Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Secrets of Warfare: Exposing the Myths and Hidden History of Weapons and Battles by William Weir

This book is truly the definition of 'popular history'. It is a quick read, with limited source material, and attempts to tackle a multitude of events, personalities, and time periods without giving adequate time to explaining the context of the topics the author attempts to dissect and 'expose'. Yes, there are quite a few myths that have developed around military history and continue to this day. Some date from histories dealing with ancient and medieval times, others from the nineteenth century. The author should be commended that he took the time out to explore some of these 'myths' and present them in a more interesting and less biased light. But his efforts are just scratching the surface. Additionally, a growing number of studies have already done what the author is now just uncovering.

For instance, the author discusses how German tanks during the initial period of the Second World War were perceived as invincible when put in context with the successful 'Blitzkrieg' campaigns the Germans had waged against Poland and France. What he omits is the fact that recent scholars have begun to question whether either of those campaigns were in fact 'Blitzkrieg', a 'myth' much more interesting, in my opinion, than whether or not Germany had 100 ton tanks running around France. Additionally, the author discusses whether or not Hitler was correct in not listening to his generals. True enough, many of the generals that survived the war blamed Germany's defeat on Hitler, but at the same time it is a fact that Hitler was not comparable to leading German commanders in regards to talent and ability. Just because he might have been right in advocating for Manstein's plan during the invasion of France, that doesn't mean he came up with that plan. Backing a great idea and coming up with one are two wholly separate things.

Additionally, the author's analysis in throughout his chapter on Hitler jumps from campaigns, to personalities, and really has no cohesive narrative holding those ideas together. There is no doubt that the author is recounting some interesting events and attempting to put them in a more nuanced light, but for those familiar with military history in general, many of these 'myths' will be a rehashing of banal information. Recommended for those seeking a starting point in studying interesting events that deal with military history, but not so much for those already immersed in the field.

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