Guest Review: Author Rick Atkinson on Six Months in 1945
Rick Atkinson, recipient of the 2010 Pritzker Military Library Literature Award for Lifetime Achievement in Military Writing, is the bestselling author of The Day of Battle, An Army at Dawn, The Long Gray Line, and In the Company of Soldiers. The final volume of his Liberation Trilogy, covering the last year of the European war, from Normandy to Berlin, will be published in 2013. Atkinson was a staff writer and senior editor at The Washington Post for twenty years, and his many awards include Pulitzer Prizes for journalism and history. He lives in Washington, D.C.
By February 1945, when Franklin D. Roosevelt, Winston S. Churchill, and Joseph Stalin met at the Crimean resort of Yalta, the Grand Alliance had become the most successful military coalition in modern history. The Big Three, with help from lesser allies among what Roosevelt called the united nations, had nearly obliterated the fascist Axis. The German Reich had but three months left to live, the Japanese regime barely twice that. In the three years since the Allies had formally made common cause, they had won great victories on three continents and the high seas, liberating the Mediterranean, most of Europe, and much of Asia from Axis oppression, and all but ending, righteously, a catastrophe that would cost sixty million dead worldwide.
Six months after the triumphant gathering at Yalta, the war-winning alliance had largely come unglued. Collaboration against the existential threat of fascist totalitarianism was supplanted by mutual suspicion and recrimination. Blood allies had become geopolitical rivals, if not blood enemies. The long, sanguinary war would become a long, fraught, dangerous peace.
Michael Dobbs tells this story with panache, lucidity, and exceptional scholarship. Six Months in 1945 ably sketches the big arrows on the map, showing how the concluding chapters of World War II became the opening chapters of the Cold War, shaping the world we inhabit today. Characters long dead return to life, not just the obvious architects of Allied victory, but vivid, vital, less well-known figures whom Dobbs deftly rescues from obscurity. From Yalta to Potsdam, the tale is told with authority and clarity, drawing on memoirs, archives, and a wealth of other sources, including many in Russian.
The bevy of books on the end of the war and its immediate aftermath, large and impressive though it may be, is enriched by Six Months in 1945.