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The Human Toll Of The War 'To End All Wars'
TERRY GROSS, host:
This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.
World War I resulted in unimaginable carnage. My guest, Adam Hochschild,
explains why in his new book "To End All Wars." He also writes about the
men and women who thought the war was madness: the war resistors, the
men who refused the draft and the soldiers who refused to fight.
The book focuses on England. Our book critic, Maureen Corrigan, says,
quote, "Hochschild makes a reader feel anew the shock of modern
technological warfare. He renders the pacifist tales no less compelling
than those of the soldiers in the trenches. He also enlarges on the
question: What does it take for a person to shake off the shackles of
conventional wisdom and think for him or herself? What punishments does
society mete out? What apologies does posterity sometimes offer to those
courageous enough to see things differently?" - unquote.
Adam Hochschild's other books include "King Leopold's Ghost" and "Bury
Adam Hochschild, welcome back to FRESH AIR. Let's start with the human
cost of World War I.
Mr. ADAM HOCHSCHILD (Author): Well, it was enormous, Terry, more than
nine million military dead, probably between 10 and 12 million civilian
dead, although we'll never know that number with any precision. And in
addition, 21 million soldiers wounded, and many of them were permanently
missing, you know, arms, legs, hands, genitals or else, you know, driven
mad by shell shock.
So that, I think, is the first, most direct human cost. But there was
also a human cost in a larger sense in that I think the war remade the
world for the worse in every conceivable way. It ignited the Russian
revolution. It laid the ground for Nazism, and made the Second World War
almost certain. It's pretty hard to imagine the Second World War without
GROSS: You write that World War I was astonishingly lethal for officers,
for the ruling classes in all the countries involved in the war. Why was
Mr. HOCHSCHILD: Well, this is one of the many things that has long
fascinated me about the war. You know, if you look at the wars that our
country has been involved in in recent years - Vietnam, Afghanistan,
Iraq - it's the poor who've done most of the dying. And usually,
throughout history, you know, elites are very good at getting somebody
else to do the dying for them.
But in the First World War, it was different. It was different because
it was the tradition in most of the major countries for upper-class
young men to have military careers, and then it became those young
captains and lieutenants who led their men out of the trenches and into
a hail of machine-gun fire.
And, of course, they were conveniently distinguished for enemy
sharpshooters, because officers' uniforms were different from ordinary
soldiers' uniforms. They carried pistols instead of rifles, and so
And the toll was just colossal. For example, men who graduated from
Oxford in 1913, 31 percent were killed.
GROSS: That's amazing. That's an amazing statistic.
Mr. HOCHSCHILD: And, you know, people who waged the war, the prime
ministers and Cabinet ministers and so forth, the prime minister of
England, Herbert Asquith, lost a son. The German chancellor lost a son.
The chief to the British general staff on the western front lost two
sons. His counterpart in the French army lost three sons. You know, the
list could go on.
GROSS: You write that the war wasn't what soldiers or officers were
expecting. They were expecting magnificent displays of gallantry,
discipline and determination. What were they expecting World War I to
Mr. HOCHSCHILD: Well, you know, I think most of them were expecting it
to be like the colonial wars, because this is what the armies of
England, France and Germany had fought in recent decades, leading up to
the war. Europe had been at peace for some 40 years or so, and the wars
had taken place by European armies against very poorly armed Africans
and Asians - you know, putting down rebellions on the frontier in
British India, conquering new territories in Africa, putting down
rebellions against the British and French and German colonial rule.
And, you know, these Africans and Asians were very poorly armed. It was
the British, the French and the Germans who had the machine guns, the
repeating rifles and so forth. And so war, in the minds of these Army
officers at the beginning of 1914, was a matter where you went off to a
distant, exotic place. You came home covered with glory. You got medals
and promotions, and you were not likely to be killed.
And nobody was really prepared for the other side also having machine
guns, repeating rifles, modern weaponry.
GROSS: World War I is famous, among other things, for its trench
warfare, where there was literally a front line, and trenches of French
and British on one side and Germans on the other. How did it become this
type of trench warfare where nobody could move and territory wasn't
Mr. HOCHSCHILD: Well, this took everybody by surprise. And there's a
scholar who actually searched through a lot of British army reports and
came up with some extraordinary quotes from generals writing to each
other in the first year or two of the war, saying this war is not
normal. And maybe soon we'll get to normal conditions, but this is
definitely very, very abnormal.
And what they were referring to was that the armies were stuck in place
because this system of trenches facing each other, really, for some
three years, they barely moved more than a few miles in each direction.
In 1915, for example, the Allies launched a number of major attacks.
There were probably close to a million casualties on both sides.
During the course of the year, the allies gained exactly seven square
miles of territory, and the trenches evolved because the defensive
weapons of the war - barbed wire an entrenched machine-gun nest and a
trench in the ground - were so much stronger than the offensive weapons
of the war, because to gain territory, you've got to come out of your
trench, move forward over open ground where you're exposed to enemy
And this was something nobody had planned for, even though they could
have looked at other recent wars in history. You know, there was trench
warfare at the end of the American Civil War, for example, around
Richmond in Virginia. But they chose not to do that because they wanted
to imagine glorious cavalry charges and the like. And, of course, there
were none of those glorious cavalry charges.
GROSS: What were some of the worst horrors of trench warfare?
Mr. HOCHSCHILD: Well, think about living underground for month after
month after month. One problem, of course, is that the water table in
most of Western Europe - at least where the fighting was - is fairly
close to the surface of the ground. In parts of Belgium, the water table
is only about two or three feet below ground.
So this meant that a lot of the time, the soldiers on each side were
literally, you know, knee-deep in mud. You know, they rigged up pumps
and so on to try to pump the water out of the trenches, but they were
hopeless, especially when it rained.
There was an enormous profusion of rats. There was the, you know,
dreaded trench foot, where, you know, if you go in wet socks and
leggings, you know, week after week, your feet begin to wither and rot.
And it was a matter of essentially living underground - not a very
pleasant place to live.
GROSS: Now, you were describing how difficult it was to launch an
offensive during trench warfare, because you'd have to march into
machine-gun fire from the enemy. And journalist Philip Gibbs, you quote
him in your book, and he was watching German soldiers advance. And he
says he watched them advance toward our men, shoulder to shoulder, like
a solid bar. It was sheer suicide.
They were tall men and did not falter as they came forward. They walked
like men conscious of going to death. And he's describing them just
marching into machine-gun fire. And there were so many instances like
this during World War I, where you're just, like, marching into machine-
gun fire. You're absolutely going to die.
Mr. HOCHSCHILD: And the really peculiar thing about that quote from
Gibbs is that he wrote this describing a battle that was taking place
after the war had been going for two years. And you would have thought
that both sides would have learned at that point that if you go forward
in a big phalanx while enemy machine guns, you know, have not been put
out of action, you're just going to get mowed down.
But the generals did not seem to want to learn that lesson. They finally
did by the last year of the war. But why did it take three years?
GROSS: World War I is considered the first modern war in the sense that
you have modern technology. You have machine guns. You have tanks toward
the end of the war. You have mustard gas, and you have barbed wire,
which you say the Germans used most effectively. Who created barbed
wire, and how did the Germans use it?
Mr. HOCHSCHILD: Well, barbed wire was actually invented by an Illinois
farmer in the late 1800s, and it was used for cattle fencing. I believe
the first time it was used in war - although not widely - was in the
Boer War, which was of course some 15 years before the First World War.
But once the armies got dug into these trenches in France and Belgium,
the immediately found that barbed wire strengthened those defenses
incredibly, and the Germans really used it the most effectively. They
would dig a very wide depression in the ground, maybe, you know, 30-feet
wide, six feet deep, fill it with tangles of barbed wire.
And imagine yourself a British or French soldier trying to cross, you
know, a ditch full of wire like that that goes on for miles to each side
- almost impossible to do. The British and French, of course, erected
their own barbed wire, and it was so effective because it was very
difficult to destroy with artillery fire. You had to cut your way
through it with wire clippers.
It wasn't really until the tank came along that they found something
that could easily penetrate barbed wire.
GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is journalist Adam
Hochschild. His new book is called "To End All Wars: A Story of Loyalty
and Rebellion, 1914-1918."
We'll talk more about World War I after we take a short break. This is
(Soundbite of music)
GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is Adam Hochschild. He's a
journalist whose new book is called "To End All Wars." It's about World
War I, but it's about the British during World War I and how England was
divided between those who thought the war should be fought, that it was
a just cause, and those who opposed the war.
More than 20,000 British men of military age refused the draft during
the course of the war. That's really a lot of people. Did England have
anything like the American conscientious objector status, where you
could decline serving if you could prove that it violated your religious
Mr. HOCHSCHILD: They did. They actually had a fairly broad conscientious
objector law, but many people were denied that status. And then even if
you got the status, many people, as a matter of principle, refused to do
the alternative service that was offered for conscientious objectors,
which usually meant driving an ambulance at the front or working in a
munitions factory or something like that.
And as a result of those refusals, more than 6,000 young men in Britain
went to prison. It was the largest number of people ever imprisoned up
to that point in time in a Western democracy. And they were a remarkable
group of people. Happily, for my purposes as a writer, they wrote
letters. They kept diaries. They wrote memoirs, and they had interesting
relationships with people on the outside, friends and family members who
often felt differently about the war and sometimes were taking part in
GROSS: If you had to, you know, generalize, what were some of the
reasons that the war resistors were willing to be in prison rather than
even serving in alternate service?
Mr. HOCHSCHILD: And keep in mind also that they were imprisoned under
very harsh conditions: a bare-bones diet, the rule of silence, where you
were not allowed to talk to anybody. Prisons were extremely cold because
there was a shortage of coal for heating, and of course the prisons were
last in line to get that.
The reasons that they refused were a mixture of religious and political.
A majority of people who - in Britain who applied for conscientious
objector status did so citing religious convictions, most of them being
Quakers. And a majority also cited political convictions, most of them
being international socialists who felt like they didn't want to make
war on their fellow socialists.
And I think all of them, you know, felt this war was pointless. It was
not being fought for any great moral purpose. Britain and France could
not claim that they were fighting for democracy, when they were colonial
empires and when their principal ally was Tsarist Russia, which was the
last absolute monarchy in Europe.
So I think these were some of the things that led these - this very
brave group of people to refuse service and to go to prison.
GROSS: But Germany had declared war on France. So, you know, what do you
do after that?
Mr. HOCHSCHILD: Well, I think this is one of the things that makes it
morally complicated. Germany declared war on France and Belgium and
invaded both of those countries, and I think you can understand why, you
know, French and Belgian young men wanted to defend their countries,
which, indeed, the overwhelming majority did want to do.
But many people in England felt this should not be our fight. They
thought this is going to be a very destructive war. We were not
attacked. In fact, Germany went out of its way not to attack England at
the beginning of the war. They didn't want British participation in the
war. They thought Britain was not going to come in. They were alarmed
and disappointed when it did.
And, you know, it's true that German troops marched across neutral
Belgium in their attack on France, but a few months later, British
troops marched across a neutral country, China, in their attack on a
German colony on China.
So - and then of course all of the winning countries rather cynically
divided up the territory of the losers when the war's end came. So
nobody really came out of this with very clean hands, even though, as
you say, Germany really did start the war.
GROSS: You write about some of the families that were divided over the
war. One of the famous families was the Pankhurst family, a family of
family suffragists. And why don't you describe the split in the
Mr. HOCHSCHILD: The Pankhursts were the leaders of the most militant
wing of the British women's suffrage movement, fighting before the war
for the right to vote for women in England.
Emmeline Pankhurst, the mother, and two of her daughters, Christabel and
Sylvia, went to jail many, many times. On the eve of the war, the
mother, Emmeline, had been jailed for literally throwing a rock through
the window of 10 Downing Street, the prime minister's residence. And she
and her followers cut telephone and telegraph wires, put bombs in
mailboxes, destroyed buildings, threw rocks through the windows of
London clubs, and so forth.
However, the moment the war began, she - and she was actually a fugitive
from justice at that point, hiding out in France, because she didn't
want to serve her prison sentence for throwing this rock - she called a
halt to all of her political activities, and she and her older daughter
Christabel put themselves at the service of the British government for
the duration of the war.
The government was delighted to have them. It sent them on speaking
tours of the British Isles, of the United States. It even sent Emmeline
to Russia at one point to try to rally Russian women to war effort.
Meanwhile, her other daughter Sylvia, who had always been a bit more
radical in her politics, came out strongly against the war, published
the leading anti-war periodical of that period, repeatedly spoke against
the war, supported conscientious objectors and resistors, published some
of the most important pieces of anti-war testimony from people in the
army in her publication, which was shut down a couple of times by the
government during the war.
GROSS: And Christabel, one of the daughters, says we can't discuss votes
for women now. We have to mobilize women for the economy in order to
free men for the front. So was the whole women's suffrage movement
basically put on hold during the war?
Mr. HOCHSCHILD: Well, certainly that part of it which Emmeline Pankhurst
had been leading was. The women's suffrage movement, like many
progressive movements of the day, was quite divided over the war,
because there were a strong minority of suffragettes who supported
Sylvia Pankhurst's position, who, you know, who thought the war was
madness and did not want to support it.
The majority of women's suffrage activists, you know, like the majority
of most other people in England, did go along with the war effort.
GROSS: So let's look at another family divided by the war. There's
Charlotte Despard, who's a suffragist, pacifist, communist. She co-
founds the women's peace crusade. But her brother is Field Marshal Sir
John French, commander-in-chief on the western front. What happened to
their relationship when he's helping lead the war, and she's opposing
Mr. HOCHSCHILD: An extraordinary relationship, and they were both such
colorful people who were sort of archetypes of what they stood for. Sir
John French, the brother, had been all his life in the army. You know,
he had the moustache, the military bearing. Some people say he was the
model in the Gilbert and Sullivan song for the model of a very modern
major general. And he'd been a cavalry officer, and so forth.
His sister had been an ardent proponent of every progressive cause
before the war: independence for India, women's right to vote, went to
jail four different times in the women's suffrage battle, strongly
opposed the war, wrote the bestselling anti-war pamphlet, traveled up
and down England speaking against the war, visiting conscientious
objectors' families to try to keep their spirits up.
Interestingly, the brother and sister remained fond of each other, quite
close to each other, saw each other a number of times during the war.
They stopped speaking only when, in 1918, the British government sent
him to Ireland as viceroy to suppress the nationalist revolt breaking
out against British rule. She went to Ireland to work for the IRA. At
that point, they stopped speaking, but not until then.
GROSS: Adam Hochschild will be back in the second half of the show. His
latest book is called "To End All Wars: A Story of Loyalty and
I'm Terry Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.
(Soundbite of music)
GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross, back with Adam Hochschild.
His latest book, "To End All Wars," is about World War I. Focused on
England, it describes why this first example of modern technological
warfare resulted in such carnage, taking the lives of more than nine
million soldiers and 10 to 12 million civilians. The book also focuses
on the war resisters who thought the war was madness.
After the Battle of the Somme, which I believe was like the biggest,
most devastating battle of the war with enormous casualties, a movie was
made called "Battle of the Somme" and you describe this as one of the
earliest and most influential propaganda films of all time. Have you
seen the film?
Mr. HOCHSCHILD: I have seen the film. And the government took a
remarkable gamble, which was this: the Battle of the Somme as I think
many of your listeners will know happened in the middle of 1916. It went
on for three or four months. It resulted in more than 125,000 British
dead, some 20,000 of whom were killed on the first day. And the ultimate
gain that the battle achieved was about 10 miles at the widest point, a
few miles at other points and almost nothing at various other points on
the line. So a huge amount of bloodshed for nothing.
But how do you present this to the British public? Well, early on while
the battle was still raging, the government decided we're going to send
film crews there, record everything, film everything and put together a
film which they did, which came out only a month or two into the battle.
So while the later stages of the battle were still going on, this film
was being shown in Britain and it was estimated it was actually seen by
more than half the population of the British Isles.
Now it's sanitized some things when it showed wounded soldiers for
example, it was the walking wounded usually and the lightly wounded. But
it did show some dead bodies. It did show soldiers at the front doing
all kinds of other things, firing artillery pieces, cooking their meals,
receiving mail, being prayed with by a chaplain. And the government took
a gamble that showing a certain amount of the nitty-gritty of the real
war would make people more closely identify with the soldiers rather
than repulse them, and they were right.
And I think this to me shows one of the terrible things that happen in
all wars, which is that as the suffering mounts, as the death toll
mounts, as the horrors that soldiers have to endure the mounts, there is
a powerful, powerful need among people at home, among their families, to
feel that they are suffering and dying for something worthwhile. And
therefore, in a way, showing graphic images of the suffering does not
necessarily turn people against a war. In fact, usually it doesn't.
GROSS: And you refer to this in the book, you can imagine all these
families going to see this movie looking for their loved ones in the
Mr. HOCHSCHILD: Right. Because there were hundreds and hundreds of
soldiers' faces shown on screen. Sometimes they would indentify units by
name and people must have flocked to theaters, you know, hoping they
would see someone they loved and see him, you know, not on a stretcher
or a dead body but, you know, walking around and looking well.
GROSS: Now this was made in 1916, which is very early in the history.
It's like the very beginning of the history of filmmaking. Would you
describe a little bit what the film looks like and what the quality of
the filmmaking is?
Mr. HOCHSCHILD: It's better than I would have expected actually from
that period. It's a silent movie, of course. It's black and white. It
flickers a bit, you know, the way early films like the early Charlie
Chaplin films do and so forth. But it's pretty clear, and you can, you
know, make out very well what you're seeing.
And then there are these titles that come on the screen periodically
just to tell you what's coming up, and sort of to tell you how to feel
about it. Sometimes they're martial, like a title, one title says:
Terrific Bombardment of German Trenches. Sometimes they're sentimental.
One title says: The Manchesters' pet dog fell with his master charging
Dantzig Alley. The Manchesters were a regiment. And it shows you, you
know, a dead body of a soldier and a dog, but the title has sort of
framed it for you, so you should see this as something poignant.
Then there's one title before, you see some wounded soldiers showing
wounded awaiting attention, showing how quickly the wounded are attended
to. Well, that was very much a sanitizing thing because one of the awful
things about the Battle of the Somme was that of the 120,000 men who
climbed out of the trench on the first day thousands upon thousands of
them were wounded. And many of them were stuck in shell holes in the
middle of no man's land and medics couldn't get to them because of the
heavy shellfire and machine gun fire. And they died alone out after, you
know, being out there two, three, four days. People back in the trenches
could hear them moaning. And then when they were, you know, found often
days or weeks later their fellow soldiers would find that these guys had
wrapped themselves up in their ponchos and sometimes taking out their
Bibles, you know, to die alone. So the film sanitized all that.
GROSS: Even though the film sanitized the Battle of the Somme are there
things that you learned from being able to see an actual document of the
Mr. HOCHSCHILD: Yes. Very much so I think. And I tried to watch as much
documentary footage of the war as I could find, to look at lots of
photographs because, you know, they're all kinds of ways in which when
you're writing about something you really want to immerse yourself in
that place in time as much as you can.
I also went to some of these battlefields because I always love to see
the places where the history that I'm writing about took place, and you
learned something there too. One thing that struck me for instance, I
went to a place called High Wood because one of the people that I quote
in the book is an infantry officer who gives a dramatic description at
one point of a very small cavalry detachment when they were having
trouble taking the German position. A small cavalry detachment charged
up the hill, disappeared over the brow of the hill and then were never
So I thought could I find this hill? Well, I went looking for it. I
found it. What you realize when you're there is that it's not something
which I walking around or you walking around today would describe as a
hill. It's, you can barely see the slope in the ground and then that
makes me realize that all these descriptions you read from the war of
capturing hilltops and ridges and crests and so on are written from the
point of view of somebody who's lying on the ground trying to stay
underneath all those bullets. Just it's a useful reminder when you go to
GROSS: There were anti-war rallies that were starting to draw big crowds
by 1917. Did something happen to change popular opinion after a couple
of years of war?
Mr. HOCHSCHILD: Well, I think the anti-war movement did seem to be
gaining power in 1917 which was, of course, a third full year of the
war. And the war had been, you know, occupied half of 1914 as well.
Anti-war sentiment was gaining ground because people saw enormous,
enormous battles that seemed to be fought for nothing. In 1917, just as
the Battle of the Somme had been the big thing in 1916, there was
another enormous battle, Passchendaele which was very similar. You know,
months and months of fighting for a tiny bit of ground gained. And also
there was a defection in late 1917 from a key figure in the British
establishment, Lord Lansdowne, the former foreign minister. He'd
actually presided over the making of the informal agreement with France
before the war which had led British troops to be engaged there. And he
wrote a letter to the editor of - which the London Times actually
refused to publish and so it had to appear in another paper - saying
it's time to think about a negotiated peace. And the fact that someone
high in the establishment was saying this was a new thing.
So the anti-war movement definitely gained power during that year. Then
what happened was in early 1918, the Germans launched an enormous
offensive which actually by using new tactics instead of this business
of advancing in phalanx they advanced in sort of small detachments of
storm troopers. By using these new tactics they actually broke through
the trenches for the first time, gained an enormous amount of ground.
And this sense of urgency that the decisive battle of the war was at
hand actually put a damper on the anti-war movement. And even people
who had deserted the army...
GROSS: Because they thought they were maybe close to winning or?
Mr. HOCHSCHILD: Well, because...
GROSS: Or close to losing?
Mr. HOCHSCHILD: Close to one or the other. But their - if you read the
government intelligence reports on the dissidents of that period you
find as soon as the German offensive starts a kind of upsurge of
intelligence agents saying now the workers are not protesting anymore.
You know, there was a case in Scotland of a deserter who turned himself
in so that he could fight against the new German offensive. Tragically,
exactly the same thing happened in Germany. There had been a rash of
strikes in munitions factories at the beginning of 1918 and, you know,
that could have been the beginnings of an anti-war movement in Germany.
There too once this enormous new offensive began and it seemed like the
decisive battle of the war was at hand most of that evaporated.
GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is Adam Hochschild and we're
talking about his book âTo End All Wars,â which is about World War I.
Let's take a short break here then we'll talk some more.
This is FRESH AIR.
(Soundbite of music)
GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is Adam Hochschild. He's a
journalist whose new book is called âTo End All Wars.â It's about World
War I, but it's about the British during World War I and how England was
divided between those who thought the war should be fought, that it was
a just cause and those who opposed the war.
You know, in describing resistance to the war and people who refused to
enlist and paid the consequences, you also write about men at the front
who were in the army and then they wanted out; they couldn't do it
anymore. And some of them were executed. Would you describe what
happened to soldiers who felt they could no longer participate in the
Mr. HOCHSCHILD: Well, one of the fascinating controversies of recent
years has been this: during the First World War, there were more than
300 British soldiers who were executed for desertion, laying down arms
in the face of the enemy, running away in the face of an enemy attack
and so on. Which is actually several times the number of German soldiers
who were executed for similar offenses during the war. The Germans
became far more draconian in World War II, of course. And there's been a
long battle in England in recent decades about getting posthumous
pardons for these men. And, you know, with anti-war people saying well,
anybody would deserted or laid down arms in the face of the enemy was
making the right decision for the time. Plus, it's obvious a lot of
these men were shell-shocked and really didn't know what they were
Well, I zero in on one case because there was an extraordinary witness.
There was a soldier named Albert Rochester who had been a labor union
activist and a journalist for his union newspaper before the war. He was
a railway signalman and he wrote for the railway union's newspaper. He
enlisted at the beginning of the war. Even though he was in the army he
had not lost his politics. And at one point he wrote a letter to the
editor of the London Daily Mail complaining that every British officer
at the front in France had a personal servant. And he said, you know,
the officers should have to groom their own horses and make their own
tea. And if we eliminated all these personal servants we'd have 60,000
more men for the war effort and get this terrible war over with more
For writing that letter he was court-martialed and sent to a military
prison. In that prison he found himself sharing a cell one night with
three men who had been sentenced to death for laying down arms in the
face of the enemy and running away. He was very moved by their stories.
He found that they were working-class men like himself, miners - two
minors and a steel worker - and then they were taken off after one night
together to another cell and they were hoping for pardons. But the next
day Rochester himself found himself detailed for his work as a military
prisoner to go and carry three heavy posts up a hill and dig three holes
in the ground.
And he realized these were the posts that these three guys were going to
be tied to when they were shot by a firing squad, and he had to be the
witness to that and help to clean up everything afterwards. He was
deeply seared by this experience, wrote a beautifully moving, horrible
account of it that was published after the war, made common cause with a
war resistor who had spent the war and prison to try to get a government
investigation of the case opened, failed in doing that, and
unfortunately died at a quite young age in the 1920s. But it was
extraordinary to find somebody like that as an eyewitness to such an
GROSS: Yeah, that really is extraordinary. In 1990, a citizen's group
was founded called Shot at Dawn, and they demanded a posthumous pardon
for those resisters who were executed during World War I. And the
British government gave a blanket pardon to more than 300 executed World
War I soldiers. This was in 2006. Was that a widely publicized event in
England? Was that a big deal in England in 2006?
Mr. HOCHSCHILD: It was quite a big deal, because there had been a
controversy over it for some years. There were four or five books
written about these executed soldiers, a couple of plays. The Army got a
retired Army officer to co-author a book with someone else about these
cases saying, well, you know, given the standards of the time when
capital punishment was routine, you know, these cases were fairly judged
and there should be no pardons. And then finally, the men were pardoned,
which I think it was, in a way, a sort of symbolic gesture of the
government exceeding to the public mood in England, which I think now is
one that considers this war a needless tragedy that should not have been
GROSS: And another way that we're literally still dealing with the
consequences of World War I - and this is just a very tangible thing -
there are still lines left over from that war that continue to kill
Mr. HOCHSCHILD: That's right. On the western front - which was not far
from being the only front in the war, but it was the one that was the
most intensively fought over in such a small space - there were more
than 700 million artillery and mortar rounds fired in four-and-a-half
years. And it's estimated that about 15 percent of them were duds, you
know, they didn't go off when they hit. Instead, they buried themselves
deep in the ground. And they are going off all the time today.
You know, somebody builds a fire in a forest on a camping trip or
something, and it burns down and then sets off a buried artillery shell
publish(ph), you know, that is sitting underneath there. When certain
kinds of construction projects are done - in the early 1990s, there were
36 people killed in one year in France when they did the excavation for
the new high-speed rail line that goes from Paris to the Channel Tunnel.
And there have been more than 600 French bomb disposal experts - you
know, who are specialists in finding and defusing these bombs - killed
since 1945. Sometimes they find World War II bombs that didn't go off,
sometimes even from the Franco-Prussian war - because this was fought
over the same territory, too. But the vast majority of this unexploded
ordinance is from the First World War. You see tractors with armor plate
underneath the seats. You see yellow warning signs telling you to keep
away from certain patches of forest.
GROSS: Did you visit the Somme, the area of the most horrendous battle
of World War I?
Mr. HOCHSCHILD: I certainly did, and tried to find were some of the old
trenches were, found what you - any visitor to that part of France, or
the front as it goes through Belgium finds, is that it's marked by
cemeteries. Everywhere you go, you know, you go to an area like the
Somme or Passchendaele in Belgium or Verdun in France where there were
some of the greatest fighting. You stand on the hilltop, and you'll see
four, five, six cemeteries in all directions. And these are enormous
places with five, 10,000 graves in them.
Most of them, really, very well-maintained, flowers, people leaving
little knickknacks sometimes, photographs of family members, as if
they're coming to see a, you know, a great uncle who died long ago and
they want to leave a picture of your family today. I will read through
comments in the visitor's book. Some of them are the sort of sentimental
things you would most expect to find at a place like this, you know,
thanks for your sacrifice and so forth. But at one of these beautiful
little cemeteries, I saw someone who'd written in the visitor's book:
never again. And that's certainly my feeling, as well.
GROSS: Well Adam Hochschild, I want to thank you so much for talking
Mr. HOCHSCHILD: Well, it's been a pleasure.
GROSS: Adam Hochschild's latest book is called "To End All Wars." You
can read an excerpt on our website, freshair.npr.org.
Coming up, our rock critic Ken Tucker reviews a new album by singer-
songwriter Sam Phillips.
This is FRESH AIR.
*** TRANSCRIPTION COMPANY BOUNDARY ***
Sam Phillips: A Songwriter In A 'Solid State' Of Mind
TERRY GROSS, host:
Sam Phillips - not the Sun Records producer, but the California singer-
songwriter - has been making albums since the 1980s. Her voice may be
best-known for her background music for the TV series "Gilmore Girls."
Recently, she's taking to releasing her music in digital-only form,
without going through a record company. The new release, "Solid State,"
is an actual, physical compact disc that collects a sampling of
Phillips' digital music.
Rock critic Ken Tucker has a review.
(Soundbite of music)
Ms. SAM PHILLIPS (Singer, Songwriter): (Singing) Tell me I can take.
Tell me I want to. Tell me I can keep it all straight this time. No
wanting you, our secrets align, and pulling us out of our well-thought-
KEN TUCKER: Sam Phillips possesses a distinctive voice, with a chalky
plaintiveness and a slight nasality that only increases her intimate,
confiding tone. The thing is, she's not much of a confessional
songwriter. I was reminded of this as I listened to "Solid State" and
heard her direct her thoughts outward, crafting music that advises
people to be honest with each other, to locate the magic in everyday
life, to generally look around you instead of navel-gazing.
(Soundbite of music)
Ms. PHILLIPS: (Singing) You've got to leave what's gone behind you.
You've kept yourself down for way too long. In the weather floats down,
excuses that we would to turn the power back on.
If you don't look around, you'll never know. If you don't step up,
you'll never know. If you don't jump up, you'll never know. And you'll
never find another like me.
Satan's like an old piano roll, plays my heart the same way each time. A
broken circle smoothes out and becomes the road for every piece of life
that I can find. If you don't look around, you'll never know. If you
don't step up, you'll never know. If you don't jump up you'll never
know. And you'll never find another like me.
TUCKER: Phillips has had a dodgy relationship with the music industry -
which is to say, it's never been of much use to her. Her best early
album, 1994's "Martinis and Bikinis," didn't receive the exposure it
deserved. And the kind of sonic experimentation she likes to conduct is
not the sort of commercial work that results in the tidy packaging of an
image and hit singles. Her long and fruitful work scoring and performing
music for the "Gilmore Girls" TV show was at once great exposure and
probably a little bit of a trap, in the way that identification with any
mass-media phenomenon freezes your music in the minds of many listeners
at a particular time.
(Soundbite of music)
Ms. PHILLIPS: (Singing) She's not with you now. You think too much about
her. Making up new questions, you don't know what you don't know. Words
you never say and the quiet doubts about you will gather in her head.
Oh, tell her what she wants to learn, to find out, anyway.
TUCKER: Over the past few years, Phillips has created what she calls her
Long Play Project, to be found on her website, samphillips.com. There,
without the help or interference of a record company, she records, posts
and sells downloads of new music, even as she continues to organize and
merchandise them under the pre-digital terms of EPs and albums. Long
play itself is a variation on an old term for an album, an LP or long
player. There's a lot of terrific music here, and on this new CD "Solid
State" it collects 13 examples of it.
One of my favorites is the idiosyncratic "Lever Pulled Down."
(Soundbite of song, "Lever Pulled Down")
Ms. PHILLIPS: (Singing) In this dead-eyed world, how long before they
tell you how far you've come? What do you have to make to make good? And
when can we raise the roof to the stars? I'm a lever pulled down. I'm
stick shift. I'm a lever pulled down from the fire in my head. I'm a
lever pulled down, and I'd give my life for the (unintelligible). In
this dead-eyed world...
TUCKER: What I like about that song "Lever Pulled Down" is, first of
all, its loping beat, and the way the drums slam down an emphasis on the
refrain. Then there's Phillips' distinctive way with a metaphor,
comparing herself to a lever pulled down, as a flipped switch, as a way
of saying she feels turned on, empowered without using the overused term
It amounts to a clever bit of a pun bolstered by powerful music. So it
is throughout "Solid State." This is the work of someone who seems
invigorated and emboldened by using new methods of communication and
distribution to make the art she wants to make, hoping and trusting an
audience will find it. The lyrics she sings in a lullaby to a child also
works as a greeting to those who discover her. Quote: "So glad you're
GROSS: Ken Tucker is editor-at-large for Entertainment Weekly. He
reviewed "Solid State," a new CD from Sam Phillips. You can download
podcasts of our show on our website: freshair.npr.org.
Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.