Until now, scholars have portrayed America's antiwar literature as an outgrowth of World War I, manifested in the works of writers such as Ernest Hemingway and John Dos Passos. But in War No More, Cynthia Wachtell corrects the record by tracing the steady and inexorable rise of antiwar writing in American literature from the Civil War to the eve of World War I.
Beginning with an examination of three very different renderings of the chaotic Battle of Chickamauga--a diary entry by a northern infantry officer, a poem romanticizing war authored by a young southerner a few months later, and a gruesome story penned by the veteran Ambrose Bierce--Wachtell traces the gradual shift in the late nineteenth century away from highly idealized depictions of the Civil War. Even as the war was under way, she shows, certain writers--including Herman Melville, Walt Whitman, John William De Forest, and Nathaniel Hawthorne--quietly questioned the meaning and morality of the conflict.
As Wachtell demonstrates, antiwar writing made steady gains in public acceptance and popularity in the final years of the nineteenth century and the opening years of the twentieth, especially during the Spanish-American War and the war in the Philippines. While much of the era's war writing continued the long tradition of glorifying battle, works by Bierce, Stephen Crane, Mark Twain, William Dean Howells, William James, and others increasingly presented war as immoral and the modernization and mechanization of combat as something to be deeply feared. Wachtell also explores, through the works of Theodore Roosevelt and others, the resistance that the antiwar impulse met.
Drawing upon a wide range of published and unpublished sources, including letters, diaries, essays, poems, short stories, novels, memoirs, speeches, magazine and newspaper articles, and religious tracts, Wachtell makes strikingly clear that pacifism had never been more popular than in the years preceding World War I. War No More concludes by charting the development of antiwar literature from World War I to the present, thus offering the first comprehensive overview of one hundred and fifty years of American antiwar writing.
Starred Review of War No More
“Wachtell musters a stunning wealth of evidence from writers both known and relatively unknown, from Hawthorne, Melville, and Whitman to Joseph Kirkland and Frank Stockton. Her most impressively persuasive chapter discusses how the technological advances that made possible the shift from smooth-bore musket to machine gun, in less than half a century, closed down the long-running debate on war as a romantic endeavor and brought a virtual end to romantic war poetry. VERDICT Wachtell’s work is an important contribution to American studies, combining a crucial literary and historical perspective. Highly recommended for all interested readers.”
Advance Praise for War No More
"War No More is a landmark study, the most important work on war writing to have emerged in many years. Brilliantly conceptualized, rigorously analyzed, and beautifully written, it poignantly dramatizes the rich legacy of the pacifist impulse while offering stunning new interpretations of such major authors as Whitman, Hawthorne, Melville, Crane, Twain, Howells and James. It should be required reading for anyone interested in American literature, history, and human rights." —John Stauffer, Chair of History of America Civilization and Professor of English at Harvard University
“The romance of war is a perennial element in the American literary imagination. Those who wrote against the grain, those who saw the immorality, the obscenity of war, in the fifty years during and after the Civil War, are the subjects of Cynthia Wachtell’s fine book. This is a path-breaking study, focusing not on patriotic gore but on patriotic pacifism, that turn of mind shared by Melville and Whitman and a host of other writers, whose dazzling literary legacy is still very much alive today.”—Jay Winter, author of Remembering War: The Great War between History and Memory in the Twentieth Century
“This is an impressive study with a fine range of illustrative authors both well known and not-so-well known. It is convincingly argued and Wachtell’s style is a model of clarity and unfussy prose effectively presented in scholarship of the highest order.”—James Justus, author of The Achievement of Robert Penn Warren
Read even more glowing reviews of War No More
Wachtell discusses her book on WXRK's Weekend Magazine with Bob Salter
- Antiwar Writing Goes Mainstream - Civil War to Afghanistan (4:26)
- Civil War Echoes in Viet Nam (3:18)
- Images of War Dead in American Culture (2:53)
- Antiwar Women Writers in Civil War Era (2:30)
Links for Cynthia Wachtell
Cynthia Wachtell's War No More website
Essays by Wachtell in the Disunion series on The New York Times website
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