Review: Bruno Cabanes, The Great War and the Origins of Humanitarianism

Document Type

Book Review


The great war and the origins of humanitarianism is a well-written and tightly argued account of key events, ideas, and, most importantly, the innovators who remade the humanitarian ideal after the First World War. The end of the war marks a turning point in the practice of humanitarianism which takes on a strong ‘transnational dimension’ in the wake of the international crisis brought on by the pressure of total war (p. 5). This story of the transformation of humanitarianism is also one of healing and forgiveness after a war that made victims of both civilians and military combatants. After introducing the subject, Cabanes explains in five thematic chapters, each focused on particular moments of humanitarian intervention, what was at stake in post-war campaigns to assist war veterans, workers, refugees, famine victims and children. The book concludes by assessing the legacy of humanitarian idealism in furthering a universal notion of rights through attempts to ameliorate human suffering.

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