I have written All Hell Let Loose (published in US as Inferno) with two ideas in mind: first, to try to offer some of my own thoughts about great issues which I haven’t discussed in earlier books, and about which I hope that I may have something new to bring to the party- to complete my personal cycle about the Second World War, if you like. To give a few examples: it seems to me a remarkable paradox, that while the German army fought most of its battles brilliantly well- much better than the allies- its efforts were entirely set at naught by the stunning incompetence with which Germany’s leadership conducted the war, fortunately for us. Meanwhile, whatever the limitations of the British Army, Britain’s war machine was superbly organised, especially in mobilizing its best civilian brains, an achievement exemplified by Bletchley Park, in a fashion the Axis never remotely matched.
Max has delivered talks at many literary festivals and events following publication of his books, and some of these may provide useful introductions to his recent work.
Warriors is an old-fashioned book, or at least a book about old-fashioned conflicts, because it’s about people rather than ‘platforms’, that unlovely modern phrase for tanks, ships, planes. I’ve written about 15 remarkable characters- some successes and some failures- who made their marks on conflicts of the past two centuries, and tried to explore what we can learn from them about human nature amid the changing face of war.
Why do people like me go on writing books about the Second World War ? 62 years after it ended, what new can there possibly be to be said, about the most exhaustively chronicled event in human history ? On the odd occasions when a new book is published which claims to have uncovered revelations- that Winston Churchill secretly plotted De Gaulle’s assassination or that allied troops murdered thousands of German prisoners in Europe in 1945, they always turn out to be nonsense.
Almost all of us are intrigued by our own heredity. In this book, I’ve recounted the picaresque little saga of mine. The Hastingses weren’t at all important people, but they did some extraordinary and sometimes pretty weird things. And because they were writers for three generations, they wrote them down. When I did BBC’s Desert Island Discs back in 1986, I was pretty discreet about our tumultuous rows and my admittedly pretty awful childhood behaviour. But when my mother, Anne Scott-James, was DID’s guest at the age of 90 in 2003, to the audience’s delight and my toe-curling embarrassment, she regaled Sue Lawley with some horror stories, not least about my doings. For weeks afterwards, people came up to me in petrol stations and other unlikely places, asking: ‘Ere- did you really shoot the television ?’. It’s because people seemed intrigued by that question that I made it the title of this book. I’ll explain it in due course, but I want to make plain immediately that the victim was not a big set.
To a remarkable degree, even in 2010 the period of Winston Churchill’s war leadership continues to define many British people’s view of our own country. We have been told more about him than any other human being. Thousands of people of many nations have recorded encounters. The most vivid wartime memory of a British Eighth Army veteran whom I once met derived from a day in August 1942 when he found the prime minister his neighbour in a North African desert latrine.