Adam Hochschild on flour power as strategy for activists

Adam Hochschild would like to remind us that Berkeley has the 4th largest library in the country

The denizens of other cities can snicker all they like, but Berkeley historian Adam Hochschild has no problem with Berkeley’s foreign policy.

“If the citizens of Berkeley were in charge, our country would be better off,” he said when Berkeleyside reached him by phone to discuss his highly acclaimed book To End All Wars: A Story of Loyalty and Rebellion, 1914-1918.

Alongside telling excerpts from the diary of Field Marshall Sir Douglas Haig, and vivid descriptions of what life was like for men in the trenches, To End All Wars presents the story of a one-woman diplomatic mission to Berlin in 1916 by British citizen Emily Hobhouse. Almost in the same breath, Hochschild described Hobhouse’s trip into the heart of enemy territory during wartime as “totally foolish” and “an extraordinarily noble thing.” In Berlin, Hobhouse met with the German Foreign Minister and other high-ranking officials. While failing to bring about the peace she hoped for, she came up with an idea for a civilian prisoner exchange that the two countries subsequently put into effect.

Just about everybody in Europe was pro-war in 1914; but those few who dared to oppose the war publicly—from private citizens such as Hobhouse to the eminent philosopher Bertrand Russell—turned out to be prescient. To End All Wars puts their individual opposition in the context of other political movements, with special emphasis on how the woman’s suffrage movement led to anti-war activism. Perhaps no other chronicle of World War I has more pages devoted to women, among them suffragette and newspaper editor Sylvia Pankhurst, who once got the PM’s attention by dumping a three-pound bag of flour on his head from her seat in the visitors’ gallery of the House of Commons.

“I’m in favor of throwing flour, not rocks,” said Hochschild, who is a veteran of civil rights battles in the American South. “The use of violence is both wrong and politically counter productive, but any time you can make your opponents look ridiculous it’s a very effective tactic.” Referring to a contemporary organization working in the Pankhurst tradition, he said, “I love the Yes Men.”

Both Hochschild and his wife, sociologist Arlie Russell Hochschild, teach at UC Berkeley. They lived in Berkeley from 1964 to 1975, and have recently moved back to be closer to their granddaughters. When he’s not hanging out with the grandkids or haunting the stacks at Doe Library, Hochschild likes to explore the paths and staircases that lead from his house up to Grizzly Peak.

To End All Wars: A Story of Loyalty and Rebellion, 1914-1918, which made The New York Times Bestseller List shortly after its publication last year, has been nominated for a Northern California Book Award. James LeCuyer, a longtime member of the Northern California Book Reviewers, told us that, “Hochschild is one of the great historians of the twenty-first century and a fine, crystal clear writer.”

An impressively large number of writers from the East Bay will be honored at the Northern California Book Awards Ceremony, Book Signing, and Reception next month. Congratulations to: Barry Eichengreen, Adam Hochschild, Andrea Lingenfelter, Mary Mackey, Edie Meidav, David Meltzer, Michael Pollan (Fred Cody Award Winner), Sandra Gilbert, Amy Reed, and Katherine Silver.

Berkeleyside plans to spotlight at least one more of these authors before the awards are presented. The event is scheduled for 1:00-4:00 pm on Sunday June 10 at the San Francisco Main Library. To view a complete list of nominees and for more information about the Northern California Book Awards, visit Poetryflash.

Related:
Berkeley economist offers historical perspective on financial crisis [05.24.12]
Accolades for Edie Meidav and other East Bay authors [05.17.12]

To find out about more events in Berkeley and nearby, visit Berkeleyside’s Events Calendar. The calendar is self-serve so we encourage you to submit your own events.

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  • Bcpaulos

    I was inspired to read this book because my wife was watching “Downton Abbey.”  Some of the characters in that show seem to have been inspired by the anti-war movement Hochschild describes.  The chauffeur who married the lord’s daughter, for example, was reminiscent of the Irish who started the Irish rebellion, seeking independence.  But Downton Abbey soft-pedaled all the interesting historical connections in favor of pure soap opera.  

    What was more educational was a 10 part BBC documentary series, which is on YouTube as “the.first.world.war.”

  • Jim

    Terrific review.  Hochschild is one of the great historians of this era.  He combines a fine eye for details with much insight into the personalities of the people making history, from great to small.  He writes very well, with a novelist’s flair, as King Leopold’s Ghost and Bury the Chains have proven.

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/N4S3WQDAJHAEYNLWRH34ZXUXKU Brian Y

    Good to know this book continues to get well-deserved recognition.

    BTW, Berkeleyside, the second “Related” link above goes offsite to a review of one of the other NCBA honorees’ books, rather than to the Edie Meidav article referenced, which is at:

    http://www.berkeleyside.com/2012/05/17/accolades-for-edie-meidav-and-other-east-bay-authors/