Books by Dan van der Vat

THE GOOD NAZI by Dan van der Vat
Released: Oct. 21, 1997

The best biography yet on the self-described ``second man in the Reich.'' Albert Speer has long occupied a singular niche in history: that of the ``good Nazi,'' a decent and civilized man whose first love was architecture and who wished nothing more than to rebuild Germany from the misery of WW I and the worldwide depression of the 1930s. He skillfully cultivated this image until his death in 1981. Speer willingly conceded a general responsibility for his role in the Reich, and even admitted in the '70s that he had some inkling of what was happening to the Jews, but he never admitted personal responsibility for the Holocaust or the war. Naval historian van der Vat begins with a vexing question: If Speer was Hitler's right-hand man, how could he possibly claim ignorance of the genocide that was (in the words of the author) ``the driving force'' of the regime? Considering Speer's responsibilities heading the ministry of armaments during the war—one highly dependent on slave labor—his claims of ignorance are hard to believe. Yet many did believe him. Biographer Gitta Sereny, in Albert Speer: His Battle with Truth (1995), seems to accept his remorse as genuine, and she finds her subject sympathetic. No less an authority than Simon Wiesenthal also believed Speer. The highly respected German biographer of Hitler, Joachim Fest, and the social psychologist Erich Fromm concurred. Van der Vat is, thankfully, immune to Speer's charms, even after having interviewed the Nazi in 1976. Beginning with a serious study of Speer as architect, van der Vat proceeds to examine his role as minister of armaments. In that capacity, Speer was personaly responsible for the evacuation of 75,000 German Jews as forced labor. Also important is that Speer now emerges as partially responsible—along with Goebbels—for the ``spectacles'' of the Reich. Writing with irony and intelligence, van der Vat forces us to confront Speer anew. (22 b&w photos, not seen) Read full book review >
Released: April 3, 1995

A vivid history of an underwater craft that has proved deadlier than either battlewagons or flattops in two global conflicts and was a key part of the arsenal in one Cold War. With his customary thoroughness and Çlan, van der Vat (The Pacific Campaign, 1991, etc.) traces back to 16th-century England the concept of an oceangoing vessel that could submerge to evade or attack an enemy. While many of Europe's maritime nations tried to capitalize on this idea, more than 300 years passed before an Irish immigrant to the US named John Phillip Holland came up with a viable design. Initially, most great powers spurned the sub as a weapon of the weak, but they soon grasped its military potential and commenced substantive building programs during the prelude to WW I. The author provides an exhaustive account of the very nearly decisive roles played in this conflict by Turco-German and Austrian U-boats as well as their Allied counterparts, not only in the Atlantic but also in the Adriatic, the Black Sea, and other so- called sideshow venues. After addressing the abortive efforts at arms control and advances in submarine technology that marked the two decades between hostilities, van der Vat offers a full-dress briefing on the toll Nazi U-boats took on Anglo-American shipping during WW II. He goes on to chronicle the ruinous losses the US silent service inflicted on Japan's merchant marine and naval forces in Southeast Asian waters, then backtracks to recount how the tide was turned against the only productive arm of Hitler's Kriegsmarine, keeping Great Britain's supply lines intact. He closes with a short-take assessment of the protracted (albeit undeclared) war between the US and erstwhile USSR during which nuclear-powered subs equipped with intercontinental missiles prowled the depths. An engrossing rundown of the submarine's hell-and-high-water annals. (16 pages photos, 4 maps) Read full book review >
Released: Dec. 1, 1991

A well-rounded account of the bitter WW II battles in which the US, at no small cost, put paid to Japan's Pacific ambitions. Drawing on a wealth of archival sources, van der Vat (The Atlantic Campaign, 1988; Gentleman of War, 1984) sets the stage for his hell-and-high-water narrative with a concise review of the sociopolitical and economic factors that put Japan's militant imperialists on a collision course with isolationist America. Stressing Tokyo's goal of autarky, he notes that Washington never really believed its embargoes would cause the island nation to launch a preemptive strike. It did just that at Pearl Harbor, though, paving the way for walkover conquests in the Philippines, Singapore, Guam, Indochina, and other outposts of Western empire. In the meantime, van der Vat recounts, a fighting-mad US regained its equilibrium and stemmed the Japanese tide, first at Midway, then at Guadalcanal, finally attaining easy reach of its foe's home islands before two atomic bombs obviated the necessity for an invasion. Although he offers a first-rate rundown of major campaigns, sideshows, surface-vessel engagements, and carrier clashes, van der Vat goes well beyond mere combat reportage. He provides, for example, informative briefings on summit meetings in Casablanca, Quebec, Tehran, Potsdam, and other venues that put key actions in clear perspective. He also offers thoughtful analyses that tax the Allies for failure to achieve unity of command and the Japanese for a fatal lack of strategic vision. And throughout, van der Vat focuses on the do-or-die fanaticism of Japanese troops and the atrocities they committed, at one point contrasting these perverted legacies of Bushido with the effort invested in getting a single American sailor back to the States for treatment of his wounds. A vivid, often harrowing log of a pivotal chapter in the history of naval/amphibious warfare. (Sixteen pages of photographs and maps—not seen.) Read full book review >