The end of the Third Reich brought Nazi-occupied Europe a new set of troubles, maintains Hitchcock (History/Temple Univ.; The Struggle for Europe: The Turbulent History of a Divided Continent 1945 to the Present, 2003, etc.) in this thoroughly revisionist, middling history.
“Liberation came to Europe in a storm of destruction and death,” the author writes. As many French civilians died at D-Day as American soldiers, while German civilians were made to pay for the sins of the Nazi regime in a rain of bullets and bombs fired and dropped by men who knew full well that noncombatants would die. The cause of liberation was virtuous, Hitchcock allows, but the Allied soldiers who prosecuted it were not necessarily so. The power that liberation brought to them was sometimes manifest in episodes of drunkenness, looting, rape, murder and other untoward behavior. Some once-occupied countries fared better than others; France, for instance, soon fell under its own administration, thanks to brokering long since undertaken by Free French leader Charles de Gaulle. Others were not so fortunate, and material conditions did not always substantially improve once the Germans had gone, as in the poverty-stricken southern districts of Italy. Hitchcock points to the irony of Jim Crow: Whereas only about ten percent of all troops in the European Theater were African-American, 75 percent of soldiers executed for rape and other crimes were black. On another front, about 500,000 American soldiers had contracted venereal diseases by June 1945. Hitchcock argues that the high price of liberation was compounded by political expedience. Churchill and Roosevelt wanted self-government and freedom, but of course “Stalin did not desire to return Europe to the status quo ante bellum.” The result was still more suffering for Europeans. Hitchcock does not sufficiently allow that the liberation of Europe had its good aspects, too, not least ending Hitler’s rule.
An exercise in raining on the Greatest Generation’s parade, best read by those who were not alive during that time.