The Second World Wars: How the First Global Conflict Was Fought and Won

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Release Date: 
October 16, 2017
Basic Books
Reviewed by: 

does an excellent job of placing World War II in the historical context of global conflict . . .”

Bestselling classicist and military historian Victor Davis Hanson offers his own unique assessment of World War II in this new book, offering new insights and perspectives on the greatest global conflict ever.

Using his own family history as an introduction, Dr. Hanson describes how his extended family members serving in the war each fought their own unique conflict depending on whether they were stationed; in Europe, the South Pacific, or the sub-Indian continent, experiencing very different enemies, terrain and modes of combat. Because each theater of war was conducted so differently, he makes an interesting argument that for the individual soldier, sailor, or airman, no single participant experienced the war in the same manner.

What makes this book unique among single-volume histories of this war is that Dr. Hanson does not craft a traditional chronological narrative. Rather, drawing upon his previous works on war and politics in Ancient Greece and other periods of military history, he describes the many continuities of World War II with previous wars, especially the inescapable effects of geography on the conduct of the war. However, he also highlights how the war also had its own unique nature as the first truly industrialized global and societal conflict, with combat occurring on nearly every continent and ocean of the planet.

The thematic organization of the book allows exploration of many different topics in depth, from the military and political leadership on both sides, to a fascinating discussion on the weaponry used in this new mechanized conflict, especially the never ending controversy over why the Allies were often viewed as having tanks, machine guns, and other weapons inferior to those wielded by Germany. This was a particularly well done section as Hanson makes a compelling point that because every American tank in Europe had to be shipped across the Atlantic, it limited the size and weight of the tanks to available shipping and prevented the development of a truly potent American heavy tank until the last months of the war.

Another interesting analysis is the ability of each country to mobilize their human and industrial resources to fight the economic war, which was at least as important as the actual military campaigns. His research clearly shows that the democracies of American and Britain were able to mobilize their resources far more efficiently than the fascist states of Germany and Italy, and even to a certain extent Communist Russia. Although the Soviets were able to achieve the incredible feat of moving most of their heavy industry beyond the German advance and subsequently produce some of the finest tanks of the war, the Red Army was still critically dependent on American food, trucks, and other logistical support to sustain their military might into the later stages of the war.

Finally, Hanson goes through the often overlooked human factors of the war, pointing out that the Axis powers of Germany, Italy, and Japan were far more efficient at killing civilians than they were Allied soldiers.  In fact, civilians for the first time in war were not only the majority of the casualties suffered world-wide, but were deliberately targeted by the new weaponry of heavy bombers, missiles, and actual death squads as Nazi gangs swept through conquered territories looking for Jews and other undesirables to kill on a previously unseen industrial scale.

Dr. Hanson has written another well-researched and fascinating book. For the experienced reader of World War II history this is an intriguing book that goes off the beaten path of a typical one-volume history to expose some worthwhile new ground and does an excellent job of placing World War II in the historical context of global conflict.