A day or two following Christmas is nerd nirvana for me. I take all of my Barnes and Noble gift cards to the nearest store to stock up on a six month’s supply of books.
I am an avid student of history, particularly accounts of World War II and the Cold War. One of this year’s most fortuitous finds is by classical scholar Victor Davis Hanson titled “The Second World Wars: How the First Global Conflict Was Fought and Won.” I started it yesterday, and I have not been disappointed. In fact it makes excellent companion reading to Churchill’s Second World War memoirs.
One fact that Hanson shares early in the book made an especially deep impression on me: the fact that a few of the Western diplomats who gained first-hand exposure to Hitler and Mussolini came away convinced that they were dealing with a different species of men – individuals far removed in temperament and conviction from the well-bred, well-educated statesmen to whom they were accustomed.
Needless to say, this did not bode well for the prospects for European peace in the 1930’s. These were not men who had gained a refined view of the world through privileged upbringing and elite educations. They were hardened, cynical, angry men who had cultivated their world views in the fetid trenches of the Great War.
I was especially struck by an observation offered by Reichsmarshall Hermann Goring, essentially Hitler’s second man and heir apparent. He casually observed to journalist William Shirer that while Americans were capable of making good planes, they were entirely incapable of turning them out fast enough to offset German air supremacy.
Goring, incidentally, tested out with the highest I.Q. of any of the Nazi defendants awaiting trial at Nuremberg. At one point he used this daunting intellect to derail the cross-examination of Supreme Court Justice Robert Jackson, the Allies’ chief prosecutor.
Yet, Goring, despite his ample intellect, apparently was incapable of heeding one of history’s most recent and indispensably vital lessons: that scarcely a generation earlier, the United States had marshaled its industrial might to send 2 million men and materiel across the Atlantic in remarkably short order to reverse the fortunes of Imperial Germany.
The mountains of rubble piled up in every major city of Germany in 1945 further attested to Goring’s appalling shortsightness regarding American industrial and technological might and its unprecedented adaptive ability.
This is what makes Hanson’s book such compelling reading. The Second War was like no other previous conflict. And this was partly due to the fact that this war was prosecuted by a new generation of so-called mass men who were neither shaped nor influenced by the ideals and traditions that molded earlier generations of European statesmen. That the war quickly mutated from a regional conflict to a global one serves as a bloody attestation to this fact.
I will offer more thoughts as I get further along with the book.