WWI: The Battle That Split Europe, And Families
"You will be home before the leaves have fallen from the trees." Those were the words of Kaiser Wilhelm II in August 1914, as he watched German troops heading off to fight in World War I.
Many never made it home.
"It was a long, bloody stalemate that went on really for four-and-a-half years," author Adam Hochschild tells Guy Raz, host of weekends on All Things Considered.
Hochschild's new book, To End All Wars: A Story of Loyalty and Rebellion, tells the story of World War I not as a struggle between the Allies and the Central Powers but as a struggle between individuals, even between family members.
Families Wrenched Apart
One family he spotlights: brother and sister John French and Charlotte Despard. French was the top British commander on the continent and thought the war was a noble crusade. His sister was an ardent antiwar activist who considered it absolute madness to fight.
Surprisingly, the two remained quite close to each other until after the war, Hochschild says.
"[French] became viceroy of Ireland charged with suppressing the IRA struggle for independence against the British. She went to Ireland to work with the IRA. And they stopped speaking at that point."
Another divided family Hochschild profiles are the Pankhursts. Before the war, Emmeline Pankhurst and two of her daughters were leaders of the most militant branch of the British movement for women's suffrage. Emmeline had even been arrested for throwing a rock through the window of the British prime minister's residence.
"The moment the war began, however, she ordered all women's suffrage activities to cease and put herself at the service of the British government and carried out a series of missions for it during the war."
As Emmeline Pankhurst went on speaking tours in England and Russia to try and rally women for the war effort, only one of her daughters took her side. The other stopped speaking to her. "These two daughters, Christabel and Sylvia, ended up publishing newspapers that attacked each other."
A Wounded Nation
By the time the war was finally over in 1918, countless families had been split apart and more than 8 million people were dead.
"The first World War in so many ways shaped the 20th century," Hochschild says, "and really remade our world for the worse." The debut of industrialized warfare meant casualties on a scale the world had never seen before.
"In France, for example, of all men who were between the ages of 20 and 32 at the start of the war, one half were dead when it was over."
What was supposed to be "the war to end all wars" deeply wounded all nations involved, and ultimately set the stage for another world war just a few decades later.
Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.