Tuesday, August 25, 2015


This is our last look back at books concerning the atomic bombings of Japan from our vantage point 70 years later.

We discuss here two books by Charles Pellegrino. But the two books are really one.
The first titled: THE LAST TRAIN FROM HIROSHIMA:The Survivors Look Back, published - then "pulped" by Henry Holt in 2010.
The second titled: TO HELL AND BACK:The Last Train From Hiroshima, published this month by Rowan & Littlefield.

             To Hell and Back: The Last Train from Hiroshima
In a previous Post, July 6, we mentioned the controversy that greeted the publication of Pellegrino's 2010 book which led to the pulping and recall of that book by Holt.
We are not discussing here the political factors involved in that decision and the controversy that led to it. But we can briefly compare and contrast parts of the two versions/editions of Pellegrino's book.

The new book TO HELL AND BACK features new reporting and new testimony from atomic bomb survivors who stepped forward to be heard as a result of the public attacks on the 2010 book.
This time the author has provided us with extensive, academic-style footnotes - 352 Footnotes in all. This is in contrast to the 2010 edition which featured only an essay style "Notes" section of a few pages.

The chapter titles remain the same. 
The new book contains a "Preface" and a "Foreword."
The new edition contains extensive black and white line drawings - the 2010 edition only had a few of these illustrations.

The new edition eliminates some inaccuracies as well as a questionable source witness that Pellegrino relied on in the first book.
For a brief but thorough summary (which also defends the author) read the "Foreword" by Steven Leeper.

For example, Pellegrino admits that he was deceived by one "witness". This became "the Fuoco furor" as it was termed at the time of the erupting controversy. But a perusal of the new edition, along with the old, shows that the approximately five pages of Joseph Fuoco's "story" (he claimed, falsely, to have been a flight engineer aboard the Hiroshima photo plane) have been eliminated.

Another example is the person of "Father Mattias" who Pellegrino later acknowledged to be a composite of several Catholic priests. In the new edition he places the name "Mattias" in quotation marks, and in the "Acknowledgments" section states that the priest's name was "changed by request and by contractual agreements going back as far as 1986." This kind of ambiguity only confuses the issue.

In HISTORY AS STORY we compare and contrast non-fiction history books with fiction books concerning the same subject, events, place and time. It appears that the author here had used the novelistic device of merging several characters into one.

An issue that received much attention in 2010 was/is the author's connection to renowned movie director James Cameron (Titanic, Terminator, Avatar). Cameron claims Charles Pellegrino as a friend and Pellegrino has worked with the director on several of his films.

Cameron defended his friend from attacks leveled on him over the 2010 book. In fact, now the director appears in an added section of TO HELL AND BACK in a scene depicting his emotional visit with Mr. Yagamuchi, who was a double hibakusha - that is a survivor of both Hiroshima and Nagasaki- at his hospital bedside in December 2009.
The phrase "last train from Hiroshima" in the book titles refers to the final train that left atomic-bombed Hiroshima and headed to Nagasaki where those people on the train found themselves beneath a second atomic bomb three days later, August 9, 1945.

"I had no choice but to come here and meet you." Cameron told Yagamuchi. The director has told of being haunted by childhood fears of growing up with a fear of nuclear holocaust. See Terminator 2 and its harrowing, criticized by some, nuclear apocalypse "playground scene."

"I believe you experienced both atomic bombs for a reason, making you a link in the chain of human memory." Noting that the hibakusha survivors are now very aged - Yagamuchi 93 at the time of Cameron's visit - the director continued "It's the rest of the world that has to try and remember for them. So now it is up to us to do something about it, and to everyone of good conscience to do something about it."
Yet, despite his purchase of the film rights to the book in 2010 and a promise to Yagamuchi to make a film about the August Atomic bombings, it remains unclear whether the film will ever be made. (See "Foreword)

The new edition contains an emotionally wrenching story of one of the "lost boys" orphaned by the bombings. As a teenager one of them is ostensibly offered employment in the U.S. as part of an American effort to assist these orphans. In heartbreaking reality, the boy is, in effect, "kidnapped" to be used as "a guinea pig."
"I was an experiment in the hands of doctors acting in the name of radiation research." With no family to help him, he was confined to a California mental hospital where he describes the "treatment" as "torture" including bone marrow sampling and spinal taps which continued for weeks until his "case" was heard by a judge who had him released to a nurse who had intervened on his behalf against the doctors in charge of the program. The boy called her his "guardian angel" and she, Mary Furr, in fact, became his legal guardian. He credits her with saving his life and changing it for the better. "Her caring began to thaw a heart frozen by hatred and revenge."

The boy grew into the adult Mr. Thomas Tanemori and in another new section of the book he has a bitter, somewhat shocking encounter with Enola Gay pilot Paul Tibbets. 
Some 56 years after the atomic bombings, in 2001, Tibbets was traveling the country giving "lectures" about his atomic bomb mission. One lecture was given near the site of the Trinity Test in New Mexico not far from history's first nuclear explosion.

During his speech Tibbets had peppered his remarks by referring to the Japanese as "Japs" and by using derogatory expletives to describe them. The now elderly Mr. Tanemori approached the podium and attempted to question General Tibbets (then himself in his mid eighties).

"With all the facts we have now - would you obey the order, or would you refuse?"
In reply Tibbets "yelled, shaking a finger in Tanemori's face and uttering something horrible, before pushing Tanemori forcefully to one side and commanding his entourage, "Let's go!'

Tanemori's response as Tibbets walked out: "General Tibbets, I pray for you, until you find peace in your heart!"

The recommendation here is to read Pellegrino's new edition - TO HELL AND BACK. It is a needed addition to the powerful pantheon of books on this still troubling and important subject.

Read On.

Sunday, August 9, 2015


See Paul Ham's book HIROSHIMA, NAGASAKI, St. Martin's Press, August 2014, available now in paper back.
APPENDIX 9: "Pentagon's Estimated Bomb Requirements for Destruction of Russian Strategic Areas," SEPTEMBER 1945.
The chart lists Russian/Soviet cities and the "No. of Bombs" needed for the destruction of each. For example, Moscow: 6, Leningrad 6, etc. for a total of 66 Cities with 204 Bombs needed to destroy them.
What is striking is the date: SEPTEMBER, 1945. 

Thursday, August 6, 2015


HIROSHIMA by John Hersey (1985 ed.)                                                                                                                                                 BLACK RAIN by Masuji Ibuse (1969)                                                                                                                                                       

Japanese Constitution: (1947)                                                 

"The Japanese people forever renounce war as a sovereign right of the nation and the threat or use of force as a means of settling international disputes."                                                                                                                                                                      Hiroshima(with "target bridge")

There is a bit of a literary and historical paradox when we read these two excellent and important books.                                   Hersey's HIROSHIMA is a non-fiction work that employs some of the techniques of novel writing. It is considered to be a "classic."                                                                                             Ibuse's BLACK RAIN, less well known in the U.S., is a novel written in almost documentary style drawing as it does upon factual source material.

Into the boiling cauldron of Hiroshima Mr. Hersey drops six "characters", though real people, at the exact moment of the Bomb blast. We read and read on following the trail of his sentences as he makes us know the horrors they witnessed and endured and makes us know them - as people, individual human beings - through vivid description and dialogue, their actions and reactions. What they thought and did that morning, at that historic moment, and beyond to Hersey's return in 1985 for his follow-up chapter "The Aftermath."                                                    

"The lives of these six people who were among the luckiest in Hiroshima, would never be the same."                                               

Through empathetic and novelistic writing Hersey makes us care very much about these individuals and the fate of each one of them. We experience them not as abstractions but as living, breathing, suffering, enduring human beings.                                    

HIROSHIMA originally appeared in "The New Yorker" magazine on August 31, 1946, and filled the entire issue. His reportage was a "game-changer" - the first close-up look of the people who survived the Bomb at or near Ground Zero. Personal portraits brought into sharp focus through his skillful use of fiction techniques and simple, powerful sentences.                 

In place of the celebration and relief, anger and for some guilt, felt by Americans in 1945, he tried to provide empathy and closure for his American readers. Gently prodding them to consider again what happened on August 6, 1945 at 8:15 a.m. to the people of Hiroshima and their city.                           

A German Catholic priest, one of his six survivors, tells Hersey that he had to repeatedly remind himself after the bombing: "These are human beings."                                                 

When we read this sparely written, densely factual book, our empathy is engaged. From his pen we learn a few simple, terrible things:                                                                                   That if you wore black that morning, you likely died instantly as dark clothing conducted the Bomb's incredibly intense heat directly into your skin and body. He describes the decorative flowers on women's kimonos as being turned into shadows burnt into their skin.White clothing reflected the heat away from you and you survived at least for a while.                             "Small items of chance or volition meant the difference between life and death."(how you were dressed, whether you were facing away from the blast at that split second or had bent down to pick something up so that a low wall shielded you from the blast).                                                                                                 

Like the American author, the Japanese writer, Mr. Ibuse, was not present in Hiroshima when the Bomb dropped from that blue morning sky its flash-bang detonation quickly burnishing it black while turning morning into near night.                                  

Mr. Ibuse wrote the book separated from his subject by time and place. But as a native of Hiroshima he is as close to his subject as his own mirror. This novel reads as fiction, as it should, though his translator, John Bester, notes in his "Preface", that much of the time it can be read as a "documentary novel" drawn from actual events, records and interviews.                                                 

The journal/diary of Mr. Shizuma provides the author with his chief source of material and did and still does exist. The translator tells us that the novel "is a portrait of a group of human beings; of the death of a great city." That "Against the threat of universal destruction, he sets a love for, and sense of wonder at life in all its forms."                                                                      

Both authors write of the sense of mystery and puzzlement felt by the people of Hiroshima concerning what had happened to them and their city.                                                                                           

Hersey writes of people being bewildered, dazed and apathetic. "They could not comprehend." Plants, he tells us, soon appeared to be growing fast everywhere as if energized by the Bomb. "Wild flowers were in bloom among the city's bones."   Ibuse's characters note the same phenomenon that the "bomb seemed to have encouraged the growth of plants...at the same time that it put a stop to human life." And he writes of their confusion about the "black rain" itself that was neither paint nor tar but "something of unknown origin."                                                                       

Both writers also note the overwhelming sense of the suddenness of it all. That everything happened all at once. 

Ibuse's narrator poses the question "Whatever can have happened for everything to be like this all at once?" One of Hersey's survivors wonders how so many could be "killed or doomed at one blow"and be "so suddenly sick?" Hersey states that the people of the city, in his view, "were the objects of the first great experiment in the use of atomic power." 

Both the novelist and the reporter allude to the ABCC, Atomic Bomb Casualty Commission set up by the U.S. and composed of American and Japanese medical personnel. Each stresses that the ABCC offered no help or assistance to the people of Hiroshima affected by the Bomb. The mission was "to carry out studies and gather statistics" but "it did nothing to treat them." (Ibuse)

Hersey concurs writing that this led the victims of the Bomb to feel "that the Americans regarded them as laboratory guinea pigs or rats." Alleviation of their suffering was not part of the mission mandate.                                                                               

Hersey relates the appearance in May 1955 on the hit television show "This Is your Life"of Enola Gay Co-Pilot Capt. Robert Lewis who tells the show's host that in his pilot's log:"I wrote down the words. 'My God, what have we done?' "                                                                                                                     

In his final chapter Hersey tells us that one of his survivors, Rev. Tanimoto of the Methodist Church published a memorandum in Saturday Review magazine, March 1949, quoted by Hersey:                                                                             "The people of Hiroshima... know themselves to have been a part of a laboratory experiment." But "...they have accepted as a compelling responsibility their mission to help in preventing further similar destruction anywhere in the world...."                       

The memo proposed a "peace park" for the city to "serve as a laboratory of research and planning for peace education throughout the world...."                                                                   After many delays the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park was erected in the center of the city. And there, today, seventy years after the bombing, there will be a peace ceremony.                                                                     

In 1957 the Japanese Diet passed laws to provide medical and other assistance to the hibakusha atomic bomb survivors listing four categories of victims. Hersey lists the four categories, but I quote here only the 4th and last: 

"Those who had been embryos in the wombs of women" in Hiroshima and Nagasaki at the time of the bombings.                          

Both writers touch on the morality of the subject they write about. It appears to be the proverbial "elephant in the room."                                                                                  

"Who cared after all which side won? The only important thing was to end it all as soon as possible: rather an unjust peace than a just war." (Ibuse)                                                                                                                                                                                     "The crux of the matter is whether total war is justifiable, even when it serves a just purpose. Does it not have material and spiritual evil as its consequences which far exceed whatever good might result?" (Hersey quoting the German Catholic priest, one of his 6 survivors)                                                          

Finally, John Hersey's comment on the jacket of Ibuse's book can apply to both books:                                                                 "This painful and very beautiful book gives two powerful messages - of drastic warning, yet also of affirmation of life."                  

We end as we began this Blog Post with Japan's "pacifist" Constitution and a headline from the July 17, 2015, issue of the NYTS:"Japan Moves To Allow Military Combat For First Time in 70 Years."(Regarding the efforts of PM Abe to "reinterpret" the Japanese Constitution).                                                                              

Have THEY forgotten? Have WE? Did the Atmospheric Test Ban Treaty of the early sixties clear our skies - but cloud our memories? Out of Sight and Out of mind? What should we think, feel, do?                                                                                       

Thoughtful comments welcome. Read On.                                                                                                                                                 

Monday, July 6, 2015


     JULY BLOG ANNOUNCEMENT FOR  AUGUST 2015 POST                                                              Our next post will be on or just prior to AUGUST 6, 2015, the 70th "anniversary" of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima, Japan.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          NON-FICTION:                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          
HIROSHIMA by JOHN HERSEY (the later 1985 edition with the added final chapter "The Aftermath" concerning the author's return there four decades later).                                                                                                                                                      

BLACK RAIN: A NOVEL by MASUJI IBUSE, first published in Japan in 1966.                                                                                        



TO HELL AND BACK: THE LAST TRAIN FROM HIROSHIMA by CHARLES PELLEGRINO, pub. date August 6, 2015.                                                                                                                               *PLEASE NOTE: This is the NEW, REVISED EDITION following the controversy in 2010 over the author's first version - THE LAST TRAIN FROM HIROSHIMA which was withdrawn from publication when the publisher issued a "stop the presses" order and supposedly "pulped" its remaining copies. Adding to the controversy was/is the author's connection to film director James Cameron and his less than clear intention to make a film of his friend's book. This original version of the book hit the NYTS "extended bestseller" # 30. You may be able to find it at your local library or from a used book dealer or online seller such as ABE Books.                                                                    
                                                                       To Hell and Back: The Last Train from Hiroshima

                                                                    Product Details                                                                                                                                                                                                       
As in the June Blog Post we will read, compare and contrast, in this case, two non-fiction books, with one fiction book concerning the same historical event: the Atomic Bombing of Hiroshima.  Given these particular books and their subject matter, the August Post will probably be more on the "long form" side. And the assumption here is that there will be more than a few comments and discussion by our readers. Thank you for your time and interest. See you in August.                                  

Thursday, June 4, 2015


A SHORT HISTORY OF WOMEN by KATE WALBERT, published 2009. New York Times Book Review: 10 Best Books of 2009
TO END ALL WARS by ADAM HOCHSCHILD, published 2011. New York Times Bestseller. 

We begin with these two books. And, no, they are not both historical nonfiction works.
   Despite the title of her book, Kate Walbert has authored a difficult to forget work of fiction.
   Upon its publication in 2009, I went to a chain bookstore and needed help finding it. Her novel was not in the New Fiction section. An employee, making a good faith mistake, directed me to the History section. I tried to explain and, of course, the book wasn’t there. This, after a photo of Kate Walbert had just appeared on the front page of the New York Times Book Review with an accompanying laudatory review. A check with a manager produced a box of the books from the store room which he began unloading on the shelf of the New Fiction display section.
   Adam Hochschild has written a well-researched, highly-praised, compelling non-fiction narrative of World War I on the British home front.
   Both of these books concern World War One or “The Great War” as it was  termed at the time. Both authors write of that war and its effects on Britain and its people. Both delve into two related political movements/positions: the pacifist/workers’peace movement and the women’s suffrage movement.Those two causes once joined at the hip - would find themselves severed by the scalpel of war.
   “A Short History of Women” is nothing of the kind. Rather, it is a deep, sharply focused exploration of an era - a moment in history echoing across a century, heard and responded to by five generations of the women of one family beginning with the woman we will mainly concern ourselves with here: Dorothy Trevor Townshend - the family’s controversial, short-lived matriarch.
   Walbert offers up small slices of individual lives affected, if not shell-shocked, by war. Characters described for us in eloquent, engaging prose that drops us, not always gently, into that turbulent time.
   Do not be thrown off by the LINEAGE chart of the women and the family at the front of the book. Kate Walbert is not a historical novelist. She writes not of history, per se, but of characters moving through time and place with history in relief, as backdrop.
   In the novel's opening sentence, daughter Evelyn (Evie) tells us that her mother "starved herself for suffrage." After her mother’s death, 13 year-old Evelyn is enrolled at a school for girls. She and her classmates often find themselves hungry due to wartime shortages. Being so close, physically and psychologically, to the booming artillery and occasional whiff of gunpowder takes its toll on them. One of the girls, feeling, fearing, that she is too near the continental carnage, moves away from the Channel coast to Buenos Aires.
   Dorothy Trevor Townshend does not match the usual image of a “matriarch.” At the age of 34, she dies gradually, though in a shocking manner.Vilified by some, eulogized by few. Her granddaughter finding her, many years later, in the footnotes of history books.
   Walbert presents Dorothy’s death by self-starvation in 1914 as a moral choice occurring in the early days of a war about to devour an entire generation of young British men. A war of choice - made by men. 
   Dorothy will claim that she had no choice in the matter. Yet, we know from reading this novel and Hochschild’s book, that many of Britain’s young men had no choice either. (Conscription raising its ugly head as the war trudges on into 1916). The author immerses us in the murky waters of moral equivalency.
   Even the clergy will not be exempt. The young, ethereally named, Father Fairfield, will be called up in the draft. The girls at Madame Lane’s school are enamored of him, to say the least. But as Evelyn later looks back in witness to that historical moment, she tells us that the Father is, before being shipped across the Channel, “beautiful and ruined” because he will be killed in his second week at the front. We hear a faint echo here of Fitzgerald’s The Beautiful and the Damned, 1922, and of that generation “lost” in so many ways to the Great War. 
   Father Fairfield tells Evelyn that he learned of her mother’s death in the newspapers, and that he thinks that she was a hero. He himself admits that he is not a Bertrand Russell pacifist or conscientious objector. He will not resist the war as others did in Britain at the price of ostracism or of prison terms served, according to Hochschild, at hard labor.
   We are left to wonder if this young, handsome Father had in mind an image of heroism inspired by that of the 34 year old suffragette who willfully orchestrated her own end for the cause that determined both the track of her life and the time and manner of her death. Fairfield not choosing that other path he mentions to a different sort of heroism - resistance, conscientious objection, to the war machine. Choices.
   In 1899 when she is till Dorothy Trevor, she encounters a doctor tending to the wounds of her male friend, the victim of an assault. Flashing forward, Dorothy tells us that this good physician will be a hero as a medic bearing witness to the miraculous Christmas Truce of December 1914. The doctor writes of this extraordinary event in a letter meant for home - the letter will make it back to England but he will not. His letter describes a moment of light and peace brought to the dugouts by the soldiers themselves. The flickering candles atop the trenches, the exchanges of food, the singing of Christmas carols. The opportunity to recover the bodies of their fallen comrades. The doctor observes the friendship and the camaraderie noting that this is something powerfully female - stronger than the violent male impulses leading to war. Morally moved by the sight, he plans, upon his return home, to join the pacifist movement.
   In 1914, the year of her death, the war has already begun when Dorothy Trevor Townshend attends a lecture at the Victoria Club given by a philosophy don, a professor fond of the eugenics movement, who will speak on “A Short History of Women: Some Observations on the Woman Question”.
   She sits at table with some other suffragettes she has never met.  It is here that we are told, through Dorothy, that the suffragette cause has been, in effect, weakened by the war effort with these same women distracted from their suffragist efforts, diverted by things like putting together Red Cross packages for the men at the front.
   They sit there listening to this condescending professor who believes, with the certitude of science on his side, that women lack the capacity to think clearly, weighted down as they are by uncontrollable emotions and a tendency to the dramatic. Their actions based upon impulse and not intellect, driven by their inner tides toward irritability. The don suggests that their true role is to comfort men - with a subtle suggestion, unspoken - of providing men with sexual satisfaction and children. He throws his female audience a bone by predicting that they may get the right to vote sometime in the current century. If they’re lucky, maybe in a decade. But he hopes, that in casting those future votes, they will recognize and bow to the fact that war is a necessity, an inevitability. And, importantly, women are to breed and replace the lost, slaughtered generation of young men.
   After the lecture Dorothy returns home to her family and two children. She fears that what she has dedicated her life to is being overshadowed by the war. All of the work, the fundraiser benefits, the rallies, lost in the terrible reality of all-consuming military conflict.  
   It is, then, that she decides that she must do something. Something to change the direction and decisions of a world dominated by men and their wars.The same man's world that can tell a mother, Dorothy, that her young club-footed son Thomas’congenital physical problems must have been caused by some "unhappy" thoughts of hers during the pregnancy.
   It is not that Dorothy has no doubts about the choice she makes. In the hospital bed, wasting away, she seems to acknowledge that this final, irrevocable decision will be a cruelty to her two children, and she wonders if she can somehow explain to them that she had nothing to give to the cause but her own life.  
   The suffragette cause is an undeclared war, as her daughter Evie thinks. Evie, at thirteen, appearing to accept and even understand her mother’s death, saying, sitting at her dead mother’s side, that this ultimate sacrifice of her mother’s may stir things up for the better. Yet, her mother’s sacrifice orphans the two children - the father having disappeared from their lives.
   A few years later, 1919, Evie at 18, is bound for America to spread the suffragette gospel. She wonders, if one day, her mother will appear on a postage stamp.The vote, with age and property restrictions, having been won along with the war.
   But we wonder - what of ten year-old Thomas? We only know that by 1919 he is in California with his new family after having become a piano prodigy by the age of 16. We read much later, in the final chapter, that he died in his mid-forties from alcoholism (according to the Lineage chart in his mid-forties) and that his abbreviated life was not happy one. That Lineage chart reminds us of History - and history - and that the roots of both entangle themselves down through the generations.
   Dying, Dorothy tells the Nurse that she refuses to simply go along as women are expected to do, implying that this is the final act of her life’s work.
   Selfish or Self-less? Useless suicide or an ultimate act of heroism? A legacy wrapped in a mystery that Dorothy has bequeathed to her female descendants. Leaving those women to unwrap, unravel, it if they can.
   We are left to read, to observe, to try to comprehend. To judge? Suffragette shenanigans? Treason? Or something else? Dorothy dies with her body bent into a question mark. A mystery to her descendants and to us the readers of Kate Walbert’s remarkable, memorably moving book.
   In a chapter set in 2004 Thomas Townshend’s daughter, Dorothy Townshend Barrett, gives a lecture about her suffragette aunt. She herself is in her mid-seventies at the time. She informs the audience that her grandmother, Dorothy, was a member of the Women’s Social and Political Union during the suffragette era. But with the outbreak of hostilities in Europe, she left that group, disappointed and disillusioned, by how many women strongly, blindly, supported England’s involvement in the Great War. Dorothy firmly believed that war is an institution constructed and maintained by men. The war brought about a schism, a break, in the once solid union of hearts suffragist cause. 
   In To End All Wars Adam Hochschild writes of that schism. He introduces us to Charlotte Despard who believes that, once given the vote, women will spearhead a revolutionary, socialist movement which will end the horrors of war and poverty once and for all. Ironically, she is the older sister of one of Britain’s leading militarists, Field Marshal Sir John French.
   We meet the women of the Pankhurst family - mother Emmeline and daughters, Christabel and Sylvia. Suffragettes who believed, before the world war, that they were waging their own holy war on behalf of women. But as war rumors swept across the continent to England, a real fear seized socialists and suffragettes, Hochschild tells us. Fear that a war between the European nations might break the solidarity of the workers of Europe, causing them to abandon the fight for economic and social justice, even setting them against each other on the battlefield as well as on the home front.The activist women, for their part, feared that their suffragette movement itself would weaken and perhaps even disappear altogether.
   A year before the war, 1913, in the middle of a dock workers’ strike, Sylvia Pankhurst convinces women to feed the workers’ children. In gratitude, the dock workers march en masse to Holloway Prison to show their support of a hunger-striking suffragette. The male workers had made common cause with the suffragettes. As the author informs us, many male workers in England did not themselves have the right to vote - about 40% being too poor to qualify for the franchise.
   Just two years earlier, 1911, Christabel Pankhurst had incited the WSPU, Women’s Social and Political Union, members to violence after Parliament voted down a women’s suffrage bill. It is the scale and nature of their actions, described in vivid detail by Hochschild, which gets our attention here.
   Suffragettes vandalizing central London using hammers to break windows in government offices, hotels and over 400 businesses and shops. Those of us of a certain age can recall the anti -Vietnam War “Days of Rage” in Chicago staged by the Weather Underground. But that outburst of righteous anger appears small scale compared to this.
   Emmeline Pankhurst makes a daring raid on 10 Downing Street, itself, alighting from a taxi, to smash windows at the Prime Minister’s residence. Fires are set and bombs detonated. Telephone wires cut. All told, damages in today’s currency, Hochschild informs us, estimated at $60 million. Over a thousand women were rounded up by the authorities and imprisoned. One suffragette, Emily Wilding Davison, killed herself for the Cause in front of a large crowd by running directly onto the racetrack at Epsom Derby - struck by a swiftly running horse. When she died a few days later, the Queen called her a “horrid woman.” Emmeline Pankhurst praised her as “one of our bravest soldiers.” 71
   Hochschild shows us the Women’s Movement, before the war, as united, solid, self-sacrificing and, yes, violent.
   A month before the outbreak of hostilities, July 1914, the socialist parties of Europe convened an emergency conference at Brussels hoping for an anti-war general strike resolution. It failed to pass despite 100,000 people marching in Berlin against war. 
   In England at this time suffragettes were engaging in hunger strikes by the hundreds. The British government responded by ordering their force-feeding. Sylvia Pankhurst repeatedly pushed herself to her physical limits. "I am fed by stomach tube twice a day.They prise open my mouth with a steel gag. I resist all the time...struggling whilst they hold the tube into my throat." (Hochschild quoting part of a letter, March 1913, from Sylvia to her mother Emmeline).
   In 1913 Britain, with war approaching, Parliament passed a bill which its opponents called "The Cat and Mouse Act" formally “The Temporary Discharge for Ill Health Act” calling for the release of any hunger-striking suffragette whenever doctors adjudged her to be too weak from lack of nourishment. The Act allowing her time to “recover” only to be rearrested and even released again as many times as necessary for her to complete her prison sentence.
   This new legal measure was particularly aimed at Emmeline Pankhurst who in 1913 had been found guilty of incitement in the bombing of a house being constructed for Lloyd George, then Chancellor of the Exchequer, soon to ascend to wartime Prime Minister. She declared herself a prisoner of war and, like her daughter Sylvia, began a hunger strike. Released and rearrested repeatedly, as authorized by the new law, she was sent back to prison just a month prior to the war in July 1914.
  Christabel Pankhurst, at that time still on the side of all suffragettes, declared that any war that was about to be fought by the nations of Europe would be divine retribution upon those holding women “in subjection.” 
   BUT, as Hochschild informs us, when war breaks out “everything changed”. Emmeline Pankhurst ordered all women’s suffrage activism to come to an immediate halt. In return, the government released all imprisoned suffragettes with an amnesty.
   Charlotte Despard silenced herself finding it difficult to oppose the war with her little brother, John, now commander of the British forces at the Front. Labor unrest and planned strikes ceased.
   For their part, two of the Pankhursts, Emmeline and Christabel, a few weeks after the war declarations, held a large conference on the “German Peril.” In their speeches, they told the women to turn their suffragette militancy to firing up a kindred militancy in men for the war effort. Now, was not the time, they said to talk of “Votes for Women." Encourage your men, Emmeline declared, to march into war like the knights of old. To die in battle would be “a splendid thing.”
   Emmeline and her followers believed that by strongly, vociferously supporting the war effort, they would be, for once, at the front and center of public opinion, no longer to be dismissed as a lunatic fringe group. Most importantly, they made a strategic calculus that in so doing they could only strengthen their own cause and be rewarded at the end of hostilities with "the Vote".
   But as the war continues to chew up a male generation across the Channel, the divide between suffragette war supporters and war resisters only widens. By 1917 Charlotte Despard has formed the Women’s Peace Crusade, writing an antiwar pamphlet purchased by one hundred thousand readers.
   The author tells us that Christabel Pankhurst lashes out at her, writing in an issue of Brittania, (the name of the paper changed by her from its original name Suffragette) “I consider the pacifists a disease…a very deadly disease.”
   Alarmed by the overthrow of the Tsar and the possible end of hostilities by Russia, Emmeline Pankhurst, herself, travels there in 1917, to try to convince the Kerensky provisional government to keep fighting the war. 
   In opposition to her mother, her daughter, Sylvia, changes the name of her newspaper from Woman’s Dreadnought to Workers’ Dreadnought urging a class warfare waged by the workers of the world to end this war to end all wars. She even proposes a “Women’s Peace Expeditionary Force” to march with a white banner into “no man’s land” between the rival armies. “We must all urge that peace be made… We are yours in this sisterhood of sorrow.” (Hochschild quoting from an open letter Sylvia signed to German and Austrian women)
   Later in the war, Charlotte Despard and Sylvia Pankhurst helped establish an organization to help and protect returning veterans. In April 1915 Sylvia and almost 200 other women attempted to attend a “Women’s International Peace Conference” at the Hague with, yes, German women participating. Outraged British leaders and the press howled at this “pow-wow with the fraus”, with Emmeline turning on her daughter, despising her actions as part of “the peace-at-any-price crowd.” Due to the British government’s interference, only three English women managed to attend the conference.    
   On the other side of the war issue, Emmeline’s “good” daughter Christabel had changed the name of their suffragist newspaper from Suffragette to Britannia - filling its pages with purple, patriotic prose and images of historical heroines like Joan of Arc.
   By the end of 1914 one-third of the British Expeditionary Force is dead at the front. Hochschild telling us that “trainloads of maimed men flooded London….”
   In one of the most memorably moving scenes in Kate Walbert’s novel, Dorothy Trevor Townshend, after attending that 1914 lecture by the Oxford don on the “Short History of Women”, encounters one of these returning troops at the train station, “a battered soldier” with his prosthetic leg unbuckled and propped up against a bench.                                                                              

   She offers him water from her thermos and a biscuit which he accepts with a polite “Thank you.” At his invitation she sits on the bench next to him. She remembers this station from childhood, her mind wandering to the places she once wanted to travel to and see. But all of that has now been thwarted, Kate Walbert suggests, by the war and by the choice she is about to make.                           
   The soldier has been talking to her but she "seems no longer capable of listening" and offers him an apology. But the soldier stands up and, after buckling his "chiseled wood" leg back on, he moves away from her. But not before she sees that he is wearing a woman's ring on his pinkie finger and she knows “this she will always remember.”

**PLEASE NOTE: Kate Walbert’s new novel:
THE SUNKEN CATHEDRAL has a publication date of June 9, 2015. 
If you are in or near Connecticut, she is giving a reading at RJ JULIA’S in Madison on THURSDAY JUNE 11at 7:00pm. Her website, Kate Walbert.com. has a listing of her national tour appearances.

Monday, June 1, 2015


Each month this blog presents two books for consideration. One fiction volume and one historical non-fiction book. The two books related by historical events, particular places, singular people or characters, the same or similar subjects.
    These may not be current bestsellers or even recently published books. So it is possible that the reader may have already read one or both of them. If so, it is hoped that the reader will peruse the post here and read the books again. To paraphrase Hemingway - if writing is rewriting then, perhaps, at least some reading is rereading. If these books are new to the reader, the hope is that the reader will pick them up at the local library or bookstore, or load them onto an E-reader or other device - and Enjoy!
   The idea is that the reading of one book will lead to the reading of the other - in any manner the reader likes. Sequentially perhaps, or if the reader is feeling adventurous, concurrently.
    We might read the novel straight through. Followed by the historical volume. Or, while engaged with the novel, we might flip through the historical text, perhaps, checking out any photographs, maps, or illustrations. 
    For example, in Kate Walbert’s novel  A Short History of Women we are told of British propaganda posters of Germany and its soldiers being plastered all over London. If we go to Adam Hochschild’s To End All Wars, the second photo section, we see a lurid poster caricature of a German soldier as a rampaging ape - a large club in one hand and a struggling damsel in distress tucked in the crook of its other arm. At the bottom of the poster, the single word: ENLIST. More to come...