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Ww Ii Book Review

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The conventional, cliff notes version of World War II taught in high schools across America tends to read something like this: capitalizing on inflation in the Great Depression, animosity from the Versailles treaty, and a virulent current of German anti-Semitism, Hitler rose to power. Soon after, he forced Chamberlain to sell out Czechoslovakia, struck a bargain with Stalin to partition Eastern Europe, invaded Poland spurring a continental conquest that required little effort, all the while engineering the Holocaust. Winston Churchill, a voice in the wilderness held out, against tremendous odds. It was not until Hitler made the mistake of invading Russia and Japan made the mistake of invading Pearl Harbor, that the trinity of Roosevelt, Churchill and Stalin, all equal partners in their disdain for Nazism and all aided by considerable economic and military might, struck back. In the wake of the Normandy invasion, Germany fell. After all loose ends in Europe were tied up, Hiroshima was bombed and the war in the Pacific likewise ended. The result was a victory for democracy. To supplement this cursory overview, two films, both Steven Spielberg productions, Saving Private Ryan and Schindler's List have become standard fare for teachers seeking to demonstrate the savagery unleashed during the Second World War.

These films have had a far reaching effect on the perception of this historic conflict. Indeed, the Spielbergization of World War II has peppered the public perception of this conflict, leading to a renewed interest in World War II, but also in upholding and reinforcing the aforementioned narrow view. Yet, when one delves deeper beneath the surface, as is often the case, one finds that there is more to the story than high school texts or Hollywood cinema has to provide. In the eight works of historical prose examined here, unconventional explanations are given to various segments of World War II. Be them unpopular, intentionally controversial, or downright sensationalistic, each author examined provides a different take on what was arguably the most important conflict of the twentieth century.

The beginnings of the World War II are examined by P.H.M. Bell in his aptly titled The Origins of the Second World War in Europe. A lucid and thorough examination of the antebellum state of Europe, Bell's work poses a series of questions, either supporting or refuting these claims. Ultimately, Bell sums up the war's causes by succinctly explaining that, "The conflictÐ'...arose from three major elements: the expansionist urge of Germany and Italy; the willingness of other powers to accept their expansion for so long that it became impossible to check it without major war; and the eventual determination, on the part of these same powers, to resist that expansion even at the cost of war."

Where Bell breaks from tradition is in his idea that World War II was not a necessary outgrowth of World War I (what he terms the "Thirty Years War Argument," doubtless an allusion to the conflict that racked Central Europe in the seventeenth century). Instead, he argues that there appeared "the outline of a successful European recovery cut off in its prime by the great depression and its dreadful consequence, the advent of Hitler." Far from being a continuous thirty year conflict that was halted at Versailles, Bell maintains that international relations between the two wars, began to normalize. Instead of mounting antipathy between the victors and vanquished, tensions began to cool. This was evidenced not only by the Dawes Plan, but also the Locarno agreements, and the relationship between Astride Briand and Gustav Stressemann. Indeed, World War II was caused in large part by the Great Depression, and there was no indication that this event was eminent.

Bell also breaks with the common view of Hitler's ideology and writings in Mein Kampf. He urges readers not to fall into the trap of "exaggerating Hitler's control of events" and remember that "Hitler was undoubtedly much given to presenting arguments which would be suitable that his readers wanted to hear at any given time." Rather than the ideologue we have come to believe molded history in his view, Hitler was a snake oil salesman who sought to please the masses to achieve power.

Bell's work was largely written as a response to British historian A.J.P. Taylor takes a different view of the events leading up to 1939. In The Origins of the Second World War, he maintains that while Hitler is undoubtedly to blame for sparking the invasion of Poland, he is merely a symbol of a greater aggressor: the German people. Taylor maintains, in his second introduction, that "He was in part the creation of Versailles, in part the creation of ideas that were common in contemporary Europe. Most of all, he was the creation of German history and of the German present. He would have counted for nothing without the support and co-operation of the German peopleÐ'... In international affairs, there was nothing wrong with Hitler except that he was a German." (Taylor was a supporter of the Thirty Years War thesis).

Taylor contends that for too long Germans have laid the blame for World War II at the feet of the Fuehrer who, conveniently, was dead and thus could not defend himself. This, in essence, exculpated them from any complicity they may have had in bringing about the conflict that engulfed Europe for the better part of six years. Germany was as much to blame as Hitler.

Yet Taylor does not exonerate the allies. He is a vocal critic of appeasement maintaining that at any time, the Allies could have stopped Hitler, and chose the wrong time to do so. They were content to allow the Anchluss, with respect to Czechoslovakia, they "continued to demand that Benes commit suicide in order to secure their own peace of mind" , and with respect to Poland, hoped "that their undefined relations with the Soviet Union would deter Hitler." The British and the French were the ones who, despite having treaties, sold the nations of Eastern Europe down the river in hopes of maintaining the status quo. Yet, the status quo, for Germany, was unacceptable. It was a harsh peace treaty that compromised their ideas of national greatness. In the end, the designs of the Western Democracies were stymied by Hitler, who sought, a renunciation of that treaty, and shrewdly managed to outmaneuver his counterparts.

Clearly, Taylor, a British historian, writing at a time when the London Blitz was within memory, has an anti-German bias. His writings, though now dated, are not without merit, but also belie that he was writing to create a controversy to stir the pot in the academic community. Certainly, they have generated discussion over the role the Allies played in precipitating



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