Thursday, November 9, 2017

Thomas Ricks Reviews Victor Davis Hanson's, The Second World Wars

At the New York Times, "World War II Seen by a Classicist, and Other New Books About Conflict":

For humanity in general, the low point of the 20th century was World War II, which Victor Davis Hanson accurately portrays as an unprecedented global bloodbath, killing about three percent of all human beings who were alive in 1939. Hanson, the Martin and Illie Anderson senior fellow in classics and military history at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution, has a mixed reputation among military historians — essentially, it is that the further he wanders from his academic specialty of ancient Greek history, the less reliable he becomes. (For the details, see John A. Lynn’s “Battle: A History of Combat and Culture.”)

So I picked up Hanson’s THE SECOND WORLD WARS: How the First Global Conflict Was Fought and Won (Basic Books, $40) with some trepidation. To my surprise, I found it lively and provocative, full of the kind of novel perceptions that can make a familiar subject interesting again. It wouldn’t make a good introduction to World War II, but it may win readers already familiar with the conflict’s events.

Much of the book is written at the level of the strategic overview. Hanson notes, for instance, that both Germany and Japan probably would have won the war had they stopped early in 1941 and consolidated their gains in Europe and the western Pacific, without Germany attacking Russia and Japan pulling the United States into the conflict.

One of Hanson’s running themes is that the Allied victors mainly killed German and Japanese soldiers, while the Axis focused more on killing civilians. Over all, in its accounting of the global carnage, this book amounts to an ode in praise of deterrence and against appeasement and isolationism.

Hanson is most original and enjoyable when he uses his professional background in ancient history to illuminate 20th-century war...