A classical historian assesses World War II

Sunday, November 19th, 2017

Thomas Ricks picked up Victor Davis Hanson’s The Second World Wars with some trepidation, because the subject was outside Hanson’s area of expertise:

To my surprise, I found it lively and provocative, full of the kind of novel perceptions that can make a familiar subject interesting again. It wouldn’t make a good introduction to World War II, but it may win readers already familiar with the conflict’s events.

Much of the book is written at the level of the strategic overview. Hanson notes, for instance, that both Germany and Japan probably would have won the war had they stopped early in 1941 and consolidated their gains in Europe and the western Pacific, without Germany attacking Russia and Japan pulling the United States into the conflict.

One of Hanson’s running themes is that the Allied victors mainly killed German and Japanese soldiers, while the Axis focused more on killing civilians. Over all, in its accounting of the global carnage, this book amounts to an ode in praise of deterrence and against appeasement and isolationism.

Hanson is most original and enjoyable when he uses his professional background in ancient history to illuminate 20th-century war. He writes, for example, that, “like Spartans, Wehrmacht soldiers were effused with militarist doctrine, chronically short of men, brilliantly led on the battlefield — and often deployed for imbecilic strategic ends.” The Red Army’s powerful new T-34 tanks “shocked the Germans, not unlike the manner in which unfamiliar Parthian mounted archers flummoxed supposedly superior Roman Republican legions.” The Allied landings on D-Day in 1944 amounted to “the largest combined land and sea operation conducted since the invasion of Greece by King Xerxes of Persia in spring 480 B.C.” In fact, the book might have been better called “A Classical Historian Assesses World War II.”


  1. Lucklucky says:

    The Allied landings on D-Day in 1944 amounted to “the largest combined land and sea operation conducted since the invasion of Greece by King Xerxes of Persia in spring 480 B.C.”

    I think it was Husky in Sicily.

  2. Sam J. says:

    I’m reading a book called “How Hitler Could Have Won WWII” by Bevin Alexander. It’s really interesting. His supposition is that if he had given Rommel the support he needed he could have captured the oil fields and controlled the Mediterranean and North Africa. A comment on Amazon about the book said that the reason Hitler directly took on Russia instead was he needed fuel, food and materials and Russia was the only place where all three were. So Hilter’s attack on Russia was not all that crazy.

    I believe that no matter what Hitler HAD to attack Russia. I read “ICEBREAKER Who Started the Second World War?” Viktor Suvorov



    “The Chief Culprit: Stalin’s Grand Design to Start World War II” Viktor Suvorov

    and I feel that there was no doubt that if Hitler would not have attacked Russia then Stalin was about to attack Germany. Supposedly within weeks.

    So what went wrong? I read all of David Irving’s books on WWII and the big huge mistake seems to be his trust in Goring. Goring really screwed up. Hitler idolized him as a great hero and was very reluctant to get rid of him. In Irving’s book he said that Goering “promised” that he could deliver so many tons of supplies by air to Hitler, knowing that he could not. If Hitler knew this would he have lost so bad at Stalingrad? He might have been willing to withdraw and consolidate. We’ll never know, we only know that he was lied to and didn’t know the truth until it was too late. If Albert Speer had been put in charge of war materials sooner Germany may well have beat Russia. It was very close. Albert Speer worked wonders towards the end of the war.

    Viktor Suvorov’s book is worth reading. He was KGB and mostly involved in studying material supply and outfitting of armies. He claims that all of Stalin’s supply went to offensive weapons. The first book in the link is free and ok. The second is not, covers much of the same ground but better written.

    David Irving’s books are of course excellent. All of them.

    Another twist would be if the Japanese had not attacked the US but put forth some sort of limited attack on the USSR. Stalin had a huge army near China which he eventually moved to the Eastern front to great affect once he was assured the Japanese were not going to attack.

  3. Bob Sykes says:

    Hanson is obtuse about civilian killings. The US and UK deliberately targeted both German and Japanese civilians in order to collapse the production of war materiel. American and British citizens knew this was the case, and they supported it.

    Niall Ferguson’s “The War of the World,” Penguin Press, 2006, is a much better history. Ferguson makes clear WW II was so ferocious because it was at heart a race war.

  4. Kirk says:

    David Irving as a legitimate historian…? Wow. Just… Wow.

    It’s not just that the man is a certified-by-the-courts Holocaust denier, it’s also that the idiotic libel case he brought pretty much destroyed any reputation he might have had for being a legitimate historian in the first place, what with all the truly egregious distortions and fabrications he made to base his case on.

    That being said, the idea that Stalin was planning on an invasion himself isn’t ludicrous. Suvorov, or, more accurately, Vladimir Rezun, makes a good case that all is not as has been written when it comes to this question. When you look at it, the entirety of the Soviet war preparations under Stalin just do not make sense, unless he was planning a war of aggression against Europe. Couple that with the actions of the COMINTERN, in terms of Fifth-Column actions like the French Communist Party activities in pre-war France, and you start to get an outline of a strategy he was likely implementing.

    Personally, I suspect that there was something to all this, but the documentation…? Good luck finding it, after all this time and the destruction of the records.

    My favorite WWII alternative is the one where the Nazis wind up being lauded as the good guys, after Stalin invades first–And, that’s not that far-fetched, either. Had Hitler simply waited, allowed Stalin to make the first move, well… He could have parlayed that into a mass movement to “Defend civilization…”, and had some actual legitimacy. Couple that with the fact that there were a lot of Jews in the Soviet governmental structure, and hell, he might have been able to convince the world that the concentration camps were merely a necessity to deal with Communist infiltration.

    Unfortunately, that runs up against the problem of all counter-factuals about the Nazis: In order to “fix” them, you’d first have to make them “not-Nazis”, as we know them, and that likely means that Hitler would have to have gone bye-bye, early on, leaving him as a martyr, and some other inept fool like Goering as the leader when Stalin came West. Which likely wouldn’t have worked out at all well…

  5. Sam J. says:

    “…David Irving as a legitimate historian…? Wow. Just… Wow.

    It’s not just that the man is a certified-by-the-courts Holocaust denier…”

    David Irving has said that there is no documentation or good evidence that the Germans had designs to pile well over six million Jews into trains, gas them and burn them in ovens. There’s no evidence for this unless your consider TV movies historical.

    That said, the horrible present state of the camps might mean that people want to have them crumble away so we won’t be reminded of them. I mean take a look at the inmates swimming pool at Auschwitz deplorable state.


    I read somewhere, maybe it was from Suvorov, that Stalin gave speeches to all the high ranked armed forces and said that he was going to let the Capitalist fight among themselves until they were exhausted then swoop in and defeat them all.

    When Hitler conquered France it really ruined his plans.

    I really respect Suvorov’s books because he concentrates on logistics, logistics, logistics. I mean if you see where people put their effort then you can see what they are doing and Stalin put all his eggs in the offense basket.

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