qatsi (qatsi) wrote,

Book Review: The Second World War, by Antony Beevor
I was impressed by Beevor's Berlin book many years ago, but I hadn't felt sufficiently interested to read any of his other military histories until this one came along. For a change Beevor is taking a view of the entire conflict rather than focussing on a small aspect of it.

Beevor chooses to begin briefly in Mongolia, where the Red Army of the USSR tackled Japanese forces in the summer of 1939. But the focus quickly moves to Europe, the period of appeasement to Germany in the late 1930s, and the invasion of Poland. This is a military history rather than a political one, but there's no mistaking the author's scathing tone adopted towards the French government and army in the period 1939-40, from half-hearted support on Poland through to the fall of France.

My knowledge of the war is episodic, and one reason for wanting to read this book was the hope that various strands would be tied together to make a more rational whole. I think the book achieves this, and reveals for me some intriguing insights. A pivotal moment is the end of the Battle of Britain, when Hitler decides to switch his forces to the east and prepare for invasion of the USSR. Beevor suggests that this plan was intended to bring Britain to discuss terms after the fall of the USSR, which Hitler expected to take only a matter of weeks (as had most of western Europe). The North African campaign arises out of Italian colonial ambitions and (as in various other locations) the need to secure oil supplies. The attack on Pearl Harbor did not come out of the blue, but at the end of a process of deteriorating relations between the US and Japan over the occupation of China and the Japanese alliance with Germany.

Of the victorious parties in the war, possibly only Stalin achieved the outcome he desired. "If Hitler invaded hell I would make at least a favourable reference to the devil in the House of Commons," said Churchill, but Roosevelt was much more amenable to the leadership of the USSR. The war did not end with a liberated Poland; the Americans did not see Chiang Kai-shek lead the Nationalist side to victory afterwards in the resumed Chinese civil war. We can at least be grateful that no conflict on this scale has occurred since.
Tags: books, history
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