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New Books in History
Today is Memorial Day here in the United States, the day on which we remember those who have fought and died in the service of our country. It's fitting, then, that we are talking to Adam Hochschild about his To End All Wars: A Story of Loyalty and Rebellion, 1914-1918 (Houghton Mifflin, 2011).
The book itself is a memorial of sorts, or rather a reminder of what may, in hindsight, seem to us to have been a kind of collective insanity. The Great Powers fought World War I over nothing in particular. They pursued no great cause, sought to right no terrible injustice. They appear to us, therefore, to have fought for no good reason and to have been, therefore, out of their heads. But here we are wrong, for the combatants were not insane. Not at all. They simply lived in a different world and, therefore, thought differently than we do. They fought, as Adam points out, because they wanted to fight. For them, the bloody struggle of nation against nation was a necessary and salutary phenomenon. War made them who they were; if they did not fight, they were nothing. And so they fought bravely and died in droves over nothing, really, but honor. Of course there were exceptions, people much like us who believed that war was neither necessary nor salutary in any way. Adam sensitively chronicles their (futile) attempts to convince their kin and countrymen that war[was]all bad and no good. They, too, fought bravely and sometimes died. We should remember them, too, on this Memorial Day.
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