NOT OUR WAR – book review

Book review –
Not Our War: Writings against the First World War
Edited by AW Zurbrugg (Merlin Press, 2014)

Among the plethora of publications and opinions issued by all and sundry in the run up to the anniversary of the First World War, this book must be one of the more outstanding to appear so far. It consists of a comprehensive anthology of voices against war, the famous and the obscure, from Britain and around the world; the more famous being James Connolly, Eugene Debs, Emma Goldman, Keir Hardie, Alexandra Kollontai, Lenin and Malatesta to name but a few.
Were it simply a collection of anti-war speeches and writings from leading political opponents of the ‘imperialist war’ the book would make a handy volume; but it is much more than this. It contains contributions from workers and rank-and-file activists as well as extracts from newspapers, diaries and letters of men and women who were opposed to the war as political radicals, trade unionists, socialists, anarchists, feminists, disenchanted soldiers and pacifists.
The book recovers these various dissident voices who courageously spoke out against the rising mood of patriotic fervour that marked the onset of the war in 1914. Their passionate arguments and urgent warnings against militarism, imperialism and needless carnage are still ignored to this day as contemporary politicians and historians rush to embellish the truth of what happened a century ago in order to claim the “Great” war as part of the nation’s heritage of supposed glory and unalloyed heroism.
The hundreds of short extracts that make up the volume have been painstakingly selected by editor Tony Zurbrugg and are linked together by an informed commentary that gives the context for writings that have been chosen to illustrate the diversity of opposition to the war and the richness of the anti-war arguments.
Not Our War is a powerful antidote to the incessant jingoism and nationalistic rewriting of history that characterises much of the official discussion of this horrific episode in the breakdown of modern civilisation. An essential read as we approach the official anniversary jamboree.
David Morgan

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June 2014

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