HOW WAR CAME: The Immediate Origins of the Second World War, 1938-1939 by Donald Cameron Watt

HOW WAR CAME: The Immediate Origins of the Second World War, 1938-1939

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Watt (International History/London School of Economics) undertakes an exhaustive history of the year leading up to Germany's 1939 invasion of Poland. Watt takes advantage of a recent outpouring of archives to show how, as the clock ticked toward war, nations and diplomats were swamped by misperceptions, mistakes, misguided advice, and misplaced suspicions. What the author calls ""Europe's suicide"" developed in part from sycophantic informants who told Hitler what he wanted to hear about British unwillingness to go to war, about American isolationism, and about Soviet unreadiness. Similarly, the British Ambassador to Germany, Sir Nevile Henderson, ""misrepresented Britain to Hitler and Hitler to Britain,"" portraying Hitler as reasonable and open to accommodation. Those patriotic Germans such as von Schwerin and Goerdeler--who risked death to clue Britain in to the truth about Hitler--were ignored by Chamberlain's government. Too, the French regime, pictured here as a decaying government, lacked a national will to buck Hitler. And always, not far from the surface of events, was Hitler, ""the ignorant outsider. . .the pothouse politician"" who believed that if there were to be war with Britain, better it be in 1939 than in 1949. Watt is captivated by the irony of a war that began between Europe's two major powers and ended with all of Europe devastated and the two great non-European powers, the US and the Soviet Union, holding all of the cards. Although Watt doesn't upset the universally accepted picture of an evil Germany taking on the ""good guys,"" those good guys are here treated to considerably more disdain than usual. Watt has done a fine job of focusing in on this short but crucial span of time.

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 1989
Publisher: Pantheon