A collection of essays comparing WWI and WWII might seem aimed at military buffs, but in fact it’s a page-turner, always stimulating and skillfully written.
Historians have tended to emphasize the differences in the two conflicts: WWI was a “bad” war caused by a failure of diplomacy, managed by incompetents, characterized by the futile mass slaughter in the trenches; WWII was a “good” war against vicious tyrannies, directed by relatively competent leaders using advanced technology to move rapidly over the battlefield and minimize casualties. The 33 essays here, assembled by a trio of British academics, remind us that the conventional wisdom is highly debatable. Atrocities during WWI not only foreshadowed those of the war that followed, they were substantial in their own right; the generals of 1914–18 were not as stupid as portrayed and probably no worse than their successors; and WWII’s mechanized armies and aerial bombing produced more, not less, slaughter than the rightly discredited trench warfare of earlier years. Each essay covers a single aspect of both wars, and more than half discuss experiences at the front line; most were written by English scholars, although there are a few contributions from the US and Germany. There are discussions of the military leadership (comparing Churchill to Lloyd George and Eisenhower to Marshall Foch), the effects of occupation (the Poles suffered terribly under Nazi occupation but were equally oppressed by the imperial German army in WWI), and the rise of modern genocide (it began in Armenia in 1915, but was resumed during WWII in Rumania). Whether the topic is training, the merchant marine, the air force, desert warfare, captivity, or the medical service, the comparison of two wars is invariably thought-provoking.
Strong content buttressed by smooth prose, with almost every chapter a pleasure to read.