Fitting Together Second World War's Disparate Events

Winnipeg Free Press, July 14, 2012 | Go to article overview

Fitting Together Second World War's Disparate Events


British military historian Anthony Beevor begins this comprehensive history of the Second World War with the amazing story of a young Korean, Yang Kyoungjong.

Drafted into the Japanese army in 1938 at age 18, Yang was sent to Manchuria where he fought in the border skirmishes between Soviet and Japanese troops and was taken prisoner by the Soviets.

After a spell in a Soviet labour camp he was drafted into the Soviet army and was sent to fight the German invaders in Ukraine. Taken prisoner by the Germans, he then served in the German army in Normandy where he was captured by U.S. troops shortly after D-Day, ending up in a prisoner-of-war camp in Britain.

Here, Beevor suggests, is the global dimension of the Second World War all tied up in experience of a single soldier. Yang's story illustrates Beevor's two main themes: the interconnection between the war in Asia and the war elsewhere and the ways in which the war engulfed so many men and women and shaped their lives.

Despite its length and its occasional tendency to get bogged down in unnecessary detail, the volume is highly readable. Better yet, combine Beevor with Max Hastings' All Hell Broke Loose, another new (2011) and comprehensive history of the Second World War that makes for equally absorbing reading.

The author of well-received studies of the battles of Stalingrad and Crete, of D-Day, and of the fall of Berlin in 1945, Beevor describes his latest work as his attempt to explain how the events of the war fit together.

In particular, he emphasizes the war's global interconnectedness, for example by taking the Asian battle of Khalkhin Gol, and not the Nazi invasion of Poland, as marking the war's beginning.

It is this inter-weaving of the Asian dimension of the war with the fighting on other fronts that distinguishes Beevor's history from many previous accounts.

Fought between Soviet and Japanese armies on the border of Soviet-controlled Mongolia and Japanese-controlled Manchuria in May 1939, the battle was a decisive Soviet victory. …

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