WWII was fueled by imperial fantasies

Blood and Ruins: The Empire’s Great War, 1931-1945. By Richard O’Leary. Allen Lane; 1,040; £ 40

WHY ANOTHER The one-volume story of WWII? Richard O’Leary has written over 20 books covering various aspects of global conflicts and crises of the first half of the 20th century. But his aim in “Blood and Ruins” is to challenge the general assumption that war is the result of Axis invasion of territory and Allied resistance. Instead, he sees the policies pursued by Adolf Hitler, Benito Mussolini, and Japanese military installations as both the effects of the crisis and a major cause.

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Overy argues that it makes more sense to think in terms of “long” World War II, which began in China in the early 1930s and ended there, and only took place in South Asia. South East, Eastern Europe and the Middle East. 10 years after 1945. He says that the origin of the war was at the height of European colonialism at the end of the 19th century. It has become a violent enemy of imperialism. Its title comes from Bloomsbury intellectual Leonard Woolf in 1928.

Resentment of reconciliation since 1919, which protected and expanded the British and French Empires, was a powerful motive for conquest, while denying that the three Axis Powers saw them as their own legitimate autonomy. In Berlin, Rome and Tokyo, the notion of racial superiority justifying the promotion of territory seemed little different from what underlies the existing empire. The so-called appeasement policy carried out by Great Britain and France in the 1930s (Overy prefers “confinement”) has a certain sympathy for these ambitions and offers “sometimes inconsistent” for “the squaring of the circle of growth. “. Has been reflected. Their own desire to protect international instability and the empire’s status quo. “

Dreams and nightmares

It never worked. The problem was the dynamic nature of the expansion of all empires. Each success sparked more desire, driven by the belief that the old powers waned at the end of life. This belief was reinforced by the speed of the Western collapse after Germany invaded Poland. The mold was cast when the Trilateral Agreement was signed on September 27, 1940, proclaiming a “new order” in which Germany had an empire over continental Europe, Italy on the Mediterranean coast and Africa. , and Japan over East Asia. The fact that the British Empire did not recognize its defeat and that the United States had not yet participated in the conflict, but was preparing to transfer its economic power through the Lend Lease program, could not disturb this illusion. .

The Axis Powers almost completely saw the Empire’s mission to plunder resources and reset new settlements at the expense of the inhabitants, often seen as inferior to humans. Like the Japanese in China and elsewhere in the Greater East Asia co-prosperity zone, Hitler offered only brutal conquest, deportation, or death to the occupied Eastern people. (The racial and cultural attitudes of the Nazis meant that Western Europe was a slightly different story.)

None of the objectives of the Twin Axis Empire worked. There were few candidate settlers. It also proved difficult to use the resources of the territories conquered during the war. In the Caucasian oil fields, where Hitler planned to fuel the war effort, little oil was extracted before the area was abandoned in early 1943.

However, there was also an illusion on the Allied side. As Winston Churchill warned, Axis victory would undoubtedly plunge the world into a dark new age. Yet he decided that the old European empire should endure. This is the result of a conflict with liberal internationalism, claimed by Franklin Roosevelt and detailed in the Atlantic Charter of 1941. Everyone, Churchill (pictured on previous page) only signed reluctantly.

While Britain detained tens of thousands of Indian nationalists and slaughtered and killed hundreds of protesters in 1942, the United States fell far short of Roosevelt’s rhetoric. The racism that hurt the country was reflected in its army. The Negroid was pure white until 1942, after which it hired a small number of African Americans, mainly as stewards. Less than 2% of army officers were black. The majority of the 1.2 million black servicemen were considered unfit for combat and were sent to work or service units. Neither government, on the other hand, was very interested in saving European Jews. As Overy put it, on this issue, London officials “showed a cold belief in the claim that Britain was fighting for decent worth.”

Overy places as much emphasis on the Pacific and East Asia as it does on Europe. Throughout the conflict, he described how combatants were mobilized, how they adapted economically, and the use of civilians (both war participants and casualties on an unprecedented scale). Was) and identifies many different struggles including how they fought (US and UK). The technology and workmanship make up for the Wehrmacht’s superior performance on the battlefield, he says. .. And how they justified the trials: Germans and Japanese rarely questioned the legitimacy of their cause.

The data, information, and insights Overy collects can seem overwhelming at times, but even the most professional readers will know more. In its penultimate chapter, it lists war crimes and atrocities. It’s hard to read. Obviously, the ability of ordinary people to do the worst is no longer surprising, but the degree of barbaric inhumanity remains difficult to understand.

Finally, it explores the events that have shaped the world today in the decade since 1945. Has the old empire simply been replaced by the new American and Soviet empires? His view that Soviet domination of the Eastern Bloc lacks essential empire characteristics isn’t entirely convincing, but Overy concludes. This is a minor criticism. It is a magnificent book which reflects the deep scholarship and humanitarian judgment of authoritative historians. ■■

This article was published in the printed book and arts section under the title “Cemetery of the Empire”.

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