Friday, May 13, 2011

"To End All Wars" -- not by a long shot

Almost a century after it started, World War I continues to fascinate. I read the favorable New York Times review by Christopher Hitchens and the author's introduction to "To End All Wars: A Story of Loyalty and Rebellion, 1914-1918,” by Adam Hochschild (illustrated. 448 pp. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. $28).  Hitchens has many good things to say about, although he notes that "no single narrative can do justice to an inferno whose victims still remain uncounted." 

Indeed. When I was born in 1950, the end of The Great War was only 32 years in the past. In contrast, the end of World War II, which we now acknowledge as a continuation of the first, was a scant five years in the past. The U.S. was already engaged in another one in Korea, and my generation of boys was busy being hatched for Vietnam. My country has spent the 21st century at war in Afghanistan and Iraq, with scores of "little wars" raging all over the globe. 

"The war to end all wars" was Pres. Wilson's phrase. Many in Wilson's Democratic Party felt betrayed when Wilson, who campaigned in 1916 on the motto "He kept us out of war," plunged the U.S. into the inferno. He instituted a military draft and came down hard on anti-war groups. Still, he was part of the Progressive Movement and instituted many progressive programs during his first term. He was also an internationalist, an egghead with a Ph.D. One of the best and the brightest. When have we heard that term before? I remember. It referred to Kennedy's architects of Vietnam, as described in David Halberstam's book.

Pres. Obama, a Democrat, didn't get us started down the path to endless war. A Republican, George W. Bush, ordered the attack on Afghanistan, considered by many (me included) to me justified. He also launched the pointless war in Iraq, which I staunchly opposed. It seems that the U.S. has inherited endless war along with its claim as Lone World Super Power.

Super Powers can be brought low, too. In the first chapter, Hochschild describes the incredible pomp and circumstance of Queen Victoria's diamond jubilee celebration in 1897. What a party it was. England ruled the waves and almost one-quarter of the earth's land. Troopers in full dress uniform from India, Burma, Canada, Australia, Trinidad, South Africa, and others marched in the parade. Scores of congratulatory notes were sent, many from the U.S. They all praised Britain's supremacy in the world. Here's an amazing and silly one:
...across the Atlantic, the New York Times virtually claimed membership in the empire: "We are a part, and a great part, of the Greater Britain which seems so plainly destined to dominate this planet." 
World War I spelled the beginning of the end of England's supremacy.

Now that I've been teased by the opening chapters, I'm off to get a copy of the book. Read the review and excerpt here:

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