn, prison terms, divided families, lost friends and jobs. And yet they are largely forgotten today at a moment when resistance to pointless wars should be celebrated. Instead we almost always tend to celebrate those who fight wars -- win or lose -- rather than those who oppose them.

It’s not just the films and TV shows we watch, but the monuments and museums we build. No wonder, as General Omar Bradley once said, that we “know more about war than we know about peace.” We tend to think of wars as occasions for heroism, and in a narrow, simple sense they can be. But a larger heroism, sorely lacking in Washington this last decade, lies in daring to think through whether a war is worth fighting at all. In looking for lessons in wars past, there’s a much deeper story to be told than that of a boy and his horse.

© 2012 Adam Hochschild

Adam Hochschild is the San Francisco-based author of seven books, including King Leopold’s Ghost. His new book To End All Wars: A Story of Loyalty and Rebellion, 1914-1918 (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt), has just been published.

Reader Comment:

…just a few thoughts

War is a transformative event - ww1 saw the destruction of the upper classes in Europe - the Europe that emerged from the war was not like the one who got into it

"Norman Dodd, former director of the Committee to Investigate Tax Exempt Foundations of the U.S. House of Representatives, testified that the Committee was invited to study the minutes of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace as part of the Committee's investigation. The Committee stated: "The trustees of the Foundation brought up a single question. If it is desirable to alter the life of an entire people, is there any means more efficient than war.... They discussed this question... for a year and came up with an answer: There are no known means more efficient than war, assuming the objective is altering the life of an entire people. That leads them to a question: How do we involve the United States in a war. This is in 1909."

So the decision was made to involve the United States in a war so that the "life of the entire people could be altered." This was the conclusion of a foundation supposedly committed to "peace.""


WW I made the Rothschild's lots of money as they financed both sides

partial list of war profiteers during ww1 in Amerika - pre war income and war income listed

DuPont (Gunpowder) $ 6,000,000  - $ 58.000,000
Bethlehem Steel $ 6,000,000 -  $ 49,000,000
United States Steel $ 105,000,000  - $ 240,000,000
Anaconda $ 10,000,000 $  - 34,000,000
Utah Copper $ 5,000,000 - $ 21,000,000
Central Leather Company $ 3,500,000  - $ 15,000,000
International Nickel Company $ 4,000,000  - $ 73,000,000
American Sugar Refining Company $ 2,000,000 - $ 6,000,000


the writer talks about the intellectuals who were jailed over ww1

Ezra Pound was jailed for 13 years after ww2 without charge - originally charged with treason he was acquitted of that one of the greatest amerikan poets and mentor to many of the great writers of early 20th century

"Working in London in the early 20th century as foreign editor of several American literary magazines, Pound helped to discover and shape the work of contemporaries such as T. S. Eliot, James Joyce, Robert Frost, and Ernest Hemingway. Pound was responsible for the publication in 1915 of Eliot's "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock", and for the serialization from 1918 of Joyce's Ulysses. Hemingway wrote in 1925: "He defends [his friends] when they are attacked, he gets them into magazines and out of jail. He loans them money. ... He writes articles about them. He introduces them to wealthy women. He gets publishers to take their books. He sits up all night with them when they claim to be dying ... he advances them hospital expenses and dissuades them from suicide.""


"on his return from Italy to the USA in 1945 pound was charged for treason for broadcasting anti American propaganda. he was acquitted in 1946 but was committed to a psychiatric institution where he remained until 1958"


after ww1 the disillusioned vets rioted in England, France and Germany

in America we had the bonus army

"the Bonus Army was the popular name of an assemblage of some 43,000 marchers—17,000 World War I veterans, their families, and affiliated groups—who gathered in Washington, D.C., in the spring and summer of 1932 to demand immediate cash-payment redemption of their service certificates."


ww2 was a continuation of ww1 in many ways but contrary to the myth history it was primarily a war between Russia and Germany

war is a racket

"War Is a Racket is the title of two works, a speech and a booklet, by retired United States Marine Corps Major General Smedley D. Butler. In them, Butler frankly discusses from his experience as a career military officer how business interests commercially benefit from warfare."


"I spent 33 years and four months in active military service and during that period I spent most of my time as a high class muscle man for Big Business, for Wall Street and the bankers. In short, I was a racketeer, a gangster for capitalism. I helped make Mexico and especially Tampico safe for American oil interests in 1914. I helped make Haiti and Cuba a decent place for the National City Bank boys to collect revenues in. I helped in the raping of half a dozen Central American republics for the benefit of Wall Street. I helped purify Nicaragua for the International Banking House of Brown Brothers in 1902-1912. I brought light to the Dominican Republic for the American sugar interests in 1916. I helped make Honduras right for the American fruit companies in 1903. In China in 1927 I helped see to it that Standard Oil went on its way unmolested. Looking back on it, I might have given Al Capone a few hints. The best he could do was to operate his racket in three districts. I operated on three continents."


what's as old as the hills is new again in fascist Amerika

Hey let's go to war

with Syria

Line 'em up we'll set 'em down


Disabled by Wilfred Owen (killed in France, Nov. 1918)

He sat in a wheeled chair, waiting for dark,
And shivered in his ghastly suit of grey,
Legless, sewn short at elbow. Through the park
Voices of boys rang saddening like a hymn,
Voices of play and pleasure after day,
Till gathering sleep had mothered them from him.

About this time Town used to swing so gay
When glow-lamps budded in the light blue trees,
And girls glanced lovelier as the air grew dim, -
In the old times, before he threw away his knees.
Now he will never feel again how slim
Girls' waists are, or how warm their subtle hands;
All of them touch him like some queer disease.

There was an artist silly for his face,
For it was younger than his youth, last year.
Now, he is old; his back will never brace;
He's lost his colour very far from here,
Poured it down shell-holes till the veins ran dry,
And half his lifetime lapsed in the hot race
And leap of purple spurted from his thigh.

One time he liked a blood-smear down his leg,
After the matches, carried shoulder-high.
It was after football, when he'd drunk a peg,
He thought he'd better join. - He wonders why.
Someone had said he'd look a god in kilts,
That's why; and may be, too, to please his Meg;
Aye, that was it, to please the giddy jilts

He asked to join. He didn't have to beg;
Smiling they wrote his lie; aged nineteen years.
Germans he scarcely thought of; all their guilt,
And Austria's, did not move him. And no fears
Of Fear came yet. He thought of jewelled hilts
For daggers in plaid socks; of smart salutes;
And care of arms; and leave; and pay arrears;
Esprit de corps; and hints for young recruits.
And soon, he was drafted out with drums and cheers.

Some cheered him home, but not as crowds cheer Goal.
Only a solemn man who brought him fruits
Thanked him; and then inquired about his soul.

Now, he will spend a few sick years in institutes,
And do what things the rules consider wise,
And take whatever pity they may dole.
To-night he noticed how the women's eyes
Passed from him to the strong men that were whole.
How cold and late it is! Why don't they come
And put him into bed? Why don't they come?


The Pacifists and the Trenches



A Story of Loyalty and Rebellion, 1914-1918

By Adam Hochschild

Illustrated. 448 pp, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Woodrow Wilson’s fatuous claim about the European war of 1914-18 — sarcastically annexed by Adam Hochschild for the title of this moving and important book — was an object of satire and contempt even as it was being uttered. “A peace to end peace,” commented Sir Alfred Milner, that powerhouse of the British war cabinet, as he surveyed the terms of the Versailles treaty that supposedly brought the combat to a close. Increasingly, modern historians have come to regard that bleak November “armistice” as a mere truce in a long, terrible conflict that almost sent civilization into total eclipse and that did not really terminate until the peaceful and democratic reunification of Germany after November 1989. Even that might be an optimistic reading: the post-1918 frontiers of the former Ottoman Empire (one of the four great thrones that did not outlast the “First” World War) are still a suppurating source of violence and embitterment.

In his previous works, on subjects as diverse as the Belgian Congo and the victims of Stalinism, Hochschild has distinguished himself as a historian “from below,” as it were, or from the viewpoint of the victims. He stays loyal to this method in “To End All Wars,” concentrating on the appalling losses suffered by the rank and file and the extraordinary courage of those who decided that the war was not a just one. Since many of the latter were of the upper classes, some of them with close relatives in power, he is enabled to shift between the upstairs-downstairs settings of post-Edwardian England, as its denizens began in their different ways to realize that the world they had cherished was passing forever.

No single narrative can do justice to an inferno whose victims still remain uncounted. Hochschild tries to encompass the global scope of the disaster, and to keep us updated with accounts of what was occurring at a given time in Russia and the United States, but his main setting is England and his chief concern the Western Front. In this hecatomb along the minor rivers of Flanders and Picardy, the British people lost the cream of their working class and the flower of their aristocracy. The poems of Wilfred Owen and Rudyard Kipling, in their contrasting ways, still have the power to touch the tragic chord of memory that Hochschild strives to evoke.

For men like the Earl of Lansdowne, who tried to propose a negotiated peace, the terrifying thought was the slaughter of the class of well-bred young officers. (Of the 10 grandsons of the Marquess of Salisbury, five were killed in action.) For others, like Fenner Brockway, Alice Wheeldon and John S. Clarke, the war represented the human sacrifice of those miners, railwaymen and engineers whose skills should have been used instead to depose the aristocracy and build a new society. For them, it was a matter of common cause among British, German and Russian workers, and for this principle they risked harsh imprisonment, punitive conscription and even death. Ironically, perhaps, the most renowned of these resisters was Bertrand Russell, a dedicated leftist who was harder to silence precisely because he was the grandson of an earl. Hochschild has done his level best to build a memorial to these dissenters, and is hugely to be congratulated on his hard work: as a buff on this subject, I thought I was the only one who knew about Clarke, an obdurate Marxist who earned his living as a circus impresario and lion tamer.

However, once the howitzers had started their bellowing, proletarian internationalism had a marked tendency to evaporate. Only Lenin and a handful of other irreducible revolutionaries bided their time, waiting for the war to devour those monarchs who had been foolish enough to start it. Meanwhile, fratricide was the rule. Under the fog of war, the Armenians (not really dealt with here) were put to the sword in the 20th century’s first genocide, and British artillery was used in Dublin streets to put down an Irish rising.

Ruthless as they were in the killing of others, the generals were also shockingly profligate and callous when it came to their “own.” In some especially revolting passages, we find Gen. Sir Douglas Haig and his arrogant subordinate Gen. Sir Henry Rawlinson actually complaining when British casualties were too low, and exulting — presumably because enemy losses were deemed comparable — when they moved into the tens of thousands. What this meant in cold terms was the destruction of whole regiments, often comprising (as in the cases of Newfoundland and Ulster) entire communities back home who had volunteered as a body and stayed together in arms. They vanished, in clouds of poison gas, hails of steel splinters and great lakes of sucking mud. Or lay in lines, reminding all observers of mown-down corn, along the barbed wire and machine-gun emplacements against which they had been thrown. Like me, Hochschild has visited the mass graves and their markers, which still lie along the fields of northern France and Belgium, and been overwhelmed by what Wilfred Owen starkly and simply called “the pity of War.” (Owen was to die pointlessly as the guns were falling silent: his mother received the telegram as the church bells were ringing to celebrate the armistice — or better in retrospect to say “fragile cease-fire.”)

We read these stirring yet wrenching accounts, of soldiers setting off to battle accompanied by cheers, and shudder because we know what they do not. We know what is coming, in other words. And coming not only to them. What is really coming, stepping jackbooted over the poisoned ruins of civilized Europe, is the pornographic figure of the Nazi. Again, Hochschild is an acute register. He has read the relevant passages of “Mein Kampf,” in which a gassed and wounded Austrian corporal began to incubate the idea of a ghastly revenge. He notes the increasing anti-Semitism of decaying wartime imperial Germany, with its vile rumors of Jewish cowardice and machination. And he approaches a truly arresting realization: Nazism can perhaps be avoided, but only on condition that German militarism is not too heavily defeated on the battlefield.

This highly unsettling reflection is important above all for American readers. If General Pershing’s fresh and plucky troops had not reached the scene in the closing stages of the bloodbath, universal exhaustion would almost certainly have compelled an earlier armistice, on less savage terms. Without President Wilson’s intervention, the incensed and traumatized French would never have been able to impose terms of humiliation on Germany; the very terms that Hitler was to reverse, by such relentless means, a matter of two decades later. In this light, the great American socialist Eugene V. Debs, who publicly opposed the war and was kept in prison by a vindictive Wilson until long after its ending, looks like a prescient hero. Indeed, so do many of the antiwar militants to whose often-buried record Hochschild has done honor. (Unsentimental to the last, though, he shows that many of them went on to lose or waste their lives on Bolshevism, the other great mutant system to emerge from the abattoir.) This is a book to make one feel deeply and painfully, and also to think hard.

Christopher Hitchens is a columnist for Vanity Fair. His memoir, “Hitch-22,” will be published in paperback next month.

When the lights went out in Europe

A review by Jonathan F. Vance

Globe and Mail

When I teach the First World War to my students, I often ask them one of those impossible, unanswerable questions to jump-start the debate: Is it more convincing to see the war as the last gasp of the old order, or the first breath of the new? Of course, it’s both – but after reading Adam Hochschild’s absorbing new book, I am more persuaded than ever that the Great War fits better at the close of the 19th century than the dawn of the 20th.

To End All Wars is about the clash of world views that occurred as traditionalism and modernism jostled for primacy in wartime Britain. The conflict pitted the bulk of the British population – who supported the war, cheered the suspension of civil liberties and eagerly consumed all manner of alarmist propaganda – against a small group of pacifists and socialists who opposed the war, pleaded for tolerance, and remained passionate defenders of social justice. This simplistic calculus – pro-war = traditionalism = bad; anti-war = modernism = good – has already derailed many a book, but Hochschild is too good a writer to fall into that trap.

His narrative takes the main actors from the turbulent years of social and political unrest before 1914 to the even more turbulent years after 1918, and reveals them as bundles of contradictions who defy easy categorization. British commander-in-chief Sir Douglas Haig, childishly devout and completely unable to engage in conversation (there is a lovely anecdote about a briefing by Haig that consisted only of grunts and the occasional random word; fortunately, his subordinates were fluent in Haig-speak), had an almost criminal disregard for the lives of his soldiers, but he was one of the few people with any influence to argue that harsh peace terms would destabilize Europe.

Emmeline Pankhurst, the radical suffragette, cheered when her allies bombed the house of Chancellor of the Exchequer David Lloyd George in 1913, but a year later the war had made her such a hawk that she was almost a puppet of his government and had turned against her own daughter Sylvia, who continued to espouse pacifism.

In short, this is the story of a world turned upside down. Joan Littlewood’s iconic play Oh! What a Lovely War (1963) cast the war as a Pierrot show, in which jaunty contemporary songs contrasted jarringly with the tragic clowns. Richard Attenborough’s 1969 screen adaptation turned it into a carnival where the amusements of the ruling elites were paid for with the lives of their subjects.

Hochschild continues that tradition, giving us a true theatre of the absurd. How else to explain enemies trading during wartime, such as the British government striking a deal with Berlin to exchange binoculars and other optical devices (only Germany had the technical capacity to manufacture high-quality optical lenses in quantity) for rubber from the British Empire (which the German army desperately needed to keep the machines of war rolling)?

This is a contradiction to us, but would have seemed less so at the time. We see war as the last resort, the ultimate catastrophe, but a century ago, war was a policy option, worse than some alternatives but certainly better than others. As Hochschild points out, for the rulers of the Austro-Hungarian empire in 1914, war could mean salvation and the birth of a new, greater empire; peace would lead only to continued squabbling and the slow dissolution of a fractious empire. It may seem bizarre in the 21st century, but not so long ago there was little reason why a war should interrupt trade or why it couldn’t be a legitimate means of national renewal.

As he showed with the award-winning King Leopold’s Ghost: A Story of Greed, Terror and Heroism in Colonial Africa (1998), Hochschild is a consummate storyteller. His analysis of the First World War is fairly conventional, and in terms of understanding the impact of the war on modern Britain he offers little that historians from George Dangerfield to A.J.P. Taylor have not already said. But somehow it doesn’t really matter because To End All Wars is such a captivating read, thanks in large part to Hochschild’s keen eye for the telling vignette.

One such story concerns Antarctic explorer Sir Ernest Shackleton, who was beginning his epic journey to the South Pole when the war broke out. He offered to return to England and put his men and ship at the service of King and Empire, but the British government urged him to carry on. In 1916, Shackleton emerged from the polar wastes after a harrowing 18-month journey that saw his ship crushed by pack ice. His first question upon arriving at a Norwegian whaling station was, “When was the war over?” The startled response: “The War is not over. Millions are being killed. Europe is mad. The world is mad.”

Shackleton had set out in the golden summer of 1914 (which Hochschild beautifully sketches in tones reminiscent of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Tender Is the Night), when the grumbles of a few Balkan troublemakers could hardly dim the sunlight that suffused the Western world. By the time he returned to “civilization,” the lights had gone out and the old world was fighting for its very survival. Shackleton had emerged from hell, only to return to a society that was still there.

Jonathan F. Vance teaches military and cultural history at the University of Western Ontario. His Maple Leaf Empire: Canadians in Britain through Two World Wars is forthcoming.


"When this century collapses, dead at last,
And its sleep within the dark tomb has begun,
Come, look down upon us, world, file past
And be ashamed of what our age has done.

Inscribe our stone, that everyone may see
What this dead era valued most and best:
Science, progress, work, technology
And death - but death we prized above the rest."

These verses, written by early 20th-century Czech playwright and author Karel Capek, sounded a fitting leitmotif as I read Adam Hochschild's "To End All Wars: A Story of Loyalty and Rebellion, 1914-1918." The 20th century was one ravaged by two world wars, genocide, and countless `smaller' wars. But for sheer brutality, for the slaughter that turned hundreds of miles of trenches into a charnel house of unprecedented proportions it is hard to imagine a place or time when death was prized more than it was during the war to end all wars.

Histories of World War I abound, from Barbara Tuchman (The Guns of August) to Winston Churchill (The World Crisis, 1911-1918) to John Keegan (The First World War). There are no shortage of books about the bravery of the soldiers who rose from their trenches and marched into certain death. Similarly there are no shortage of books about the almost criminally incompetent British and French Generals whose strategic planning (if you could call it that) was horrifically simple: send hundreds of thousands of men forward against entrenched positions and hope the Germans ran out of machine gun bullets before the British and French forces ran out of men. Not so readily available are books that take a look at the relatively few people who stood up and spoke out against the indiscriminate slaughter. Hochschild balances the scales a bit by taking a look at the stories and motivations behind those few souls who opposed it.

The book is set up as a straightforward chronological narrative beginning with Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee in 1897 celebrating the 60 years of her monarchy, through the Boer War and the introduction of concentration camps and the use of machine guns as one of the original weapons of mass destruction, the lead up to war, and then a chronological narrative of the war itself. This is all well-plowed ground and if this were simply a narrative of the war it would be a well-written popular history that would serve as a good introduction to the period. However, Hochschild intersperses the traditional narrative with a parallel narrative that was not nearly so familiar to me. While focusing on Britain's role in the war, Hochschild tells us the stories of people like Keir Hardie, Sylvia Pankhurst, Charlotte Despard (the brother of General John French, who was to become Commander in Chief of the British Expeditionary Forces), Emily Hobhouse, Bertrand Russell and others. These were people from all walks of life who for various reasons, political, social, or religious, opposed the war. Hochschild also looks at some of those who stridently supported the war from the sidelines, including Rudyard Kipling and the author John Buchan (The Thirty-Nine Steps (Dover Thrift Editions)) who lashed out at those who did not adopt the motto For King and Country.

What Hochschild does very well in his book is to explore the family and social connections between the groups leading Britain into war and those few who opposed it. Causalities in World War I, as Hochschild points out hit the upper classes particularly hard. The officer class in the British military was almost exclusively drawn from the upper echelons of British society and their losses in the war were very high. One cliché about the American Civil War describes it as one in which brother fought against brother. Here we had upper class families rent asunder between those who fought (and often died) and those within their ranks who opposed it and sometimes went to prison for those beliefs.

The Russian poet Nadezhda Mandelstam once wrote of the great deeds that can be accomplished by people who with great courage stand up and speak out on behalf of their conscience: that "a person with inner freedom, memory, and fear is that reed, that twig that changes the direction of a rushing river." Hochschild does an excellent job writing about the twigs that desperately wanted to change the rushing river of blood that carried millions of people off to die. Their failure to achieve this goal, however, in no way diminishes their value and the value of this book.



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