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.
more from Christopher Hitchens at the NY Times here.