Archive

Max introduces Nemesis: The Battle For Japan 1944-45

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. Read More

Max reviews The Crimean War

The Crimean War by Orlando Figes (Metropolitan Books) The Crimean War In The British Imagination by Stefanie Markovits (Cambridge) Considering the depth of mutual suspicion and animosity between Britain and Russia after 1815, it is astonishing that the lion and bear have fought each other only twice. At Winston Churchill’s behest, British forces played a desultory role supporting the White interest in the 1919-21 Civil War. The nations clashed much more fiercely between 1854 and 1856, when the Crimean War made a flagellatory impact on British society: it set a benchmark for political and military bungling, and public recrimination about it, which endures today. Read More

Max reviews The White War by Mark Thompson

The White War by Mark Thompson (Basic Books) Many Anglo-Saxons perceive Italy’s role in modern history as marginal and verging upon absurdity. Few American or British people contrived to hate Mussolini and his nation in the Second World War as they hated Hitler and his, because they did not fear Italians in the same way. There were those ponderous jokes which pleased stupid men with large moustaches in English pubs in the 1950s, about Italian tanks lavishly equipped with reverse gears. The day after Italy entered World War I in May 1915, a Slovene child in the Hapsburg Alpine village of Caporetto contributed something to the same legend by exclaiming as he saw Bersaglieri troops cycling towards him in their exotic plumed hats: ‘Daddy, daddy, look at all the ladies coming here on bikes !’ (p.71). Read More

Max’s Lecture on Armageddon: The Battle For Germany 1944-45

Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. Forty-something years ago, when I was a teenager, even then avidly preoccupied with the Second World War, the study of its history was still dominated by fiercely nationalistic perceptions. Americans wildly overrated their battlefield contribution to victory, and perhaps underestimated their decisive industrial one. The British, astonishingly enough, still perceived themselves as the inhabitants of middle earth. The Russians barely acknowledged that the western allies had participated in the war at all. Read More
churchill

Max’s Lecture on Finest Years: Churchill as Warlord 1940-45

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. Read More

Max’s Ruttenberg Lecture

David Cameron and Barack Obama said in a joint statement at the end of the president’s recent state visit to London that the relationship between our two countries is not merely special, but essential. This was a pleasantly emollient assertion, characteristic of the things statesmen say in such circumstances. But this evening I want to discuss how far it seems justified by realities, past and present, with special reference to defence, which is my own field; and what we, the British, as ever the lesser player and often suppliant, might do to strengthen our side of the affiliation. I use the word affiliation, rather than partnership, advisedly, for it seems to me that many of the difficulties and disappointments that landmark our exchanges with the United States result from exaggerated hopes of what Britain may realistically expect from its relationship with the most powerful nation on earth. Read More