‘To Love one’s Enemy’: British Humanitarian Relief for German Civilians, c.1914-1925.
Date: 28 May 2019
University of Exeter
PhD in History
This thesis studies British relief efforts for German civilians in Britain during the Great War and in Germany from the war’s conclusion through to the mid-1920s. The main charities it examines are the two Quaker organisations the Friends’ Emergency Committee for the Assistance of Germans, Austrians, and Hungarians in Distress and its ...
This thesis studies British relief efforts for German civilians in Britain during the Great War and in Germany from the war’s conclusion through to the mid-1920s. The main charities it examines are the two Quaker organisations the Friends’ Emergency Committee for the Assistance of Germans, Austrians, and Hungarians in Distress and its successor the Friends’ Emergency and War Victims’ Relief Committee, as well as the Save the Children Fund. These relief efforts drew together a variety of individuals and organisations from across Britain, Germany, and the wider world, who possessed a range of different ideas regarding peacebuilding, religion, international relations, and ‘organised compassion’ in the context of total war and the breakdown of international relations. This thesis uncovers how British humanitarian work for Germany emerged and operated through the interaction of these actors and ideas. In particular, a dominant thread running through this thesis is how aid work was viewed by its practitioners not simply as a way for saving lives, but a tool for bettering the world itself: not simply carrying out acts of humanity in a world at war, they sought to create a more humane and progressive world. In effect, while these workers were motivated by other religious and political beliefs, they held ‘faith’ in humanitarianism itself as an ethical and effective force in a chaotic and violent world. By studying how this ‘faith’ emerged and developed over the course of these relief efforts, this thesis makes two main scholarly interventions. Firstly, it explores the possibilities and the limitations which humanitarianism offered in navigating and overcoming the currents of violence, nationalism, and hatred the Great War unleashed. Paying attention to humanitarian work as a form of peacebuilding in the war and its aftermath, it will demonstrate the repeated frustrations and tensions which relief workers faced in balancing their peacebuilding agendas with the requisites of material relief work. Secondly, by exploring how relief efforts expressed a ‘faith’ in humanitarianism, this thesis will seek a more nuanced examination of the development of early twentieth century humanitarianism than literature which has narrated this history in terms of ‘modernisation’ or ‘secularisation’, narratives which overlook the complex ideas and strategies which nominally ‘religious’ and ‘secular’ humanitarians utilised over the course of this period.
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