Saturday, August 9, 2008

War is Indeed Hell

Wow. Anyone who professes to be a student of World War II had better read Armageddon, the Battle for Germany, 1944-1945, by Max Hastings. This is an author who has vividly captured the cliche: "War is Hell." He holds no punches in praising -- or blaming -- those involved in heroic acts or acts of cowardice or malice.

What I found interesting about Hastings' view of the American philosophy going into the war -- that for the leaders (Roosevelt and Eisenhower) the goals were strictly military, not political, and that there was a lot of naivete, turning a blind eye and complicity in allowing Russian dominance of Eastern Europe. Hastings believes that Roosevelt acted naively in thinking that Stalin and the Russians would live up to their Yalta agreements, which they did not. I thought most fitting the closing words of Hastings' book:

The battle for Germany began as the largest single military event of the twentieth century, and ended as its greatest human tragedy. More than half a century later, we may be profoundly grateful that its worst consequences have been undone without another war. The men who fought and died for the freedom of Europe received their final reward with the collapse of the Soviet tyranny, two generations after the destruction of its Nazi counterpart.
Added into the mix is Hastings' conclusion -- drawn after much research, and from what I know, I believe he's right -- that the Allies (the British and Americans -- went into the war with military objectives and did not do much planning on what would take place in Europe, notably Germany, after the fighting was over. There were efforts like the Marshall Plan, which helped rebuild Western Europe, but those were plans that were drawn up after the fighting was over. I think it's telling that there were no carefully-laid plans for what to do after the war was over. Sounds like Iraq, does it not, where the aim was to oust Saddam, but damned if anyone knows what do do afterward.

The biggest eye-opener for me in this book however -- as was Hastings' intention -- was to outline the atrocities committed by the Russians, particularly when they arrived on German soil. Absolutely nasty things that I won't repeat here. Suffice it to say that though the British and Americans may have made their political mistakes during the war, they pale to the absolute mess the Russians made of things. Absolutely awful.

Anyway, I recommend the book. Well-told, with plenty of new material that will rattle even the most astute World War II investigator.

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