War Against War: The American Fight for Peace, 1914-1918

Michael Kazin

Simon & Schuster, 2017

Agent: Sandra Dijkstra

The untold story of the movement that came close to keeping the United States out of the First World War.

This book is about the Americans who tried to stop their nation from fighting in one of history's most destructive wars and then were hounded by the government when they refused to back down. In the riveting War Against War, Michael Kazin brings us into the ranks of the largest, most diverse, and most sophisticated peace coalition up to that point in US history.

They came from a variety of backgrounds: wealthy and middle and working class, urban and rural, white and black, Christian and Jewish and atheist. They mounted street demonstrations and popular exhibitions, attracted prominent leaders from the labor and suffrage movements, ran peace candidates for local and federal office, and founded new organizations that endured beyond the cause. For almost three years, they helped prevent Congress from authorizing a massive increase in the size of the US army, a step advocated by ex-president Theodore Roosevelt.

Soon after the end of the Great War, most Americans believed it had not been worth fighting. And when its bitter legacy led to the next world war, the warnings of these peace activists turned into a tragic prophecy, and the beginning of a surveillance state that still endures today. War Against War is a dramatic account of a major turning point in the history of the United States and the world. 


Editor's Choice, New York Times

"[A] fine, sorrowful history...Kazin's work is an instructive one, an important book in chronicling a too often neglected chapter in our history. Most of all, it is a timely reminder of how easily the will of the majority can be thwarted in even the mightiest of democracies."
New York Times Book Review

"[A] much-needed book for this anniversary season...[Kazin] paint[s] a full and nuanced picture of the surprisingly diverse array of Americans who opposed the war."
New York Review of Books

"Kazin, a history professor at Georgetown and editor of Dissent, brings a fascinating perspective to the war that is still known as the Great War. He focuses on Americans who advocated for peace...Kazin paints a portrait of the diverse coalition of realists and idealists who sought, instead of resorting to military force, to create a new global order...He convincingly argues that the U.S. decision to join the Allies was a turning point in history and one that reverberates today—including in the form of the 'surveillance state'..."
Los Angeles Times

"Kazin chronicles the antiwar movement in America during World War I. Embracing all classes, religious beliefs, and ethnicities, these resisters launched demonstrations and ran peace candidates in an effort to keep America out of the war. Kazin argues that, with the retrospective sense of many that the fighting wasn’t worth it and led to the tragedy of World War II, the antiwar movement was prophetic. And he sees its very existence as ultimately kicking off the idea of a surveillance state."
Library Journal

“Kazin ably shows how a movement with sensible goals and the wind at its back can be broken by circumstances—here, the resumption of unrestricted submarine warfare by Germany—and a lack of political courage to resist party loyalties and intense emotional appeals. The author's sympathies are openly with the pacifists, but he presents all parties fairly in this well-researched, carefully written work. … Illuminating.”
Kirkus Reviews

"For Kazin, the heroes of the pre-WWI period were those who strived to prevent U.S. entry, and he pays eloquent tribute to a diverse coalition of peace activists, including feminists like Crystal Eastman, socialists, progressive politician Robert La Follette, Henry Ford, and even a staunch segregationist, House majority leader Claude Kitchin...the courage of those who opposed the war is given proper recognition in this passionate account."

"Michael Kazin's War Against War confirms his stature as one of the most astute historians of the American 19th and 20th century social movements. Equally significant to readers is that the lessons contained in his new book are presciently relevant. Read along with his earlier The Populist Persuasian: An American History, it would serve as a manual for resistance to war in the coming years."
Washington Independent Review of Books

"[War Against War] is well-written, carefully researched, and compelling scholarship. A dramatic read, this work expounds in detail on critically important parts of American history that tragically have gone forgotten and unlearned."
New York Journal of Books

"War Against War’s great strength is in laying out the pitfalls and fractures the pacifist movement confronted...while showing how it created a strong enough base, and a powerful enough critique, to push back against U.S. entry for three years."
In These Times

"Kazin ends War Against War with a salute to those who search for peace. He deserves praise for portraying that quest with clear-eyed honesty and rigor. Maybe that kind of clarity could help keep us out of wars to come."
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
"[Kazin] expertly conveys the complex and electric prewar political landscape, and the constellation of reasons that many Democrats, Republicans, Socialists, farmers, feminists, left-wing trade unionists, segregationists and liberal immigrants had for banding together in this common cause, and then for breaking apart again."
Shelf Awareness

"[Kazin] brings a fascinating perspective to the war that is still known as the Great War [and] convincingly argues that the U.S. decision to join the Allies was a turning point in history, and one that still reverberates today."
National Book Review

"War Against War is a convincing warning about the falsehoods and self-deception that drew us into WWI and later into Korea, Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan."
History News Network

“Once again, Michael Kazin has written a book about the past that forces us to take another look at our present. War Against War, the story of the activists who opposed American entry into World War I, is a gem of historical analysis. Eloquently written, powerfully argued, fully documented, it introduces us to a remarkable and remarkably diverse cast of American characters and compels us to re-examine the most fundamental of questions: when is a war worth fighting?”
—David Nasaw, Professor of History at the CUNY Graduate Center and author of The Patriarch: The Remarkable Life and Turbulent Times of Joseph P. Kennedy

“At a time when people tell veterans, ‘Thank you for your service,’ Michael Kazin reminds us of some largely forgotten people who deserve our thanks far more: those who tried to keep us out of the most terrible war the world had yet seen. The dissenters against American participation in the First World War are still a model for us, and Kazin evokes them with care and grace.”
—Adam Hochschild, bestselling author of To End All Wars

“A compelling cautionary tale. . . . War Against War reminds us of the false hopes that drew us into World War I, Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan. It should be required reading for aspiring military officers and every politician pronouncing on U.S. leadership around the globe.”
—Robert Dallek, bestselling author of An Unfinished Life

“Anyone who cares about this country's role in the world should read this book.”
—John Milton Cooper, Jr., author of Woodrow Wilson: A Biography

“A magnificent book . . . In elegant and engaging prose, Michael Kazin tells a story about politics, morality, social forces and a fascinating cast of personalities [that] is at once sobering and inspiring.”
—E.J. Dionne, bestselling author of Why the Right Went Wrong