Book Review: Elusive Dove: The Search for Peace During World War I


by Neil Hollander

Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland, 2014. Pp. viii, 304. Notes, biblio., index. $39.95 paper. ISBN: 0786478918

The “peace process” in World War I. 

In Elusive Dove independent scholar Hollander has written an interesting, detailed, and often quite nuanced account of the struggle to preserve and then restore international peace in the era of the Great War.  His book has just four chapters.

His first chapter, “A Prelude for Peace,” has a wide ranging discussion of the nineteenth century trend toward international cooperation and peace .  Hollander details an impressive number of popular, political, and governmental efforts to establish an international environment that would make war less likely.  Governments concluded agreements on commerce, helped peacefully resolve crises in many corners of the world, convened conferences to regulate the law of war, and made treaties of arbitration and cooperation.  Individuals, churches, and political movements held peace rallies, published literature promoting peace, and formed international peace societies that numbered in the millions, and more.  But the chapter ends with the events of July 1914 that quickly, and somewhat surprisingly for many, plunged Europe in war. 

“Peace before Christmas . . ." looks at peace initiatives in the early stages of the war.  While some of these will be familiar to scholars of the war, such as the proposals by Pope Benedict XV and President Wilson, others will not, notably quite approaches by diplomats through third parties or by royals through neutral kinsmen.  These all failed, of course, and the chapter ends with the famous “Christmas Truce” of 1914.

“The Long Road to Peace” deals with efforts to end the war from 1915 through 1918.  Much of this chapter deals with what might be called popular efforts to end the fighting, proposals by individuals or political groups such as the socialists to encourage the peoples of the belligerent nations to take action, including in some cases efforts to suborn the troops into mutiny.  It also covers further efforts by the Vatican, the U.S., and other nations to encourage negotiations, and takes a look at the curious, promising, but unsuccessful “Sixtus Affair,” during which Emperor-King Charles of Austria-Hungary reached out through his royal kin and the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk, which ended the war between the Central Powers and by-then Soviet Russia.  The chapter ends with the armistice of November 1918.

The final chapter, the shortest by far,  “Peace – With a Vengeance,” considers the ways in which the Treaty of Versailles failed to establish an environment that would sustain peace.

Hollander has a comprehensive knowledge of the events, and goes into often surprising detail on ideas, proposals, events, and individuals.  When he discusses peace initiatives such as those by Pope Benedict and Wilson, or the “Sixtus Affair, he provides analysis of the reasons for their failure.  Hollander also tries to bring his characters to life, and there are many, among them the smug Kaiser Wilhelm, the surprisingly well-intentioned if hapless Tsar Nicholas, the war-profiteering but generous Alfred Nobel and Andrew Carnegie, the inept Chacnellor Theobald von Bethman Hollweg, visionary socialst pacifists such as Jean Jaures and, surprisingly, Benito Mussolini, and many more.

Elusive Dove is an unusual book and worth reading by anyone with an interest in World War I and the problem of war and peace.

Note: Elusive Dove is also available as ane-pub ISBN 978-1-4766-1410-6

Reviewer: A. A. Nofi   

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