Reviews of “Churchill and the Avoidable War”

Reviews of “Churchill and the Avoidable War”

Churchill 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 that the Sec­ond World War could have been pre­vent­ed. Click here for your copy.

Reviewed by Manfred Weidhorn:

AvoidableWarHere 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. It offers not one zig or zag mak­ing all the dif­fer­ence in pre­vent­ing the Sec­ond World War.

Time and again Richard Lang­worth 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.

 This book 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 know not what they do…”

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. Like the rest of us, they 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 killed 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 is Pro­fes­sor Emer­i­tus of Eng­lish Lit­er­a­ture at Yeshi­va Uni­ver­si­ty, and the author of four impor­tant books on Churchill, the first of which was Sword and Pen, a sur­vey of Churchill’s writings.

Reviewed by Warren F. Kimball

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). It is 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. 

Reviewed by Charles W. Crist

This is focused study of the years lead­ing up to the Sec­ond World War—a well-researched, com­pact and com­pelling book. Lang­worth uti­lizes a wide-range of sources to recon­struct the polit­i­cal and mil­i­tary forces impend­ing on Ger­many, Britain, France, Rus­sia and the Unit­ed States after the First World War and through­out the 1930s.

Yes, the Sec­ond World 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 peo­ple to under­stand the stakes. Churchill clear­ly fore­told the threat in numer­ous forums. But he 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 is a long­time Churchillian and col­lec­tor of WSC’s books.

More reflections on the Second World War

“Churchill’s Hitler Essays: He Knew the Führer from the Start,” 2024.

“Churchill’s War Mem­oirs: Sim­ply Great Read­ing,” 2023.

“Hitler’s Sput­ter­ing Aus­tri­an Anschluss,” 2020.

“Munich Reflec­tions: Peace for ‘A’ Time and the Case for Resis­tance,” 2020.

“The Indi­an Con­tri­bu­tion to the Sec­ond World War,” 2017

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