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Jan 20, 2017

They Stood Their Ground Against War

tags: Adam Hochschild; Michael Kazin; Caroline Moorhead; Tom Hayden

Trenches in World War 1

This post is by Murray Polner,  a blogger, writer and HNN’s senior Book Department editor.

"War, what is it good for?"--Elaine Benes, Seinfeld's friend.

"What harm did he do Thee, O Lord?"--An inscription placed by parents on their son's grave, killed at Gallipoli.

The Iraq-Afghan war is nothing compared to the Great War. Adam Hochschild's absolutely brilliant and eloquent "To End All Wars: A Study of Loyalty and Rebellion, 1914-1918" reported that a US War Department study in 1924 concluded that more than 8.6 million soldiers were killed and over 21 million were wounded in the four-years of mass, industrialized violence and the prostitution of science for purposes of sheer destruction--which continues apace today in American and Russian and Chinese laboratories getting ready for WW III.

WWI was a slaughterhouse, and the more cannon fodder the disputants needed the more they drafted anyone left standing including married men with children. In Britain, the upper, educated class's young men were killed and crippled at an alarming rate, which fascinated Americans drawn to the aura of a war with no blood or amputated limbs in "Upstairs Downstairs" and Downton Abbey." The realty was quite another thing, Hochschild tells us. Lord Salisbury, a former British PM, lost five grandsons; PM Herbert Asquith's eldest son was killed in battle as were the two sons of the future PM Bonar Law. 18-year old John Kipling died in France after which his super hawk father Rudyard, the perennial flag waver who never wore a military uniform, grieved deeply, and composed a couplet "Epitaph of the War:  If any question why we died/Tell them because our fathers lied."

Hochschild's book recalled the courage of the British men and women who so objected to the war they instead chose to suffer prison, starvation, torture, loss of jobs, family breakups and death threats. 20,000 Britons chose conscientious objection and prison, among them Tom Attlee, the elder brother of Clement Attlee, the future Prime Minister and Bertrand Russell, who also led a campaign to delegitimize the pointless Vietnam War.

Caroline Moorhead's equally incisive and revealing "Troublesome People: The Warriors of Pacifism" described her nation's resisters' experiences during the war. "Some have risked the death penalty rather than alter their view and some indeed have died for it, a few, their health and spirit broken by punishment, have gone mad. There is stubbornness, obduracy, about pacifism that can be infuriating; it can be heroic, admirable."

From where did their refusal to kill come? From many sources, of course, but essentially religious and secular beliefs. From Leo Tolstoy, whose "The Kingdom of God is Within You" greatly influenced Gandhi. Tolstoy preached refusal to accept war and freeing men and women from its curse. "Universal military service," said Tolstoy, "is the last stage of violence that governments need for the maintenance of the whole structure ... and its removal would bring down the whole building." In the US, Objectors were moved by the pencil-maker Henry Thoreau's "Civil Disobedience," who preferred an overnight jailhouse stay rather than support Polk's imperial, pro-slavery war with Mexico and with socialism, however they defined the term.

Books I've just read or re-read look back at the failed antiwar efforts to prevent WWI.  In 1915, one year after the European empires began butchering millions of their men and women, soldiers and civilians alike, a pop song swept American music stores whose chorus began "I didn't raise my son to be a soldier." Many decades later the soldier-son of a bereaved and angry mother named Cindy Sheehan was killed in Iraq chasing those Bush-Cheney WMDs, for which she was rebuked for defaming the Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave "Before one more mother's child is lost," she shouted, and we are now entering our seventeenth year of war.

Michael Kazin's new book "War Against War: The American Fight for Peace 1914-1918" vividly  takes us back to Woodrow Wilson's reign and evokes the story of the lies, propaganda and bitter debates of that era. The men and women Kazin respects and admires tried for three years to keep the US from entering the war.

At the start, Kazin explains his point of view: "I wish the US had stayed out of the Great War. Imperial Germany posed no great to the American homeland and no long-term threat to its economic interests, and the consequences of its defeat made the world a more dangerous place."

What Kazin, professor of history at Georgetown, does is look at the pacifists and the socialists, trade unionists, women's groups, and others who chose to say NO! as Wilson and America remained on the sidelines for three years before deciding that the nation had to enter the war.  "War Against War" is a convincing warning about the falsehoods and self-deception that drew us into WWI and later into Korea, Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan.

The people he and I honor are Morris Hillquit, the Socialist Party labor lawyer; Crystal Eastman, a mesmeric organizer and editor, the leading light who helped organize women and liberal pacifists; Jane Addams, the most remembered of all,  pacifist, Hull House co-founder, Women's Peace Party organizer  and Nobel Laureate who, in 1915,  explained that "the chief skepticism pacifism meets comes from a widely accepted conviction that war is a necessary and inevitable factor in human affairs," adding, "children should no longer be slain as living sacrifices upon the altar of tribal gods," subversive words which led the Daughters of the American Revolution to revoke her membership"; Claude Kitchin, the southern House Majority Leader, whose father fought for the Confederacy; Randolph Bourne whose words "War is the health of the state"  are more than ever relevant today; A. Philip Randolph and Chandler Owen, African American socialists, anti-war and anti-imperialists; Robert and  Fola LaFollette, Wisconsin's husband and wife progressives;  pacifist  Rabbi Judah Magnes, inspired by the prophet Jeremiah and Gandhi, first president and Chancellor of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem and advocate for an Arab-Jewish bi-national country; Senator George Norris ("Their object in having war and in preparing for war is to make money .... Wall Street considers only the dollars and cents.") and the pacifist-socialist Helen Keller (" Congress is not preparing to defend the people of the US. It is planning to protect the capital of American speculators and investors [and] benefit the manufacturers of munitions and machines"). Their names and achievements have been erased from our national memory.

We've also largely forgotten, as the late Tom Hayden put it in his final book, "Hell No. The Forgotten Power of the Vietnam Peace Movement," the  "draft resisters, opposition among GIs, deserters to Canada and other countries, prayer vigils, moratoriums, letters written to Congress, civil disobedience, peace campaigns for Congress and massive teach-ins." And I would add Senator George McGovern and Martin Luther King Jr., who delivered anti-Vietnam War speeches at the Riverside Church in Manhattan in April 1967 and then at a huge rally in Central Park. And, Dorothy Day, Dan and Phil Berrigan and Rabbi Abraham Joshua  Heschel and the millions of Americans who marched and worked and took risks to end a sinful war that killed 58,000 US soldiers, far more wounded in body and mind, and several million Asians. So many protestors yesterday, so silent today.

I've just read Denise Grady's NY Times article buried on page 15 (Jan. 15, 2017) of the 1,367 young soldiers who received devastating wounds to their genitourinary tracts in Iraq or Afghanistan and many may never be able to conceive a child. Many have also received traumatic brain injuries, pelvic fractures, colorectal damage and amputations.

That's because in the end, loyalty to one's country prevails in every war in every nation. W.B. Sledge was a Marine in WWII and his striking book, "With The Old Breed: At Peleliu and Okinawa," reeks with misery and death and sadness. "War," concludes this Marine combat vet, "is brutish, inglorious and a terrible waste. Combat leaves an indelible mark on those who are forced to endure it." But then he closes with the dominant appeal of blood and faithfulness and the sense of what he owes to his country. "As the troops used to say, 'If the country is good enough to live in, it's good enough to fight for.' With privilege comes responsibility." Such sentiments, even about wars that should never have been fought, have always trumped those who tried to resist their country's war party. Rest assured, patriotic Americans, no VIP who sent them to the Middle Eastern wars will ever be reprimanded.

I leave the last wise words to Kazin, whose book deserves your attention. The WWI anti-war heroes argued "passionately and consistently, that a durable settlement depended on the US forging a tolerant, non-aggressive relationship with other nations -- one based not on preparing for war but on avoiding it."

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