[The first of a promised new leaf turned: short reviews! (At least until I can catch up.) I won't say I'm going Twitter 140 characters short, but maybe 140 words...]
Even the most diehard fan of military intervention would have a hard time defending World War I as a necessary war. When you read about the events that set the war into motion, it seems like nothing more than a group of bored European aristocrats spoiling for a fight until they realized the enormity of what they were doing. By then it was too late.
But Britain was still filled with the spirit of 19th century adventure, where the empire conquered piece after piece of the developing world and grew its own industry by leaps and bounds. Brought up on tales of adventure from Kipling, Stevenson, and Hope, young British men eagerly signed up to fight in Europe, hoping for the kind of military glory they'd always dreamed about, where they'd attack with bold cavalry charges, swords waving, enemies conquered. They may have been too young for the Boer War, but they wouldn't miss out this time.
Of course the world, and the way of fighting a war had changed a lot since the Boer War at the turn of the century. It's an old adage that generals always fight the previous war, and in this case, that would lead to disaster. One of the most fascinating parts of Adam Hochschild's tremendous book To End All Wars" is his examination of how ill-prepared Britain was to fight a modern war, and how their leaders shockingly ignore the facts that lay before them; at an astonishingly late point in the war, some British generals were still insisting that all they needed was one good cavalry charge.
The real focus of Hochschild's book, though, is the people who did not fall for the promises of military glory that were sold to the British people--the pacifists who lobbied against the war. At the time they were persecuted mercilessly, but in retrospect they look like the only ones who had any sanity. It was a hard road for many of them, but they stood their ground.
Even if you think all pacifists are softheaded, softhearted misguided ninnies, I still recommend Hochschild's book for his clear and compelling description of how the war was fought, or more often than not, misfought. It's a great book for fans of military history or just history in general.
(Okay, not 140 words, but I'm getting there...)