Thursday, December 25, 2008

The Bitter Road to Freedom: A New History of the Liberation of Europe by William I. Hitchcock

The idea behind the book is an original one; tell the story from the point of view of those being liberated. In the west, France, Holland, and the Netherlands had suffered German occupation, from one degree to another, and now they were finally being "liberated" by the western allies. What did this liberation entail? Obviously, many were happy, ecstatic even, while others suffered rape, death, or were simply robbed. While it is important to note that all armies experience such behavior, from one degree to another, it is crucial to keep in mind that in war much is permissible. One cannot judge a period of war as they would peace. What is normally looked down upon becomes allowed as long as the final results are achieved. As hard as this might be to accept, war in general is not a pleasant experience. Being a realist one should understand that the army is not filled with prince charmings and chivalrous knights. These are men who were drafted, or at times signed up of their own volition, to put their lives on the line. They were not chosen based on their high regard for innocent life, no; they were given a gun and taught to kill.

The Red Army, an army that carries a stigma of being the one which "raped" and "pillaged" Germany, by 1945 suffered so many losses that prisoners were being given an opportunity to defend their motherland. Let me repeat that, prisoners, not political prisoners, but criminals, were let out and enlisted within Red Army ranks. When Germany drove the Soviet Union to employ such men within its armed forces, the end result is in effect quite predictable. Mind you, this is not a justification for what happened on Germany territory, but an explanation for some of it.

As mentioned above, no army has clean hands, war is a bloody affair and civilian deaths are to be expected and need to be accepted. These deaths are not fair, then again life is hardly ever fair, most certainly war and premature death are not fair, but I can only assume that given the choice to be liberated by the western allies or kept under German occupation, many within France, Holland and the Netherlands, would choose the western allies with their bombing raids and all.

For those familiar with WWII the information the book presents is interesting and allows context to be given to those who were liberated. The problem is much of that information is not put into context by the author himself, the reader has to do it on their own. That earns this book 3 stars and not 4. It's useful, interesting, enlightening, but lacking in quite a few respects. Specifically, the amateurish coverage of the Red Army (claims, for example, that many in the Red Army had no weapons in 1941).


Krenkel said...

Thanks for your interesting book reviews. However, it would be helpful if you could give us the bibliographical details of the books - or simply a link to Amazon.

Best regards,


T. Kunikov said...

A fair enough request, I'll amend this post to include it and hopefully will keep it in mind in the future. But I'm more than sure you can find all the books listed here through amazon.

Krenkel said...

And: S Rozhdestvom! :)