As anyone familiar with Victor Davis Hanson’s writing would expect, his new, exhaustively researched summary of World War II comes from a novel angle and is a very stimulating and original work. The war is not approached chronologically, and its origins are only cursorily summarized, but it is examined thematically, as if by a scanner or ultrasound from different perspectives. Thus, the plural title Second World Wars and the subtitle How the First Global Conflict Was Fought and Won. The component analyses are grouped in the vast categories of Ideas, Air, Water, Earth, Fire, People, and Ends. This technique produces, from early on, an extensive variety of surprising facts that are very informative and will enhance the knowledge even of people who are already well read on the subject.
These insights from unusual angles start with the very first paragraphs, where it is explained that from the outbreak of World War II on September 1, 1939 to the formal end of it on September 2, 1945, twenty-seven thousand people perished in war-related activity every single day: sixty million people, an unheard-of total in world war-making history, and almost four times the total of World War I, in which a large number of deaths were from epidemics. The subtitle refers to World War II as the “first global conflict,” by which Mr. Hanson apparently means that, despite the small though historically important skirmishes in North America, Africa, the Middle East, South Asia, and the far Pacific, previous intercontinental wars were essentially European. World War II racked up heavy casualties between main force units of the Great Powers in Europe, Asia, Africa, and Australasia, and the naval war came into the coastal waters of all continents except Antarctica. Certainly, World War II was the first war in which Great Powers located on both the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans fought each other with the intention of subduing the other completely.
Previous intercontinental wars were essentially European.
Mr. Hanson cogently ascribes the unprecedented bloodletting of World War II to the full-scale involvement of all of the Great Powers, seeking either the complete humiliation or the unconditional surrender of their enemies. He also cites the tremendous advancements in the destructiveness of weapons up to the dawn of the nuclear age and the policies of the Germans, Japanese, and Russians of deliberate mass murder of some of the combatants and civilians of certain ethnic groups and nationalities. Seventy to eighty percent of those killed were civilians, a much larger proportion than in any other modern war. One learns that the Anglo-Americans dropped thirty times as great a weight of bombs on German cities in the four months after D-Day as the Germans unloaded on the British in the six months of the Blitz. (Though he touches on the moral implications of bombing civilians, and quotes Mr. Churchill many times, always with admiration, Mr. Hanson unfortunately omits Churchill’s assertion that “The hideous, stertorous sleep of the Hun must be disturbed.”) This is the first major war in history in which the victors sustained more casualties than the defeated powers (because of the terrible numbers of casualties in Russia and China, where the Germans and Japanese claimed to be exterminating inferior races).
The phenomenon of appeasement is very precisely examined and explained in a few apposite quotes: the British ambassador to France in the 1930s said that because France had been victorious in World War I, “The British thought the French have become Germans and by some mysterious transmutation the Germans had become Englishmen”; the chief author of appeasement, Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain, is authoritatively quoted as blaming the Austrian Anschluss on his anti-appeasement foreign secretary, Anthony Eden, and wrote that it could have been avoided if he had brought the appeaser Halifax into the Foreign Office earlier.
Mr. Hanson sketches out in non-chronological order the major causes of the war. He debunks the theory that Versailles was a Carthaginian peace: none of Germany was occupied, the disarmament requirements were unenforceable, as were the reparations, and the peace was less onerous than that dictated by Bismarck at the end of the Franco-Prussian war in 1871 (also at Versailles) was for France. Germany’s direct enemies were in worse condition than Germany was in 1918: Russia was in revolution and civil war, and France had suffered far greater per capita casualties than Germany in World War I and much of the French industrial heartland had been destroyed. The British and French were shortly governed by people fiercely determined to avoid another war, while Germany fell into the hands of a leader determined to exploit the weakness of the West as long as he could and then to unleash on it a far more violent war than had ever been known before.
Mr. Hanson writes that “Allied statesmen assumed that the Germans would soon tire of their failed painter and Austrian corporal” (Hitler). These same statesmen had wasted the 1920s with ridiculous gestures towards peace. When the economic follies of the time brought the later aggressors to power, their tasks had been made easier: the Washington Naval Disarmament Conference helped enable the enemies of the Allied countries to challenge them at sea in World War II, and the Kellogg-Briand pact conferred upon the Western powers for a time an absurd serenity that war could be outlawed as a means of national policy through moral suasion.
Germany and Italy were governed by dictators who had served in the ranks in World War I and liked war. They just kept picking their rivals’ pockets until France, exhausted, leaderless, and irresolute, crumbled under the weight of the German Blitzkrieg, and Britain, as is its ancient historic habit in wars with Great Powers that are going badly, suddenly changed leaders and elevated a statesman of unlimited, but just, bellicosity. Though he does not put it in this way, and Mr. Hanson, an eminent classicist, tends to draw on ancient Greek and Roman analogies, Winston Churchill was following in the British tradition which calls for the man of action in war emergencies: William Pitt the Elder and Younger (Seven Years’ and Napoleonic Wars), Palmerston (Crimea), and Lloyd George (World War I).
Hitler began with the determination to shred the Treaty of Versailles and re-establish Germany as the greatest power in Europe. He seized upon the scattering of irredentist German minorities all over Central and Eastern Europe to single out the host countries one by one, like a great cat choosing a vulnerable beast in a herd; terrorized these countries singly on pseudo-righteous and racialist grounds; and then devoured them, claiming at each turn that he had no further ambitions: regaining the Saar, remilitarizing the Rhineland, annexing Austria, the Sudetenland, Czech and Moravian areas, the Lithuanian Memel, and Poland. When the “worms” he had seen at Munich—namely, Chamberlain and Daladier—went inexplicably to war after Poland’s turn came, Hitler gave them seven months to come to their senses, and then attacked with immense speed and mass (the combination that Napoleon had said comprised force) in Scandinavia, the Low Countries, and France.
Although he does not explicitly state it here, Mr. Hanson effectively follows the traditional truism about Germany—that it was too late in unifying, too late in determining whether it was an eastward- or westward-facing country, and that whenever it sought to strengthen its own security it destabilized its neighbors. Mr. Hanson believes that Hitler, having sloughed off the restraints of Versailles and having accustomed the British and French to accepting timidly whatever outrages he wished to inflict on their Versailles Treaty protégé-states, intended to continue on his winning streak, picking up what was easy, and would work it out, objective by objective, as he went gluttonously along.
At the twilight of peace, the only leader of a great power who had a serious concept of what he was doing was Franklin D. Roosevelt, whom Mr. Hanson treats generally respectfully but underestimates as a strategist. He does assist in disposing of the canard that the United States underperformed Nazi Germany economically in the Depression. The United States did better than Germany and the other Great Powers at producing infrastructure, conservation, and, ultimately, defense production workfare programs (including the construction of the frequently mentioned aircraft carriers Enterprise and Yorktown) for the steadily shrinking number of unemployed people, than they did conscripting every serviceable male into either the armed forces or war production.
Until the elevation of Churchill on May 10, 1940, most of the leaders of the Great Powers were, to a remarkable extent, delusional, and the Axis leaders continued to be so. Stalin, ignored in the run-up to the Munich give-away, became disgusted by the feebleness of London and Paris, and made his deal with Hitler, dividing Poland between them and, as he thought, shrewdly ushering Germany into a lengthy and enervating war in the West. Russia would be tertius gaudens on the sidelines. Hitler had assumed the “worms” would keep on giving, and could not imagine that they would suddenly be replaced in London by a mighty warrior.
German use of armor and coordinated air attacks was already styled, in the catchy, pagan Nazi propagandistic vocabulary, “Blitzkrieg,” but the French and British had superior and more numerous tanks and aircraft, if only they had had the military and civilian leaders to deploy their military strength intelligently. The German mystique was instantly created by, as Churchill wrote in an early message to Roosevelt, smashing up “the little countries like matchwood.” In fact, as the surviving Allied powers all proved, Blitzkrieg could be countered by more purposeful commanders armed with tanks and aircraft of adequate number and quality, and the Allies already had the designs and productive capacity.
Blitzkrieg could be countered by more purposeful commanders armed with tanks and aircraft of adequate number and quality.
Hitler, after strolling around Paris for a few hours, and after his peace offering was rebuffed by Churchill, assumed that he could just keep winning aggressive wars against his neighbors. I disagree with Mr. Hanson’s theory, widely shared, that withholding a Panzer attack on the Dunkirk perimeter was a great mistake. Committing those divisions then would have brought increased activity from the raf, which had already demonstrated that it could hold its own with the Luftwaffe, and would have caused Churchill to move heavy units of the Royal Navy, unchallengeable in the English Channel, close in-shore, and its big guns could have smashed 1,500 or so German tanks in an hour. Hitler, for once, was in the bounds of reason, for chasing the British out and preserving all his strength to rout the main French army to the south and sweep France out of the war before Paul Reynaud (who had replaced Daladier), Georges Mandel, and the young Charles de Gaulle could assert themselves and move the navy, air force, and much of the army to North Africa to carry on the war.
It is disappointing that France is not more thoroughly treated in this book, and that de Gaulle is only mentioned in passing as an early advocate of mechanized warfare. France was a more substantial power than Italy, and de Gaulle was a statesman on approximately the same plane as Roosevelt and Churchill. By the end of the war, he had secured France an occupation zone in Germany and status as a co-founder of the new international organization in which for a time some hopes were invested (the United Nations).
Benito Mussolini had persuaded himself by fifteen years of bravura and the shameful assault on underdeveloped Ethiopians and Albanians that Italy, too, was a Great Power, but it wasn’t. Italian aircraft, tank, and artillery designers and naval architects had produced fine and competitive models, but Italian industry had comparatively little capacity to build them, and Italy had a chronic insufficiency of the resources needed for a serious war, oil and steel in particular. Its ships were fine, and it had the world’s fifth-largest navy after Britain and America (which were about equal in size, despite Mr. Hanson’s frequent claim that the British was larger), Japan, and France. But Italy had no aircraft carriers or radar: its ships valued speed ahead of armor and were very vulnerable to British torpedo planes and heavy units, or in any night-time exchange. The senior military staff, apart from the charismatic Air Marshal Italo Balbo, was a gang of patriotic fuddy-duddies, fascist roués, and scoundrels who couldn’t lead Italy across the Ponte Vecchio. Mussolini, in de Gaulle’s phrase, “flew to the aid of the German victory” in 1940, was disgraced by Roosevelt’s description of him as having “struck the dagger into the back of his neighbor,” and was soundly thrashed by the British (and the Greeks) on land and sea at every opportunity, apart from the brief Italian victory in Somaliland.
The Japanese leadership was collegial, colorless, and set on a course of regional domination. It was headed by General Hideki Tojo, a bland military committee chairman, leading a coterie of military counselors to the Emperor. Hirohito, whom Mr. Hanson scarcely mentions, proved the great survivor of all the leading personalities in World War II, continuing serenely on the Chrysanthemum Throne until 1989, after an astounding reign of sixty-three years, following five years as Prince Regent. There was no Japanese leader with a public following apart from the Emperor; a clique of belligerent officers evicted the relatively sensible Prince Fumimaro Konoe in October 1941.
Konoe and Hirohito had grave misgivings about attacking the United States, but the Tojo faction prevailed and sold the argument that it was better for Japan to do this than to submit to American pressure to withdraw from China and Indochina or face a permanent embargo on oil imports, for which Japan was reliant on the United States for 85 percent of its supply. The Japanese militarists had talked themselves into a dream world wherein Japan could demoralize the United States with a sneak attack and hold them at bay thereafter. Mr. Hanson portrays the celebrated Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto, well remembered in the West for his comment that the Pearl Harbor attack he had planned would “wake a sleeping giant and fill it with a terrible resolve that will shortly be turned upon us,” as both an advocate of and opponent of war with the United States. I don’t doubt that is true, but it could have been elaborated, as Yamamoto is generally credited with having both successfully planned and presciently opposed the attack on Pearl Harbor.
This brings us to the last of the Great Powers to be engaged, and much the greatest of them, the United States, and its longest-serving president. Here, I’m afraid, Victor Davis Hanson falls a bit short of the mark. He gives due attention to the immense industrial capacity and war production of the United States and credits Roosevelt with imaginative assistance to Britain and Canada to keep them in the war. But I believe he is too muted in his praise of the astoundingly agile political finesse Roosevelt displayed from 1937, with his “Quarantine Speech,” through Pearl Harbor, and in securing the cross-Channel invasion in 1944. He also buys too much into the argument of Roosevelt’s supposed naiveté opposite Stalin.
Roosevelt gave the British fifty destroyers (which Hanson rightly defends from the charge of complete obsolescence) and introduced the first peacetime draft in the country’s history. He packed his administration with Republicans (War Secretary Stimson, Navy Secretary Knox, Intelligence Chief Donovan, Ambassador to London Winant—the closest the United States ever came to coalition government), all while breaking a tradition as old as the republic in taking, after a fake spontaneous draft at the Democratic convention and a strenuous election, a third presidential term. All of this was predicted to Hitler by his ambassador in Washington, Hans Dieckhoff, an able man despite being the brother-in-law of Hitler’s imbecile Foreign Minister, Joachim von Ribbentrop. Roosevelt pulled his ambassador from Berlin after the infamous Kristallnacht pogroms in November 1938, and Hitler reciprocated. Roosevelt extended territorial waters from 3 to 1,800 miles in the Atlantic, and ordered the U.S. Navy to attack on detection any German or Italian vessel and to notify the British and Canadians of their location. He rammed through Lend-Lease that effectively gave the British and Canadians—and eventually the Russians—anything they wanted, and they could pay for it when they could. (As a member of the British House of Lords, I voted to approve the final Lend-Lease repayment in 2002.) Roosevelt’s view of neutrality was, to say the least, an idiosyncratic one; Mr. Hanson credits him with his political management of the requirements of the American strategic interest, and a formidable defense build-up from 1939 to 1941, but short-changes him on the consequences of his benign Machiavellianism.
More importantly, Mr. Hanson gives Roosevelt inadequate commendation both for rejecting the usually very sensible General George C. Marshall’s insane plan for a forty-division “Sledgehammer” landing in northern France in 1942 (the Germans would have killed or captured all of them) and also for forcing Marshall into the Torch invasion of North Africa, that, as foreseen, delivered the French empire to the Free French, caused the German occupation of the fraudulent and treasonous state of Vichy France, eased supply to the ussr, and put a rod to the back of Rommel in Tunisia, while sobering the quasi–German sympathizers, Franco (Spain) and Salazar (Portugal).
Churchill badgered the Americans with hare-brained schemes.
Mr. Hanson further passes over entirely the reluctance of the British to invade northern and southern France in 1944. Churchill badgered the Americans with hare-brained schemes for invading Norway, for bribing Turkey into the war as Britain had Romania and Italy—to their sorrow—in the Great War, and for charging up the Adriatic (narrow waters with the German air force on both sides) to invade Slovenia and pass through the “Ljubljana Gap”—which, according to General Eisenhower, did not exist—to take Vienna as the Red Army advanced through Germany and into France. It was a mad enterprise. Churchill prevailed upon Roosevelt to join him in propositioning Turkish President Inonu after the Teheran Conference, to no avail (a photograph of the meeting is in this book, without the context). Roosevelt had to stay in the Soviet legation in Teheran to assure himself, in advance of the first Big Three summit conference, of Stalin’s preference for a cross-Channel invasion of France over the Adriatic plan.
Churchill and his Chief of the General Staff, Field Marshal Sir Alan Brooke, believed Stalin only supported it because he thought, as they did, that the Western Allies would be thrown into the sea by the Germans, as the British had been at Dunkirk and in Greece and Crete, and that this would facilitate Russian advances into Germany. They may have been right about Stalin, but Roosevelt correctly foresaw that, due to superiority in the air and in mechanization, there would not be a repetition of the ghastly blood-letting on the Western Front of France and Flanders in World War I. Roosevelt spoke German and French and knew those countries well, and he also knew that in every major European conflict starting with the Thirty Years’ War, the victor was the power that controlled Germany. Invading France and proceeding into Germany was the only way for the Western Allies to do that.
Roosevelt was always aware that the Germans and Russians could make a separate peace if Stalin became convinced that the Anglo-Americans were just playing games in western Europe. Stalin volunteered at Teheran that there had been preliminary discussions with the Germans in Stockholm in the summer of 1943. Roosevelt also believed, accurately, that once the Anglo-Americans were across the Rhine, the Germans would cave quickly in the West, while continuing to fight fiercely in the East, in order to surrender to powers that observed the Geneva Convention and would therefore be civilized occupiers, rather than the Russians, with whom Germany had conducted the most barbarous war in world history, reciprocally murdering millions of civilians and pows. In all of this, Roosevelt was correct. His success in these matters is rivaled as the supreme triumph of American strategic diplomacy only by Benjamin Franklin’s persuasion of the absolute monarch of France, Louis XVI, to lead his bankrupt state into war against Britain in the American Revolutionary War, and in favor of republicanism, democracy, and secessionism. fdr’s strategic judgment was impeccable and exceeded in prescience and realism that of any of the other contemporary leaders.
Mr. Hanson refers somewhat disapprovingly to the demarcation of occupation zones in Germany, but does not mention the European Advisory Council, which determined the zones. Roosevelt didn’t want such a commission, which was set up at the foreign ministers’ meeting in Moscow in the autumn of 1943. He believed, as has been stated, that the Western Allies had a chance to occupy all of Germany, but Stalin was afraid of that and Churchill was afraid that Britain would have a small zone because it only would have 14 divisions in Germany (not counting the Canadians, as the British liked to do, but Canada was an independent country with its own army) against 70 American and 150 or more Soviet. The delineation of East and West Germany was agreed upon, as the Soviet zone became East Germany. But these zones were agreed upon after the Teheran Conference had secretly decided to move Poland’s eastern and western borders 200 miles to the west, so most of the Soviet zone of Germany was really in Poland. Also, as was somewhat, but not entirely, foreseen, up to 12 million ethnic Germans moved west in advance of the Red Army, to avoid it, consolidating Germany, finally, as a western-facing country. The rap on Roosevelt for letting Stalin so far into Europe is an outrage, and it was the great anti-communist Winston Churchill who, against Roosevelt’s wishes, accepted the “naughty” spheres of influence agreement in Moscow in October 1944, conceding Hungary, Romania, and Bulgaria to Stalin, dividing Yugoslavia equally, and reserving Greece to the West. Stalin tried to renege on the last two.
Mr. Hanson rightly stresses the seventy-five thousand casualties the United States took occupying Iwo Jima and Okinawa, but he gives short shrift to the Joint Chiefs’ beseechings not to forgo Soviet promises to share the million casualties anticipated if it proved necessary to invade the Japanese home islands, in the event that the atomic bomb, only tested three months after Roosevelt died, did not work. Mr. Hanson makes a little-known point that, because of the peace that existed between Japan and the ussr until August 1945, the Soviets were able to deliver Lend-Lease assistance to themselves unhindered, from Seattle and San Francisco to Vladivostok, on American ships reflagged as Soviet.
The greatest strengths of this very fine book are in the comparative weapons and logistical assessments and the evaluations of strategic alternatives. With all the hype about Blitzkrieg, which lingers yet, the German army was largely reliant on horse-drawn transport, right to the end, while the Americans swamped the Allied armies with trucks and jeeps. The Russians had better tanks than the Germans and the American tanks, especially after modification by the British, were perfectly competitive, and were produced in unimaginable quantities. The same pattern was repeated in aircraft of all types. The Germans never had a serious long-range bomber, despite Hitler’s and Göring’s fantasies about bombing New York. Another remarkable fact, rarely emphasized, is that the U.S. Army really only had about one hundred divisions of trigger-pullers (plus twenty or more Marine divisions). Eighty percent of the army’s personnel were occupied with logistics and administration, nonetheless achieving amazing results in medical care and supplies of all kinds. (Mr. Churchill was astounded when President Roosevelt invited him to a Thanksgiving dinner in Cairo in November 1943 on their way to meet Stalin at Teheran, and told him that every member of the U.S. armed forces everywhere in the world was having a turkey dinner that day.) The veteran German infantryman was the most efficient at killing his opponent, but not in the face of heavy numerical odds and predominant enemy firepower, conditions the Allies were able to create from late 1942 on.
The perceptions of resource allocation in this book are also brilliant and original. The money wasted by the Germans and Japanese on gigantic battleships didn’t achieve anything and these, mainly because of Allied air power, were all dispatched to the bottom quite promptly (Bismarck, Tirpitz, Yamato, and Musashi). Devoting the same resources to building submarines could have mitigated the greater Allied talent in code-breaking and anti-submarine warfare.
In strategic areas, it was tremendously interesting to read Mr. Hanson’s views that the liberation of the Philippines should have been achieved with the defeat of Japan, and not after one hundred thousand U.S. and huge numbers of Filipino casualties, and that MacArthur’s command should have been folded into Nimitz’s command of the Central Pacific. Mr. Hanson incites us to infer—and the inference may be accurate but should have been explicitly stated—that MacArthur was humored because of his political popularity. Also welcome are the description of the Market Garden fiasco of September 1944 as a foolhardy initiative doomed completely by Field Marshal Bernard L. Montgomery’s unhurried approach to it; and the impeachment of Eisenhower’s continuous front offensive and restraint of General George S. Patton’s Third U.S. Army, when it looked like it could cross the Rhine in 1944, outflank the Ardennes offensive, and possibly win the war six months earlier than actually occurred, before the Soviet armies had entered Germany.
Mr. Hanson offers a good many stimulating alternate scenarios, in campaign strategies and weapons procurements, and makes the point that the Allies were fundamentally immensely stronger than the Axis, worked much better together, and had much more capable top leadership. Hitler was brilliant at times, but was mad as well as evil; Tojo was a military clerk; and Mussolini had become an operatic buffoon. Roosevelt and Churchill were almost sublime leaders (as, in his rancorous and under-armed way, was the almost unmentioned de Gaulle), and Stalin, though satanically wicked and not altogether sane, was not completely detached from reality and was a very formidable national and military chief. There was no coordination at all among the Axis powers, but the Western Allies had an integrated command and cooperated broadly well with the Soviet Union, as long as they were fighting the same enemies toward the same, or at least reconcilable, goals.
If they had had Churchill and de Gaulle leading them from the start, the British and French might have been able to contain Germany, but ultimately could only defeat it with the collaboration in combat of the Americans or Soviets. When France was swiftly and decisively beaten and surrendered at once, Britain, with Commonwealth and American help, was unconquerable in its home islands and much of its overseas connections, but could only be a victorious power in Europe in company with the United States and Soviet Union. Mr. Hanson gives no credit to Hitler’s view that by mid-1941 he was, by Roosevelt’s actions, almost at war with the United States, and that if such a war erupted, Germany would be vulnerable to attack from Russia—the nightmare of the two-front war. Hitler reasoned that if he could eliminate Russia from Europe before the Americans came in against him, he could keep the Anglo-Americans out of Europe for at least a whole generation. It was not as insane a gamble as it has been represented to be, though, as this book explains, Hitler bungled the war in Russia, and it may have been unwinnable for Germany anyway. Hitler’s speech declaring war on the United States was insane, in concept and in content, but it would not have taken Roosevelt long after Pearl Harbor to bring Germany into direct hostilities, whatever Hitler did.
With all the Great Powers engaged, the correlation of forces asserted itself: Italy, out of its league, was crushed more abjectly than France, and then surrendered and joined the Allies. The Free French also became steadily stronger and more militarily useful—ten French divisions and the extensive French resistance underground participated in the Liberation of France. Germany, correctly judged a more dangerous as well as a more proximate enemy than Japan, was remorselessly beaten into unconditional surrender, smashed to rubble, and entirely occupied. Japan’s turn came quickly after, hastened by atomic bombs. Most of the leaders of the Axis powers and the more egregious French collaborators were executed, committed suicide, or were imprisoned. All four countries settled comfortably into complete domination by their former enemies. The early German occupation of France was uneventful, and the stylish French were impressed by their virile conquerors in their crisp Hugo Boss uniforms, who had beaten them so easily. It became much nastier later. Italy, Germany, and Japan developed great admiration for their relatively generous Anglo-American conquerors. The United States was the greatest power, followed by the ussr, and Germany and the British Commonwealth were approximately even, followed by Japan, France, and Italy. These relative forces played out accordingly, while Hitler and the Japanese falsely convinced themselves that their principal enemies were racially inferior.
Mr. Hanson’s treatment of the military leaders is fine, but I think he overestimates Admirals King and Leahy, whose brilliance I have not discovered, even with Mr. Hanson’s help. I am to some extent influenced by Leahy’s preposterous respect for Marshal Pétain, to whom he was Roosevelt’s ambassador for two years. (Roosevelt told King he had promoted him because “I heard you cut your nails with a torpedo-net cutter and shave with a blow-torch.”) Mr. Hanson rightly debunks Omar Bradley and praises Admirals Nimitz and Spruance and General Patton, but he gives no evaluation at all of the leading American army theater commanders, Dwight D. Eisenhower and Douglas MacArthur.
I think it is hard to attack them much for their performance in those roles, but I wish Mr. Hanson had gone farther with his alternate scenarios. I believe that if in 1943, President Roosevelt had followed Mr. Hanson’s retroactive advice to avoid the Philippines and consolidate the Pacific command under Nimitz, and had moved the somewhat redundant Cordell Hull from the State Department to the Supreme Court, elevated Marshall and Eisenhower to the posts they would soon occupy with distinction—Secretary of State and Army Chief of Staff—and put MacArthur in charge of Overlord (the Normandy invasion), then there would have been no Market Garden, and Montgomery would have taken the port of Antwerp instead. There then would have been twenty more divisions not used in the Philippines, for southern France or even Churchill’s Adriatic Plan, and Patton would have crossed the Rhine in September or October and the war would have been over by Christmas, with almost all Germany and half of Czechoslovakia in Western Allied hands.
Roosevelt would not have handed over any territory in Germany to Stalin, any more than he released any of the 6.5 billion dollars in economic aid he had promised, until Stalin honored his Teheran and Yalta commitments to Poland and the rest of Eastern Europe, a matter that, had he lived, Roosevelt told Stimson he would discuss with Stalin in light of America’s monopoly of atomic weapons. MacArthur could have become a very serious candidate for president by 1948, but that is outside the ambit of this book and its reviewer.
What is ultimately important—and Mr. Hanson largely makes the point—is that of the world’s seven Great Powers at the start of World War II, all of them except the United Kingdom and the United States were, in the summer of 1940, in the hands of dictatorial regimes hostile to the British and Americans. But in the late summer of 1945, four (Germany, France, Italy, and Japan) were in the hands of and generally occupied by the British and Americans, and on their way to becoming flourishing democratic allies of the Anglo-Americans. And the remaining Great Power—the Soviet Union—compensated itself by occupying six pre-war East European countries where it was not welcome, was unable to install itself durably, and was present contrary to its treaty obligations, all after the Soviet Union, as between the Big Three Allied Powers, had taken over 90 percent of the combat casualties and 99 percent of the physical damage in subduing our common enemies.
This is the sure measurement of who won. It was the genius of Churchill and Roosevelt that they won with inordinate reliance on the blood and courage of the Soviet masses, sacrificed for victory by the man whose treacherous arrangement with Hitler began the war. The Western Allies, in addition to their great strategic and demographic strength (about twenty-five million people in their armed forces), benefited from consummate statesmanship, especially Winston Churchill from 1940 to 1942, and mainly Franklin D. Roosevelt from 1942 to 1945, and consistently intelligent and well-executed command decisions from their armed forces chiefs. To the extent that all of the West does not recognize what we owe to those two men, we are uninformed ingrates, as Victor Davis Hanson has done a fine job of explaining.
That this book has a few imperfections does not materially alter the fact that it is a brilliant and very original and readable work by a great military historian and contemporary commentator.
1The Second World Wars: How the First Global Conflict Was Fought and Won, by Victor Davis Hanson; Basic Books, 720 pages, $40.
This article originally appeared in The New Criterion, Volume 36 Number 2, on page 11
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