Saturday, September 24, 2011

QT: Jack Goldstone on the Econ Crisis Redux

Goldstone sounds a lot like Krugman, although Goldstone is a historian and social scientist who has written about revolutions, the coming of early modern Europe, etc. Worthwhile, because in these times, history is our best guide.

QT: David Frum on the Great Recession

QT = Quick Takes. I'm going to cite some interesting reading that I've encountered and have been meaning to post. Here favorite Republican thinker (not an oxymoron) David Frum has a worthwhile take on America's troubles given to a Canadian audience. If more Republicans were like Frum, we'd have a much better result. Anyway, I find many of his contentions quite worthwhile and convincing.

June 1941: Hitler & Stalin by John Lukacs

Published in 2006 and weighing in at 164 pages, this is another John Lukacs gem. While in my last post I pondered the incredible evil of these two totalitarian dictators and how difficult it would be to weigh the relative evils of themselves and their systems, this book gives things a different look. Lukacs notes that both men were "statesmen", not in a laudatory sense, but in the sense that each of them ran great states that had goals of securing and aggrandizing their positions. They each had goals, and they cooperated in dividing Poland between them in 1939. Then, in June 1941, Hitler launched Operation Barbarosa, invading the Soviet Union. Stalin, who had received numerous warnings from varied sources, refused to believe the warnings. He nearly suffered a nervous breakdown when it happened.

Lukacs recounts these events well, including the use of recently released Soviet archives. But Lukacs does not answer the question of why Stalin refused all of the warnings. Perhaps no one can. Nevertheless, this is a fine portrait of the two leaders who cooperated and then crossed one another, and told by a master historian. Hitler's decision to invade the Soviet Union led to his eventual downfall. What if he had succeeded? He came close to winning the Second World War. On the other hand, Stalin did succeed eventually and ended up controlling virtually all of Eastern Europe for nearly 36 years. Great forces may set the stage for history, but individual human decisions still create the action.

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.