Wednesday, May 13, 2015

The Road to War: The Origins of World War II - a book review

The Road to War: The Origins of World War IIThe Road to War: The Origins of World War II by Richard Overy
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is the best book you will ever read on the "resumption" of the "Thirty Years' War" in 1939. The book devotes one chapter to each of the main nations involved in the order in which they entered the war. By examining the social, economic and political conditions in each, one understands their actions or lack thereof. Introduction (Poland, Danzig and the Polish Corridor) followed by chapters on Germany, Great Britain, France, Italy, Russia, Japan, and United States.

After the Armistice of November 1918, German expected a negotiated peace treaty. Instead it was hit with the 19th century, vindictive Treaty of Versailles, the contents of which were driven primarily by France who wanted to ensure they were never invaded by Germany again. This left a Germany itching for revenge even before Hitler's rise to power.

Chamberlain's role in preparing Britain for war was far more positive than conventional history makes it out to be. He fully understood the dangers of Hitler's Germany from the very beginning and set out to rearm Britain. However Britain was exhausted both financially and socially from the war. No-one wanted war and the economy was in danger of collapse after 1929. Chamberlain had to walk a fine line in rearming Britain, choosing to rebuild the arms infrastructure first - factories, training etc,. rather than build a great many weapons which might be obsolete when war came (eg bi-planes).

France and Britian almost went to war with Germany in 1938 over Czechoslovakia, threatening Hitler if he used force to annex any part of it. Instead the Munich conference for which Chamberlain is so roundly condemned, persuaded the Czechs to give up control over Sudetenland peacefully. Chamberlain knew appeasement was not likely to work and Hitler confirmed it by taking the rest of the country later in the year. But it bought time for Britain. The guarantee with Poland had less to do with British interest in Poland (none) than drawing a firm line in eastern Europe against further territorial aggression by the Nazis.

For "the rest of the story", please read this excellent book by Richard Overy and Andrew Wheatcroft. I have read other books by these authors and highly recommend them.

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