Sunday, April 21, 2013

A Sunday Book Review - 'To End All Wars'

I have been busy writing my  A-Z Challenge posts, which has left little time for much else other than my yoga classes.  Don't get me wrong.  I am having a wonderful time reliving my past trips and on the plus side, all of my photos are now in really great shape!

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

Consequently, it has taken me several weeks to read Adam Hochschild's account of World War I, 'To End All Wars'. But, I finished it Wednesday night and am glad I stuck with it.
Even had I not been busy with blogging, it would not have been a fast read.  It is an historical account, not historical fiction.  Like going to see the movie 'Titanic', you already know the ending. 

My knowledge of this war before reading the book consisted of knowing the impetus and the date of the Armistice.  The impetus was the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand in Sarajevo in June, 1914.  The Armistice was signed on November 11, 1918.  And I knew that there were great numbers of casualties, just not how many.

Hochschild concentrates his writings on the war as experienced by Great Britain.  Before reading the book the only names familiar to me were Bertrand Russell and Rudyard Kipling.  But Hochschild gets into the lives of those both in agreement with the conflict and those protesting the war.  He follows them from their lives prior to the conflict to where they died years after the war's end.

I learned that Germany transported Lenin from Switzerland to Russia after the uprising there to depose the Tsar.  I also learned that Germany urged Austria to declare war so that they could have another shot at French territory.  And it was a 'family affair' with German, Russian and British royals all related to each other.

Those of you who watch 'Downton Abbey' may have seen the trench warfare depicted.  It was much more awful than I ever imagined.  The war was a ghastly stalemate from 1915 until the armistice and soldiers were making bets on where the front line would be in 50 years.  The lack of expertise and knowledge of both the political and military leadership of virtually every participating nation is astonishing.  But the numbers of casualties is really hard to fathom:  “more than 8.5 million soldiers were killed on all fronts,” with civilian deaths “estimated at 12 to 13 million”.  According to Hochschild, the flu that took so many lives at the end of the war was brought to Europe by U.S. soldiers being deployed from a camp in Kansas.  (Did I read that correctly?)

Two weeks ago when I was working my volunteer shift at the library, I struck up a conversation with an older gentleman (78).  He asked me what I was reading and I told him.  He told me that he was imprisoned in a concentration camp during World War II and that the only members of his family to survive were he and his mother.  He also said that World War I and the botched treaties set the stage for World War II.  He was absolutely correct. 

France was given the lead in dictating the terms of the armistice and the Treaty of Versailles to be signed in 1919.  The terms laid down left Germany bitter, angry and vindictive, and paved the way for Hitler and the cataclysm that followed. 

This war saw the end of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, the Germany Empire, the Ottoman Empire, and the Russian Empire.  Unfortunately, it did not 'end all wars'.

This is a book I would recommend for anyone interested in history.

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