What if World War II happened today?

"Counterfactual" view of history : How would World War II have gone if

British historians, and arguably their readers, love hypothetical considerations. Especially with regard to the Second World War, in which first of all the existential struggle between British democracy and the German dictatorship was fought out, which has become proverbial in Churchill's finest hour. What would have happened if Hitler and General Rundstedt hadn't stopped the tanks in front of Dunkirk, but instead steered them with all their might into the fleeing British? What if the Japanese had also bombed the fuel depots and repair yards in Pearl Harbor? What if Hitler had let the Wehrmacht march in full strength to the Suez Canal instead of freezing them to death in the Russian winter?

Hannibal would also have if ...

Such “counterfactual” considerations, as they (should) belong to the historian's core business in order to understand what would otherwise be ascribed to the darkness of mere arbitrariness, are frowned upon among German colleagues and above all critics. As if it wasn't justifiable to ask how world history might have gone, Hannibal would actually be up after Cannae ante portas advanced instead of remaining in the south of Italy! Hannibal, well; but Hitler, as a general, must not be seen otherwise than through the glasses of complete condemnation. If you take the total from looking at the world war, that is correct - but please ex post and not as a premise.

Yes, Hitler and his cringing generals Keitel, Jodl & Co. had to lose the war because they did not wage a conventional war, as British military historians usually tell it with great attention to detail, but a genocidal war of extermination, the alternatives in the course of the war, in particular a retreat from excluded from the outset.

Just no retreat

With this in mind, read Andrew Roberts' book, Firestorm. A History of World War II ”, with a profit. Precisely because Roberts is one of those military historians that the German discipline can hardly produce in its self-restraint, unless they find shelter in the Military History Research Office, which with its ten-volume publication "The German Reich and the Second World War" between 1978 and 2008 one has presented an overall presentation that has been widely recognized until today, with which shorter presentations naturally cannot compete.

Roberts ’book is already a decade old, which doesn’t detract from its presentation. Pretty much everything has already been researched, and Roberts does not claim to have fundamentally gained new knowledge. For German readers, the panorama, which actually includes the whole world, is always a gain, which helps to correct common misjudgments such as the one about the late start of the Allied landing in France. On the German side, for example, it is often forgotten that the USA had to fight down at least as determined an opponent as Hitler's Wehrmacht in the Pacific before they could open the "Second Front" demanded by Stalin with the landing in Normandy.

The failure of the Axis powers

But above all, and this is what makes Roberts' book exciting, he keeps asking the what-if question, looking for the reasons for what happened, and at the end of the almost 800 pages of text, the answer to the question of why the Axis powers lost the war : "The real reason why Hitler lost World War II was precisely who let him unleash the war in the first place: He was a Nazi." That may be too thin for German critics, but they overlook the fact that the answer to the question of what made Hitler a Nazi has already been answered in entire libraries of historical literature and did not have to be explained again by Roberts.

Ralf Georg Reuth, one of the notable exceptions as a German military historian, wrote his “Brief History of the Second World War” even more briefly than Roberts and without his mental games. Their advantage is to work out more clearly than Roberts the difference between the Second World War and the First World War, which has often been viewed as its continuation or resumption - a fallacy promoted by the talk of the “Thirty Years Civil War”.

Hitler - the exception in history

Reuth shows how strong the ideological character of World War II was, especially, but not only, on the part of Nazi Germany. “Hitler,” he writes, shaking his head, so to speak, “was in a way out of date.” His hatred of Jews “was something that had never happened before”. Reuth undertakes to work out "Hitler's strategy as an opponent of all rational politics and warfare". Hence the initial misjudgment of Hitler in both the West and the East - culminating in Stalin's refusal to regard the deployment of the Wehrmacht on the Soviet western border as anything other than bluff.

No resistance anywhere

That the German military with no notable exception - July 20th did not take place until 1944! - was ready to wage the war for the sake of this genocide and in all the criminal form necessary for it, supported by a German people who did not want to know anything about anything and yet soon learned a great deal - that is what this war for Germans Makes authors so difficult to describe. And prevents any thought of alternatives even where they were possible in the course of the war - unless one wanted to see the "GröFaZ" increasingly ludicrous orders as the only conceivable course of events.

By the way, what would have happened if the United States had not delivered hundreds of thousands of vehicles to the Soviet Union via the Lend Lease Act, which in the first place made the replenishment possible for the Red Army, which was advancing in the millions? This "counterfactual" discussion fails even Roberts. Indeed, one shudders if one dares to think them through to the end.

Andrew Roberts: Firestorm. A history of World War II. Translated from the English by Werner Roller. Publishing house C.H. Beck, Munich 2019. 896 pp., 52 illustrations and 22 cards, € 39.95. - Ralf Georg Reuth: Brief history of the Second World War. Rowohlt Berlin, Berlin 2018. 416 pp., 22 €.

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