Academic journal article Military Review

The Battle for History: Refighting World War II

Academic journal article Military Review

The Battle for History: Refighting World War II

Article excerpt

THE BATTLE FOR HISTORY: Refighting World War II by John Keegan. 128 pages. Vintage Books, New York. 1996. $10.00.

"The real war will never get in the books," declared Walt Whitman about the American Civil War. Popular British military writer John Keegan is not quite so pessimistic about World War II, although he opines that "the history of the Second World War has not yet been written." Keegan believes we are still too close "for anv one historian to strike an objective balance" toward an event engendering passions, wounds and problems on such a monumental scale.

Setting aside the philosophical question of whether there can be an "objective" history, there is obviously something to what Keegan says. One can also infer an equally daunting obstacle for the historian undertaking the writing of World War II's definitive historvthe 15,000 books Keegan mentions that have been written to date, with no end in sight, and the largely unmined former Soviet archives.

Keegan does not attempt an overarching synthesis in this slim, elegantly written volume. But he does touch on many wartime controversies among contemporary actors and subsequent historians and offers an extended bibliographical essay that reflects his own wide reading. Neither portion pretends to be exhaustive. In particular, Keegan does not mention several important and well-known interpersonal, interservice and inter-Allied wrangles, such as the debates over whether to campaign in northwest Europe on a broad or narrow front, to seize Berlin or leave it to the Soviets. …

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