Author: Michael Burleigh
Rating: 5 Stars
Review By: Shana
With so many histories of World War II on offer, students of that world-changing event have a wealth of options for study. There are books tightly focused on key individuals or specific battles, others offering a wider view by examining a specific country or demographic group, and still others try to take in the broad sweep of the entire event (though to be thorough multiple volumes would be needed or else would fall short by giving short shrift to certain theaters or groups). Here Burleigh approaches this watershed of 20th century history by attempting to take in the immensity of the war through the frame of morality during the war. The aforementioned students of World War II history would be well-served by picking up this book, which manages to be both familiar and surprising.
Burleigh spends some time discussing morality, giving a framework to the people, policies, heroism, and tragedies that he will recount. In a wonderful preface, he discusses his aim in the book, including what it isn't meant to do (specifically, this book does not cover the Nazi atrocities in depth but rather just some prime examples, as he has covered it in other books, as have other authors). The preface highlights that this is a book of history, not of philosophy or law or prescriptions for future wars.
As a history, Burleigh is able to move across the years and the countries, the combatants and the civilians, the honorable, the questionable, and the abhorrent. He is scrupulously careful in setting the stage and giving background, never offering the actions of the participants in a vacuum or pretending that war does not operate outside of the normal parameters of peacetime.
That said, he works very hard at not giving a pass to actions that push bounds of both war and peacetime morality, and pointing out that just because the Germans and the Japanese may have done things that are still the stuff of nightmares, that does not mean that immoral acts of the Allies (though perhaps fewer in number or amplitude) are not so bad in comparison. Chapters on collaboration (and how it differed in different countries) and air raids, atomic weapons and fire bombings, treatment of prisoners of war and women, manage to broaden the reader's view of the war and what people are capable of. Not to be missed.
My love of reading was sparked in 3rd grade by the promise of personal pan pizzas via the BOOK IT! Program. Hmmmm... any chance that someone might give adults free food for reading? Asking for a friend...