Not just another account of World War II, but a thoughtful overview of the battles that were “emblematic of the larger themes of how the respective belligerents made wise and foolish choices about why, how, and where to fight the war.”
According to veteran military historian and Hoover Institution senior fellow Hanson (The Savior Generals: How Five Great Commanders Saved Wars that Were Lost—From Ancient Greece to Iraq, 2013, etc.), the war began during the 1930s as a series of fairly straightforward border conflicts—e.g., Germany versus its neighbors, Japan versus China. Suddenly, in 1941, as the result of poor decisions around the world, it exploded into a global conflict that the so-far-victorious Axis Powers were guaranteed to lose. Beginning with its cause, Hanson dismisses the time-honored denunciation of the Treaty of Versailles, which was softer than the peace Germany imposed on France in 1871 or the Soviet Union in 1918. It was the humiliation that nagged. Neither Germany nor Japan was endangered or impoverished; both believed that their honor had been slighted and that their racially superior citizens deserved better than their decadent neighbors. “The irrational proved just as much a catalyst for war as the desire to gain materially at someone else’s expense,” writes the author. Four long chapters on weapons deliver a few jolts. Everyone knows that infantry wins wars, but Hanson maintains that strategic bombing probably persuaded Japan to surrender. High-tech weapons—the B-29, proximity fuse, and atomic bomb—unquestionably helped the Allies. Vaunted German technology (rockets, jet planes, guided missiles) merely wasted money. Unique in its 50 million to 80 million deaths—the great majority of which were civilians and included far more Allied than Axis soldiers—and worldwide extent, WWII broke no rules. Hyperaggression and ruthlessness win battles; resources and stubbornness carry the day.
An ingenious, always provocative analysis of history’s most lethal war.