Top positive review
346 of 362 people found this helpful
on November 1, 2011
What is the reason that the Second World War is still a magnet for readers, laymen or professional historians? According to Mr. Hastings, this is so because it was the most
disastrous event in the human history. Did you know, for example, that 27000 people perished daily between September 1939 and August 1945?
This book is mainly about the human experience, in what is called the bottom-up approach to history. Although the military theaters are not neglected at all, they appear here and are described through the lens of the common people or the soldiers who took part in the various scenes of this conflict. The main question posed by Mr. Hastings is: what was the Second World War all about? The answer is grim and, in the words of Arthur Schlesinger, it "concerned mainly stupidity, lies, arrogance and pomposity". Take into consideration the fact that 168000 Russian
Civilians were executed during the war because of cowardice or desertion. Many more thousands suffered the same fate without due process.
Hunger was rampant in many parts of the world, especially throughout the British Empire, where one million were to die in Bengal, and many other famines would break out in Kenya or Egypt. Cannibalism cases which happened in Russia are as well described and it is the author's conclusion that the German army lost because its aims were unrealistic and its forces overstretched. One Russian soldier, Stepan Kuznetsov, wrote that in during the Leningrad siege," all out soldiers on the front look like ghouls-emaciated by hunger and cold. They are in rags, filthy and very, very hungry".
The Wermacht's combat performance remained superior to that of the Red Army until the end of the war, in almost every local action the Germans inflicted more casualties than they received. But their tactical skills no longer sufficed to stem the Russian tide. Stalin was identifying good generals, building vast armires with formidable tank and artillery strength, and at last receiving large deliveries from the Western Allies, including food, vehicles and communications equipment. As Mr. Hastings writes, "the five million tons of American meat that eventually eached Russia amounted to half a pound of rations a day for every Soviet soldier".
There are some myths which are demolished by this book. One of them concerns the so-called exuberant enthusiasm of kamikaze pilots who fought the Americans. Another myth concerns the question-or reason-why the Allies did not bomb the concentration camps during the Holocaust. The guerrilla war against the Axis occupiers, promoted by Allied secret organizations, which has been romanticized in post-war literature, had small strategic impact and resistance groups were seldom homogeneous. Combatants fared better than civilian: around three-quarters of all those who died were unarmed victims rather than active participants in the struggle, and the peoples of western Europe escaped more lightly than those of eastern Europe. Unfortunately, only a fraction of those guilty of war crimes were ever indicted, partly because the victors "had no stomach for the scale of executions, numbering several hundreds of thousands, that would have been necessary had strict justice been enforced against every Axis murderer".
The US Navy found the experience of combating the kamikazes among the bloodiest and most painful of its war and Japanese airmen carried out almost 1700 sorties to Okinawa between 11 March and the end of June 1945. Again, only a limited number of Japanese war criminals were prosecuted.
This is a gem of a book, giving both a macroscopic and panoramic view of the major episodes of the war, and a microscopic examination of many instances of it. To a large extent, this is 'everyman's story'. You will enjoy each page of this long and fascinating book.