Saturday, September 24, 2011

Norman Davies: No Simple Victory: WWII in Europe 1939-1945

We can think of WWII as well picked-over territory. Persons my age grew up with it in books, films, and television. If, like me, you're a history buff, it makes for easy pickings. However, I think that there's more to this event than simply easy access and relatively recent memory. Less than 10 years before I was born, when my parents were in the prime of their youth, the world was a hell in large measure. Why and how this could be? How leaders deal with the stark facts of the age? These questions are not easily answered, and their continuing consideration by historians remains an area of fascination. Anyway, this is just a prelude to why I listened to this book and read others like it.

This particular book is fascinating because Norman Davies, is primarily a historian of Eastern Europe, and he places his emphasis on events that occurred on the eastern front. WWII, in Europe, was decided in the east, with the Americans and the Brits and their allies in the west playing an ancillary role. The Soviet army, with guns at their backs from the commissars, as well as in their faces from the Nazi's, defeated the Third Reich. Davies makes all of this clear. In addition, he raised in my mind a further question: was Hitler worse than Stalin, our ally? I'm not so sure, and that's not because I think any less of the Nazi regime. The art of comparative terror and evil is perhaps beyond comprehension, but if we attempt it, we see that we did indeed "supp with the devil" (Churchill on the alliance with Stalin). We did not know the full extent of Stalin's evils at the time, but now we do. Davies makes all of this clear. That politics--and war--makes strange bedfellows is a truism, but for all of it's truth, when one stops and examines it, it nonetheless boggles the mind.

If your looking for a history of WWII (excluding the Pacific theater), you would certainly do well with this effort. I know that there are some newer ones and more comprehensive histories, but this does open one's eyes to the horror and craziness of it all. I recommend it highly.

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