When Men Lost Faith in Reason: Reflections on War and Society in the Twentieth Century

By H. P. Willmott | Go to book overview

1
New Perspectives:
Twentieth-Century History,
War, and Wars

The years 1989–95 were years of unprecedented plenty for historians, or at least alleged historians who defected to the entertainment industry. The anniversaries of campaigns and battles of 50 years ago may well have been commemorated by the many, but one must admit to a certain distaste for some of the outpourings, not least because they would seem to have fallen into one of three categories: the catch-pennies of no great worth; the shameless exploiters of national prejudice; and those produced by individuals who toiled under illusions of competence in the sure belief that they had explained events that they had merely described.

In terms of historical perspective, one of the least attractive features of the 1994 commemorations marking the Normandy invasion was the manner in which presentation demonstrated refusal to move beyond self-satisfied predictability. So Normandy was the decisive campaign, the climactic campaign, of the Second World War—or so we were told. It is difficult, if not impossible, to resist the conclusion that the issue of victory and defeat in the European war was resolved in 1943, if not before. If that was so, how can any campaign conducted after the decision of the war had been reached been decisive? How can any single campaign in a war of six years' duration be climactic unless it is the one with which the war ended? The Normandy campaign was critically important, most crucially in the shaping of the postwar world, but with reference to the outcome of the Second World War one suspects that its impact was probably minimal. It is difficult to see, if Operation Overlord had miscarried, how the outcome of the war and the timing of its end would have been affected. The Soviet advances of 1944–45 would not

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