Subject changed from: A groundbreaking history of the Second World War. I posted the following which is, partly a review and partly my own observation about the Second World War and questions raised from those observations. Roger Moorhouse, who reviewed the book for The Independent asked when he received a copy, as, no doubt, many others also will: "Do we really need yet another big book on the Second World War?"
In fact, as with much other history of modern and earlier times, accepted conventional mainstream histories don't properly explain the Second World War, although a growing number of alternative historians have in recent years provided better and better explanations.
Unless lessons of that and other conflicts are properly understood, it is likely that a new global war, fought with weapons vastly more advanced and terrible than those used to kill 60 million from 1939 to 1945, may make that barbarity seem civilised.
More than anyone else I can bring to mind right now, Max Hastings has demolished any possible view that the Second World War was not a ghastly tragedy for most people affected by it.
I think, however, that All Hell Let Loose fails to adequately address one of the most vital questions that should concern anyone who takes the trouble to study this war:
That question is, once the war began, could the leaders of the anti-fascist alliance -- Britain, the US, the Soviet Union, etc. -- have won the war more rapidly and with less bloodshed and destruction? Was it necessary for all of 60 million to die to rid the world of the evil that caused the Second World War?
Western allies war against Hitler needlessly prolonged
Even Max Hastings acknowledges that opportunities that the Western Allies had to rout the Axis armies in North Africa and Southern Europe were thrown away, , time and time again, by what he depicts as poor judgment or incompetence on the part of a number of generals charged with running the ground war in North Africa and Southern Europe.:
- General Montgomery's overly cautious pursuit of the German and Italian Armies following the British victory at El Alamein in 1942, which allowed them to escape;
- The failure of the Americans and British to stop German and Italian forces escaping from Sicily across the straits of Messina to mainland Italy in 1943; and
- The failure of the American and British to prevent the invasion of Italy by Germany after Mussolini was overthrown in 1943. (This is only touched on by Hastings.) Had the US with their vast air superiority simply bombarded the railway line at the Brenner Pass bordering Italy and Austria, there is no way that sufficient German forces to impose German rule could have moved into Italy.
I could add a number of other examples not raised by Hastings.
Had the British and American leaders acted more decisively, Germany's war machine would have collapsed in 1943, if not earlier, but it seems that Western governments found two more bloody years of war and destruction preferable to the collapse of the Third Reich.
Could it be that an unstated war goal of Western governments was for stable capitalist rule to be maintained? Had the German Army collapsed in Western Europe, popular Communist-led partisans who triumphed in Yugoslavia would have also triumphed in Italy, Greece and possibly elsewhere.
As it was the de-facto co-operation given by the Western Allied military to the Wehrmacht in its suppression of partisans in Greece and Italy ensured the triumph of right-wing forces, including many former collaborators in the Western sphere of influence. Stalin also contributed to the triumph of right-wing forces, through, for example, his cynical betrayal in 1944 of triumphant Greek communist partisans, whom he ordered to lay down their weapons before the British,
Need Eastern front war have been so costly?
A more vexing question is how the terrible bloodshed on the Eastern Front, in which the vast majority of lives were lost, could possibly have been reduced.
Surely, it should have been possible for Stalin to have offered Germany peace in return for reparations and punishment for the leaders who had caused the war and those German soldiers who had committed the worst crimes against Soviet citizens?
If that had been done, say, after the German offensive against Moscow was stopped in 1941, and Germans, who surrendered, treated humanely, then surely fewer and fewer Germans would have seen reason to continue to fight for Hitler.
Instead, the brutal conduct of the war against all Germans, with no realistic prospect of peace with dignity offered to them, ensured that most fought ferociously until the very end, making the toll paid by the Soviet Union much higher than it need have been. The brutal treatment of Eastern Germany by its Soviet occupiers after 1945 would have helped confirm in the mind of many former German soldiers that they were right to fight to the end.
1. I don't necessarily include General Eisenhower in this. He started the war as a relatively junior officer (Lieutenant-Colonel, I recall) and was promoted to Supreme Commander of the Western Allied armed forces because of his demonstrated ability. It seems that 'mistakes' which served to prolong the war, were made on a number of occasions by officers junior to him, including, in Sicily, by Patton and Montgomery. He may have had, at the back of his mind, his experiences in the Second World War, when in January 1961, in his departing speech as US President, after JFK had been elected, he warned against the "military-industrial complex".
2. I haven't yet reached the part of the book which describes the ground war in Northern Europe from June 1944.