The Second World Wars

How the First Global Conflict Was Fought and Won

[Amazon Link]

Irrelevant personal details: Mrs. Salad and I decided to get a non-resident "family" card at the Portsmouth (NH) Public Library. It's a beautiful facility, the card is (probably) a steal at $95/year, and their selection is great.

Specifically, they had this book readily available on their shelves. The University Near Here has it as well, but some grabby faculty member has had it on extended loan for a couple years now. (Current due date 4/11/2020, and who knows if it won't be renewed then?)

Sigh. End of rant.

The author, Victor Davis Hanson, will be well known to anyone who's been reading in the dextrosphere for the past few years. He's at the Hoover Institution, and is professionally a historian, primarily a military one. Mostly, until now, concentrating on ancients: Rome, Greece, those guys.

But he does a good job with something more modern here. The title is a little attention-grabbing: the Second World Wars? Reflecting the fact that, as implied by the subtitle, the 1939-1945 conflagration was really the first conflict fought around the globe, in a dizzying array of venues. Each had its special qualities.

The book is not chronological; instead, each section/chapter focuses on a different theme/subtheme and how it played out in differing countries. It looks at the "wise and foolish" choices the combatants made in deciding to enter the conflict, and in waging their parts thereof.

For example, there's a chapter devoted to siegecraft, with examples of Leningrad, Stalingrad, Sevastopol, Tobruk, Singapore, Some successful for the siegers, some disastrous. Some puzzling, like the Japanese (essentially) walking into Singapore without a lot of fuss.

The point that keeps resonating is the macabre efficiency of modern states in slaughtering not only their military opponents, but also their civilian opponents. And, often, their own military and civilians. VDH puts the body count north of 60 million, a nearly unimaginable number. (About 80% of this inflicted by the Axis powers; it was an unusual war in that the side that killed the most people lost.)

VDH is also quite good at describing the herculean efforts in the design and production of military hardware. He is rhapsodic about the Soviet T-34 tank, and the American B-29 bomber. I previously lacked sufficient appreciation at how much bigger the B-29 was in comparison with the B-17 and B-24. And how Curtis LeMay ignored the B-29's ostensible mission goal, high-altitude strategic bombing, and turned it to low-altitude incendiary bombing.

Finally, VDH gives a good picture of how stupid decisions doomed the Axis. Example bad ideas: Japan bombing Pearl Harbor; Germany declaring war on the US; Germany invading the USSR. And many more.