Praise for “Avoidable War”

Praise for “Avoidable War”

AvoidableWarChurchill and the Avoid­able War will cost you the price of a cup of cof­fee. You can read it in a cou­ple of nights.  You may then  decide if Churchill was right (or wrong) that World War II could have been pre­vent­ed. Click on “Buy Now” under the book image at right on this page.

Here is an excel­lent sur­vey of the key “what if” junc­tures where his­to­ry could have tak­en a dif­fer­ent turn. What I like about it espe­cial­ly is that it con­sci­en­tious­ly steers away from any defin­i­tive pro­nounce­ments about one zig or zag mak­ing all the dif­fer­ence in pre­vent­ing World War II.  Time and again it right­ly stress­es our igno­rance of what would have fol­lowed from one alter­na­tive action, and our fool­ish assump­tion that oth­er things would have remained the same.

 It brings out the pity of things—i.e., that Hitler was ready to retreat from the Rhineland at the first sign of resis­tance; that the per­for­mance of the Wehrma­cht in march­ing on Aus­tria was out of a Vien­nese operetta (a fact that should have weighed heav­i­ly in Allied coun­cils but seems to have been the equiv­a­lent of a mil­i­tary secret); that a cred­i­ble coup to oust Hitler was pre­empt­ed by an inno­cent Cham­ber­lain.

The main infer­ence from this analy­sis, as in those of the Amer­i­can Civ­il War  and World War I, is that all lead­ers oper­ate with­in  a nar­row hori­zon and, like the rest of us, are steeped in igno­rance. “For­give them, for they know not what they do”: I’m not sure about the for­give­ness part (ISIS? Hitler? Stal­in? Pol Pot? No thanks, Jesus). But the sec­ond part of that sen­tence is the sin­gle most pro­found state­ment about the human race.

I’ve touched on this before: if Hitler had been assas­si­nat­ed in 1937, he would have gone down in his­to­ry as one of the great­est Ger­mans. If assas­si­nat­ed in late 1941, before the tide began to turn, he would have gone down among Ger­mans as a mil­i­tary genius. Hor­ri­ble as it is to say or con­tem­plate, it was nec­es­sary for him to stay around to the bit­ter end so that Ger­mans could see what fools he made of them.

— Man­fred Wei­d­horn, Pro­fes­sor Emer­i­tus of Eng­lish Lit­er­a­ture at Yeshi­va Uni­ver­si­ty, is the author of four impor­tant books on Churchill, the first of which was Sword and Pen, a sur­vey of Churchill’s writings.

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It’s a very nice job that rais­es seri­ous his­tor­i­cal ques­tions. Lang­worth rec­og­nizes that there is no sin­gle plau­si­ble event or action that, if changed, could have pre­vent­ed the Sec­ond World War. The oper­a­tive quo­ta­tion is, sur­pris­ing­ly, not from Churchill (though there many won­der­ful ones) but from Mark Twain, who once said: “His­to­ry doesn’t repeat itself, but it does rhyme.” This book would be a first rate sup­ple­men­tary read­ing in a col­lege course on World War II, one like­ly to stim­u­late live­ly discussions.

— War­ren F. Kim­ball is Treat Pro­fes­sor of His­to­ry at Rut­gers Uni­ver­si­ty, edi­tor of Churchill and Roo­sevelt: The Com­plete Cor­re­spon­dence, and sev­er­al books on the two lead­ers includ­ing Forged in War: Roo­sevelt, Churchill and the Sec­ond World War. 

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A focused study of the years lead­ing up to World War II, this well-researched, com­pact and com­pelling book uti­lizes a wide-range of sources to re-con­struct the polit­i­cal and mil­i­tary forces impend­ing on Ger­many, Britain, France, Rus­sia and the Unit­ed States after WWI and through­out the 1930s. Yes, war was avoid­able, if addressed in 1938, but as the author shows, “woul­da, coul­da shoul­da” is not the same as the polit­i­cal courage required to lead the peo­ple to under­stand the stakes. Churchill clear­ly fore­told the threat in numer­ous forums but lacked stand­ing to sub­stan­tial­ly influ­ence the British polit­i­cal process and pub­lic. In rely­ing on paper treaties rather than avail­able intel­li­gence and com­mon sense, nations were doomed to repeat the destruc­tion of the Euro­pean land­scape once more. —Charles W. Crist

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