In the past, when Andrew Motion has written about the First World War, my reaction has sometimes been negative.
It’s only fair, then, to record that his review of a new book in today’s Guardian seems very thoughtful.
The book is To End All Wars: How the First World War Divided Britain by journalist Adam Hochschild. The book deals with opposition to the Great War, from intellectuals like Bertrand Russell to forgotten mutineers and conscientious objectors, and its thesis seems to be that the War created a rift in British society. Motion points out, though, that the country remained remarkably united during four long and difficult years, and dissidents remained a tiny minority:
But for complicated and interesting reasons the army held its shape, and the country kept its faith, right through to the bitter end of the war. The objectors were brave and sensible and far-sighted and (it’s reasonable to argue) right. But they can hardly be said to have divided Britain.
It sounds as though Mr. Hochschild is one of those writers who assumes that what seems obvious to him in hindsight must have been clear at the time, and therefore opposition to the War must have been large-scale and significant. But the historical record says it just ain’t so – in comparison with the Boer War, for example, which genuinely did divide the nation into two large hostile parties.
The question is – is this book worth reading? Does it extend our understanding of opposition to the War beyond Will Ellsworth-Jones’s very readable We Will Not Fight? If anybody has read this book, can they let me know?