Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Not your idea of World War II - New Books In History

I cannot recommend enough the podcast New Books In History (NBIH). Marshall Poe interviews authors of recently published books in history. Here you will earn some real insight in history topics that have your interest. Moreover, the interview format and the length of the show makes it extremely fit for podcast and accessible for all audiences. (feed)

NBIH is the podcast that frequently teaches me something radically new in history. Take for example the recent show with Joe Maiolo about the origins of World War II. Maiolo's book 'Cry Havoc: How the Arms Race Drove the World to War 1931-1941' does away with a major consensus about WW2 which especially lives among the lay: Without Hitler no war. Maiolo attempts to show that the international politics of the interbellum and the ensuing arms race pushed Europe to a second version of the Great War. Hitler only facilitated and expedited it.

Then there was another consensus challenged, more implicitly though and apparently the challenge was not new, but again, for the lay public, that is, for me, this was also a radically different view: Germany was to lose the war, always. Germany lost the war already before it started. The victory over France in 1940 was a fluke. I always thought the attack on the Soviet Union (1941) did the Germans in, as they got overstretched, but the facts as Maiolo sees them (and apparently not just he) is that from the onset this was a war of industry and Germany never had a chance the meet the capacity of England and the US, even without France and Russia. It is a miracle they came as far as they did and the sheer industrial disparity only came out as late as 1942, 1943.

Eventually one thing nags me after the interview. In light of the second point the first actually loses some weight. If the objective power balance was such that Germany could never win, neither the arms race, nor the total war, why would you be so sure ANY other German ruler had let the whole things slide into war? It actually sort of suggests that it took a warmonger and megalomaniac such as Hitler to take on all German enemies in spite of the stack being against him. Yet, the interview makes it also clear that much of Maiolo's findings have the clarity of hindsight. Few of the leaders involved saw it as clear as all that. So maybe indeed, WW2 had to happen, although it was more likely to become a short repetition of WW1, not the huge disaster we know. So, how is that?

More NBIH:
When Akkadian was Lingua Franca,
The 1910 Paris flood,
Stasi agents and informants,
War in Human Civilization,
Always recommended: New Books in History.
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