Friday, January 08, 2016

A college-level course on modern European history

Ian Kershaw wrote the definitive biography of Adolf Hitler and other studies of Germany’s follies from 1933 to 1945. Now, for the centennial of the First World War, he takes on a broader canvas. The “long war” from 1914 to 1945 set us up for the East-West confrontation that lasted for another forty-odd years  (and that, with Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, seems to have resumed). Apart from the rather lurid title, To Hell and Back is one of the finest books I have ever read, the equivalent of a one-semester college course in modern European history. And the author is working on the second semester, in the form of a volume covering the Cold War and perhaps the Islamic upsurge that is roiling the world anew. 

I particularly like the fact that Mr Kershaw doesn’t follow the craven academic and media dodge of attributing everything to a mythical race of “Nazis.” Those horrors were unleashed and perpetrated by Germans, with an assist from Austrians and other bloody-minded individuals in Eastern and Western Europe. (At its high point, the Nazi party enrolled just 10 percent of the population, whereas virtually every German idolized Hitler.) Can we hope he’ll be as forthright about the Russians and the Muslims?

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