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Reviewed by:
  • Civilians in a World at War, 1914-1918
  • Christopher Fischer
Civilians in a World at War, 1914-1918. By Tammy M. Proctor. New York: New York University Press, 2010. 400 pp. $35.00 (cloth).

The dominant narrative of many of the memoirs of soldiers from the First World War stresses the fundamental differences, and even incomprehension, between warriors and civilians. Tammy Proctor's newest work demonstrates that, at least for civilians, such a dichotomy was to a [End Page 459] degree false. Proctor's central concern is to explore what it meant to be a civilian and, along the way, explore the very ambiguity of the idea of civilian status in a total war. While civilians could be defined as those not in the armed services, a lack of armaments scarcely shielded civilians from the war. Indeed, civilians found themselves drawn into the conflict in myriad ways. Modern war could not be prosecuted without the mobilization and cooperation of those at home; moreover, civilians were often the victims of violence despite the seemingly static nature of the fighting in World War I.

The opening chapters of Civilians cover better-known terrain, but do so with an eye toward showing how the homefront and battlefield were heavily intertwined. Chapter 1 focuses on the militarization of civilians through drafts as well as through work in such uniformed services as the Red Cross. More centrally, as the ensuing chapter explores, civilians took part in the war by providing the necessary labor not just in factories and on farms, but in constructing rear echelon areas for the military. Here Proctor places emphasis not just on normal civilian populations but also on the importance of POWs, colonial workers, and conscripted workers from occupied areas to the belligerents' ability to wage war. Chapter 3 takes on the most commonly examined strains of war on civilians, such as rationing, the mobilization of public opinion, and, for some, direct violence in the form of early bombing campaigns. For many civilians, the end of the war marked the end of only one set of traumas, as they still had to contend with economic demobilization, the return of refugees, the deaths of loved ones, and, in many countries, social and political turmoil.

Proctor then turns to a number of arenas where civilians were deeply enmeshed in the war, even more than from the alleged safety of the "homefront." Near the stable lines of Western Europe and across Eastern Europe, civilian populations had to contend with the stresses of occupation. Civilians in those zones could not help but be touched by war through increased requisitions or billeting of troops, forced evacuations, or complex moral choices about whether to cooperate with occupation forces. Some civilians—medical personnel (chapter 5) and a variety of technical experts (chapter 6)—found themselves drawn into the gray zone between home and combat. Medical personnel were often civilians working near the front under military guidance, under fire, and suffering from many of the same mental traumas as their co-nationals in the armed services. Technical experts likewise represented a liminal group in World War I, whether in the guise of the supposedly neutral but always suspect employees of the Red Cross or as logistical or scientific experts (e.g., chemists developing better weapons), who [End Page 460] after the war often questioned their own role in helping to prolong the conflict. Finally, Proctor offers a very welcome overview of the problem of interned civilians, the hundreds of thousands of individuals who were rounded up for reasons of security based on their background (e.g., suspect enemy aliens such as Germans in Australia) and had to endure the painful life of internment camps, camps that Proctor argues served as models for later institutions such as those for Japanese Americans in World War II.

Throughout Proctor is to be lauded for seeking to differentiate experiences by class and gender, and, where possible, by religion and ethnicity. Indeed, while the lion's share of the examples are drawn from Western Europe and the Anglophone world, the author often seeks to include Eastern European and colonial experiences. To complete her overall task, Proctor delves deeply into the memoir literature...


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pp. 459-461
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