War against War Cover

War against War

The American Fight for Peace, 1914-1918

Michael Kazin

Simon and Schuster, New York, 2017, 400 pages

Book Review published on: March 8, 2019

War against War: The American Fight for Peace, 1914-1918 is a formal objective essay with hints of consensus building that could be used to illustrate the roles, challenges, and achievements of different personalities as they build consensus on whether to go to war. Consensus building is dependent upon all the stakeholders, to include the consistent and the sporadic personalities; the internal champions, groups, and mobilizers all have a role to play in achieving the outcome beneficial to most. They are all responsible for creating a common language, sharing perspectives, sharing learning, decreasing perceived risk, increasing rewards, and promoting consensus around a common solution.

Michael Kazin begins the book describing how world leaders have desired peace as far back as Immanuel Kant’s 1795 book, Perpetual Peace: A Philosophical Sketch. Kazin elaborates on how peace advocacy grew more popular during the early 1900s and believes a focus on peace and avoiding conflicts between other major powers helped keep the United States out of war. Some peace-minded groups advocated for public education, arbitration, dispute mediation, and a focus on profits, while many world leaders of the time agreed that some kind of institution was needed to prevent, and eventually, outlaw war.

A few of the events described in Kazin’s book include heated debates, meetings, speeches, military growth, international agreements, declaration of war, and inconsistent rights of citizens as the United States transitioned between war and peace. Although the United States was determined to stay out of conflicts between other major powers, one of the major challenges the government faced was that it could not legally prevent its citizens from selling goods or lending money to a warring nation.

Kazin describes hundreds of personalities throughout the book. Some personalities crop up as individuals, while others appear as part of a much larger coalition. Some personalities made specific contributions despite, and amidst rising conflict in the United States and the world, while only a few of them had a consistent message.

A few of the leaders covered by the book include President Theodore Roosevelt, President Woodrow Wilson, Jeanette Rankin, and Jane Addams. Roosevelt is described as favoring compromise and an expanded military. He tried aggressively to enact changes and was known for his work surrounding the Treaty of Portsmouth and his consequent award of the Nobel Peace Prize (1906).

Contributions from Wilson that are covered by the book by include regular meetings with members of the peace party, signing the National Defense Act (1916), requesting statements of war aims from all warring nations, declaring war on Imperial Germany, and signing the Espionage Act (1917). An advocate for democracy and world peace, he received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1919 for his efforts.

Rankin is described as an antiwar Republican, “an active suffragist and member of the Women’s Peace Party.” In 1916, she became the first woman elected to the House of Representatives.

Addams (known to some as Saint Jane and the mother of social work) is described as a patient activist and canny organizer with the ability to motivate people to work toward a higher end. In 1931, she became the first American woman to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

I recommend War against War: The American Fight for Peace, 1914-1918 for anyone looking to build consensus around a change or vision. I also recommend paying specific attention to the roles of key players and other stakeholders, the common language used, and shared learning opportunities and achievements along the way.

Book Review written by: Kathy Kim Strand, MEd, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas