Monday, March 3, 2008

Wages of Destruction by Adam Tooze

I first noticed this book when it was discussed on a WWII military history forum. I bought it and put it on my book shelf to read at some future point in time. Recently, a comment in regards to one of my reviews (on said they'd like to see a review of this book. I was apprehensive to tackle such a scholarly done project, ESPECIALLY since I know next to nothing about economics. I was told to simply begin when the author starts talking about WWII, somewhere past page 400, more than half way through the book. I thought I'd try to read it cover to cover...well, I was fooling myself. A lot of this stuff I will not remember the next day, hell, probably not the next hour. I skimmed through perhaps 10-20% of the book, but as I was skimming the book I kept coming up on small gems and nuggets of information which put things into a better perspective and context.

I cannot do a review of this book in any type of 'traditional' manner, I can only manage a small list of facts, ideas, theories, etc that I found interesting and enlightening. To begin with; the author made an excellent point in the fact that Jewish longing for leaving Germany was being affected by Germany not letting them take much currency with them, this turns out to have been due, to a large degree, to the fact that such a loss for the German currency market would prove a horror for the German economy. This is an aspect of this event I had never thought of, undoubtedly, because I am not an economist but also because no one ever thought of mentioning it. Of course this will not take away from the rampant anti-semitism and perhaps did in fact see an easy way to make money by making Jewish refugees leave practically all of their belongings behind. In either case, this is simply another fact which is worth knowing about.

In regards to WWII; you will regularly hear people mention how the Third Reich was in control of the majority of Europe yet still could not match the production numbers of a Soviet Union, for example, which was down in population, land, and factories after the German invasion of the USSR. Well, it appears that France, for example, depended highly on resources that they were receiving from England and other overseas countries, without it their economy couldn't function to its fullest. Germany, apparently, was hardly being able to keep up to their own needs of raw materials for their highly expanding industry, having another country, or half dozen countries, in need of the same raw materials became more of a hindrance to the German war effort. France and Poland helped by supplying workers when more and more Germans were needed for the armed forces, but many times these foreign workers would not be up to German worker 'quality.'

I greatly appreciate the author going into details regarding Germany's invasion of France. Manstein's plan was nothing out of the ordinary, as the author points out, in concentrating an enormous amount of man and machine power into a section of the front the enemy doesn't consider worth its time is not something that has never been done in the history of warfare. In fact it would not have been done if not for some of the earlier plans falling into enemy hands! The same is true for the attack against the Soviet Union, concentrating the largest invasion force the world has ever seen, and operationally achieving enormous advantages in the breakthrough sectors is what pushed Germany through to her victories in 1941. The Soviets did the same in the latter part of the war, but today they're known as "Red Army hordes" while the Germans are lauded for the military prowess and finesse. As for the war in North Africa it was a sideshow, Rommel's running back and forth with a force he could hardly coordinate or provide logistics for was a thorn in the allies' side and both sides, during the invasion of France and North Africa, used propaganda to highlight Germany's military abilities. The Germans Wehrmacht's military capabilities were played up while the allies could cling to a reason for some of the most spectacular defeats they'd suffer during WWII.

It should also be mentioned that, contrary to popular belief, Germany employed a tremendous amount of females throughout their industries, heavily in agriculture. Thus the idea that if they would have only used more women they would have had an easier time is a myth. Added to this should be the fact that due to Nazi Racial policies MILLIONS of workers, mainly Jews and Russian POWs, were lost to murder, genocide, mass starvation, disease, etc throughout the first few years of the war. It was only when there was a tremendous enough need for more workers did these two groups, as two examples, begin to be used more in the German wartime economy.

General PlanOst is well known, but here it is presented, as well as its history, with excellent detail. It was quite interesting to see how during the war the Wehrmacht was cut off from its food supplies coming in from the Reich and made to live off the land, as if what they were doing there for the past 1-2 years wasn't enough, now they would be taking away whatever food they found from an already poverty ridden and starving population. The General Government was then made to send Germany food supplies, up till then they had relied on food FROM Germany to keep the population on rations. Suffice to say, all of these measures led to massive starvation, not something that concerned the German administration as long as their troops and Germany proper were/was fed.

The 'myth' of Speer was interesting to skim through, I'm not that familiar with this particular 'myth' so I didn't want to go into SO much detail, but according to the author the 'miracle' he was responsible for was a long time coming, he simply arrived at the right time and at the right place. Milch was also a man one should pay attention to as, apparently, he was the one responsible for the Luftwaffe's tremendous numbers, rather than Speer.

These are only a few examples of the information you'll find within the pages of this tremendous work. Definitely a new look at the war, a new context for what you might think you knew is presented, very much worth your time (even if you skim through the first few chapters like I did!).


Anonymous said...


I think anyone who wishes to study History also must have some knowledge of economics.

While I have not read the book you reviewed I am going to put it on my list.

One of things I learned reading the book I listed below is that Germany under the NSDAP was a shark. It had to keep moving or it would die.

Yes, they learned, far to late for so many, that they needed live workers more than dead ones.

I remember reading that Paulus had done a study in 1939/40 that had said that the German army would not be able to logisiticaly support itself past the halfway point into the Russian interior.

The German Wehrmacht was supposed to feed itself from the occupied lands. Though I believe that the Stalino to Berlin highway was still under construction until 1943.

Himmler envisioned an east garrisoned by retired SS/Police with fortified towns. Outside the towns would be large states worked by the locals. Interestingly Hitler made a point of gifting land for estates in the east to his Generals. I think Rommel was one of the many who would have been a landed NSDAP "Lord" if the war had been won.

I would recomend:

The Dark Valley: A Panorama of the 1930s (Hardcover)
by Piers Brendon (Author)

From Publishers Weekly
Brendon's latest book is ambitious, covering the world's convulsive descent from the economic and political chaos of the 1930s into the global slaughter of the war-torn 1940s. Taking his title from Churchill's address to Stalin on May 8, 1945, Brendon (Hurrell Froude and the Oxford Movement; etc.) analyzes the decade from the start of the Depression to the eve of WWII, a period of economic collapse in the democracies and aggressive totalitarianism in the nations that would ultimately form the Axis. Brendon traces how each of seven nations (the U.S., Britain, France, Spain, Italy, Russia and Japan) responded to the era's economic upheavals. In Germany, Italy and Japan the answer to the Depression was massive rearmament, to which the democracies responded, as Brendon details, with temporizing and appeasement. Brendon is especially interested in mechanisms for distorting the truth, including propaganda and censorship. His writing is superlative, his vocabulary precise and extensive; he displays remarkable talent for the revealing phrase and the polished anecdote. Each of the decade's personalities, from Hoover to Orwell, from Haile Selassie to Harry Hopkins, is pinned down in a trenchant sketch, and the dominant characters, such as Roosevelt, Mussolini and Hitler, are examined carefully. Most important, Brendon demonstrates why one cannot understand the appalling violence of the Second World War without first mastering the tumultuous decade in which the seeds of the war were planted.


T. said...

Appreciate the recommendation Steve, will try to get it at some point.

nobbsy said...

can you recommend a book similar to The Wages of Destruction but which deals with the economy of Japan prior to and during world war II?

T. Kunikov said...

I'm afraid the Pacific Theater and, even more so, Japanese history is very much out of my area of specialization. My apologies, but I cannot be of any help in this case.