Saturday, September 19, 2015

Britain's Two World Wars against Germany: Myth, Memory and the Distortions of Hindsight by Brian Bond

Brian Bond's 'Britain's Two World Wars against Germany' is a slim volume that offers a somewhat in-depth look at the continued myths that cloud our history and memory of both World Wars when it comes to British efforts.  The Second World War is regularly viewed as the 'good' war with acceptable casualties and brilliant commanders while the First World War is too often seen as the 'donkeys' leading the 'lions' to slaughter.  Bond convincingly points out that the Battle of the Somme, more specifically the first day of the Somme, has continued to influence our views and perceptions of the First World War when in fact so many other encounters with the enemy occurred that resulted in victories and, more importantly in some ways, taking the war in its entirety shows the progression of military art among the British that eventually led to the defeat of the Germans on the Western Front.  While casualties were certainly much greater in WWI than WWII that's partly because of the limited time the British spent on the ground fighting the axis powers in large numbers, compared to the regular encounters on the Western Front of the First World War. While many mistakes were made by generals in the First World War they certainly learned from their errors and continued to improve, in part by incorporating new technology and more of it.  All the military arms in the First World War grew by tremendous numbers (tank, air force, artillery, etc.) and combined arms operations helped pave the way to victory, while the Second World War featured a Britain that defied the Germans but had to continually rely on more powerful allies (the USSR and America) to undertake the brunt of the struggle in defeating Nazi Germany.  Some of the campaigns undertaken by the British and the allies in the Second World War actually proved more costly when viewed by casualties per day statistics than battles in the First World War.  Even though this is a volume that relies on secondary sources its quite a good fit in today's 'memory wars' that are continually going on in regards to the Second World War and the First World War considering the centenary celebrations.  But it also becomes quickly apparent that much research remains to be done to do justice to both World Wars in order to separate myths from reality and fact from fiction.

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