Top positive review
145 people found this helpful
Why Did the Nazis Continue to Fight a Losing War?
on September 28, 2011
Ian Kershaw, the author of a number of excellent books on the Third Reich including a fine biography of Hitler, asks a key question in this book: when when it became obvious that Germany would lose the war, and continue to suffer devastating destruction, why did the Nazis continue to fight on in futility? The author first sketches the issue in a preface and then identifies the "dramatis personae" or key players in the drama in brief bios. Then in a substantial introduction, he outlines the issues and explanations that have been offered. While not a book of military history as such, there is certainly enough discussion of the Reich's military posture during and after key battles to satisfy those with such interests.
Many explanations have been put forward to explain this surprising development, for example that the civilian population was "bought off" by some of the fruits of the war; that an overwhelming popular consensus continued to support Hitler's government; a pervasive feeling that the Germans had no other alternative but to continue fighting; the effective use of terror to cow the population; and the military code of honor. The author focuses on some additional and probably more fundemental reasons. The "charismatic rule" of Hitler continued to mesmerize the civil population; a strategy of "playing for time" so that new miracle weapons and division among the allies could fully develop; and surprisingly, the near successful assassination attempt on Hitler unleashed tremendous popular support.
So in Kershaw's view, the answer lies in far more than the application of terror, though that was certainly a factor.
The author seeks to resolve these questions by focusing upon three key groups in the Reich: Hitler's top cronies; the views of senior military officials; and the civilian population. Where possible, he lets each group speak for itself via documents, recorded debriefings, and memoirs. He also skillfully demonstrates why the western front was so different from the horror of the East. Particularly important in keeping things going was Albert Speer, who has armaments director worked miracles in actually increasing wartime production of military equipment and directing critical repairs of railroads and bridges. When the Eastern front collapsed, and the Red Army flowed into East Prussia and was brutal in its actions, the civilian population's fear level rose to astounding highs, and led to continued support for the war even though it could not be won.
Kershaw also discusses another factor which has always seemed very important to me: the fear of punishment for wartime atrocities if Germany were to lose the war. So the top leadership felt it had no option but to fight on, and nothing to lose by doing so. Equally interesting is the author's discussion of what happened after Hitler's suicide when he could not longer block capitulation. Under Admiral Donitz a makeshift government continued to function for several weeks, until Ike lost patience and demanded capitulation.
There is much more to consider in this 400 page book. The narrative is supported by 41 photos and 9 excellent maps. As usual, the author's research is impeccable, and over 100 pages of notes, a list of archival sources, and a list of works cited are included. Most importantly, Kershaw is so knowledgeable about this period, that every page rings with authority. For those interested in this topic, this is an indispenable resource.