Monday, August 11, 2008

Endgame, 1945

Despite reading books about World War II ever since I could read, some 47 years now, there's still aspects of that epic struggle that are completely new to me.

Endgame,1945, an impressive new (2007) book by historian David Stafford sheds light on an aspect of the war I'd never really considered -- what happened as it ended.

It's touched on, here and there, in other histories, but, as Stafford notes in his introduction, most histories of the war end with VE Day. But, of course, the armies didn't disappear overnight and the enormous social and physical wreckage of the war didn't suddenly give way to normal life.

Indeed, there were millions of displaced person, surrendered soldiers, victorious allies, dying camp victims and individual stories strewn throughout Europe. Stafford's book illuminates the big picture by following the stories of about a dozen of these people. Some are soldiers, some are civilians. His perspective is restricted to stories accessible to the Western Allies and those Germans who fell into their hands, so it only tells half the story.

Still, it's a story little told and many of the accounts he mines are previously unpublished or little known.

I thoroughly enjoyed the book, and found it relevant to today's issues as well. President Bush is fond of comparing the Iraq war and occupation to the postwar situation in Germany and Japan, but reading the book shows that all was not simple, easy or peaceful in the aftermath of VE Day. No, it was all confusion, tragedy and an appalling mess. Perhaps more attention to what really happened in 1945 would have given the Bush people a better sense of how ill-prepared they really were.

It's am excellent book and highly recommended.

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