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About this book

In the longer perspective, even the most momentous events can appear to lose coherence and significance. However, such was the impact of World War Two that even more than sixty years after its end, interest in the origins, course and consequences of the war continues to increase and generate debate.

In this essential introductory guide, John Plowright casts a critical eye over the mass of literature that surrounds the conflict, focusing on key topics such as:

- Nazi foreign policy and appeasement
- the Fall of France
- Operation Barbarossa and the Allied strategic bombing offensive
- the impact of the war on Britain's international position and on American society
- the movement towards European integration.

This timely book provides an approachable synthesis of the scholarship relating to the causes, course and outcomes of the Second World War. It is ideal for all those in danger of drowning in the ocean of print on the subject and who wish to gain an understanding of the central issues and debates.

Table of Contents

Introduction

Abstract
A word now on the character, aims and structure of the book. It is intended to offer a synthesis of the most important literature on various aspects of the causes, course and consequences of World War Two. It is obviously impossible in the course of approximately 75,000 words to provide a comprehensive account of the war in all its political, military, diplomatic, social and economic aspects. Instead, the focus is upon those features of the war considered most likely to be studied by those, especially in the United Kingdom and the United States, contemplating or actually embarking upon higher education, without neglecting the needs of the general reader.
John Plowright

1. The Paris peace conference

Abstract
Before analysing the Paris Peace Conference, it is first necessary to consider the First World War in general and Wilson’s Fourteen Points and the Armistice in particular, because of the role which they together played in fostering the ‘stab in the back myth’ which legitimated German bitterness and directed it outwards, against the Allied and Associated Powers, rather than inwardly against the conservatives elites in general and the High Command in particular, who actually bore most of the responsibility for starting and then losing the war.
John Plowright

2. Nazi foreign policy

Abstract
Nazi foreign policy is part of the broader intentionalist-structuralist debate about the nature of the Third Reich. Was Nazi foreign policy in essence little more than the product of Hitler’s mind or was he not the ‘free agent’ in shaping policy which he might appear at first sight, given constraints such as the need to take account of the conservative elites (such as the generals and Big Business), public and party opinion, and the state of the economy, to say nothing of international factors? And when we talk about Hitler’s mind, should he be viewed as possessing a more or less detailed ‘programme’ for rearmament and aggression or was he rather an unprincipled opportunist who reacted to changing circumstances? Finally, if Hitler did possess a programme, did his intentions extend further than the conquest of Lebensraum in the East to ultimate world domination?
John Plowright

3. Appeasement

Abstract
In the 1920s Britain appeased Germany in an effort both to counteract French antagonism towards Germany and to persuade Germany to accept its diminished power within Europe. The appeasement of Germany in the 1920s (which centred upon a willingness to see Germany’s reparations burden reduced) differed from that of the 1930s because the first was undertaken from a position of relative military strength whereas the latter was undertaken from a position of weakness, albeit not as great as was imagined at the time. Chamberlainite appeasement also differed from that of his predecessor Stanley Baldwin because Neville Chamberlain was dynamic and proactive, whereas Baldwin, the truer conservative, had been masterly in his inactivity. Thus appeasement changed from passive acceptance of Germany’s unilateral breaches of the Treaty of Versailles into an active mission to discover her grievances and seek to satisfy them through peaceful negotiation.
John Plowright

4. The fall of France

Abstract
On 3 September 1939, two days after the German invasion of Poland, Great Britain and France declared war on Germany. They were, however, unable to do anything to save Poland, especially as the Red Army, in accordance with the secret clauses of the Nazi-Soviet Non-Aggression Pact, invaded Poland from the east on 17 September.
John Plowright

5. Great Britain alone

Abstract
The Battle for France nearly lost the RAF the Battle of Britain. Air Chief Marshal Sir Hugh Dowding, the Commander-in-Chief of Fighter Command, had to fight Churchill tooth and nail on 15 May 1940 to prevent him from fatally dissipating Fighter Command’s meagre resources by siphoning off further fighters for France. Fortunately the claims of military prudence eventually prevailed over political considerations (namely vainly attempting to stiffen French resistance).
John Plowright

6. The Eastern Front

Abstract
In 1938, film director Sergei Eisenstein returned to favour with Stalin with the release of Alexander Nevsky, the climax of which was the recreation of the 1242 Battle on the ice of Lake Peipus when Nevsky’s forces decisively defeated the Teutonic Knights. The film dramatised a significant period in the centuries-long conflict between the Germanic and Russian peoples.
John Plowright

7. The strategic bombing offensive against Germany

Abstract
In the long period, when the Red Army was bearing the brunt of the fight against the Axis and Stalin’s western allies repeatedly delayed the opening of the Second Front, Churchill pointed to the strategic bombing offensive against Germany as making a material contribution to the Allied war effort at substantial cost. The effectiveness of that effort in strategic terms and its cost — to those in the air and, more particularly, to those on the ground — remain highly controversial questions.
John Plowright

8. The Holocaust

Abstract
Persecution of the Jews is an historical commonplace. The genocidal anti-Semitism of the Third Reich requires deeper explanation. When and why was mass murder acknowledged as the ‘final solution’ of the ‘Jewish question’?
John Plowright

9. The Pacific war

Abstract
World War Two only became a truly global war on 7 December 1941 when carrier-based Japanese aircraft launched a surprise attack upon the US Pacific fleet anchored at its base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, and both Germany and Italy, Japan’s Axis allies, declared war on the United States shortly afterwards.
John Plowright

10. The Second World War and the Cold War

Abstract
The Cold War is commonly defined as the state of tension and mistrust that characterised US-Soviet relations from the end of the Second World War until 1990. In fact, the Cold War had its origins long before 1939.
John Plowright

11. The German question

Abstract
The death toll of World War Two will never be known precisely but the best estimates suggest that over 50 million lost their lives, with civilian dead outnumbering regular combatants. The casualties for the Big Three — Great Britain and the Commonwealth, the United States and the Soviet Union — were of the order of magnitude of 450,000, 480,000 and between 20 and 27 million, respectively, while Germany lost at least 5 million.
John Plowright

12. The impact of World War Two on Great Britain and its empire

Abstract
During a speech to the Conservative Party conference in 1948, Churchill drew a famous image, arguing that a large part of Britain’s strength in international relations derived from the fact that she lay at the centre of three interlocking circles, comprising the United States, the Empire-Commonwealth and continental Europe.
John Plowright

13. The impact of World War Two on the United States

Abstract
The United States of America was blessed with a comparatively substantial domestic supply of most important raw materials for modern industry (only really lacking rubber) and possessed a level of gross output which, even prior to the wartime recovery from depression, exceeded the combined output of the Axis powers. It entered World War Two (like World War One) later than any other major power. Unlike many participants it did not suffer invasion or occupation. Moreover, it was almost unique insofar as mainland America was not bombed (unless one counts Japanese incendiary balloons). It placed a smaller percentage of its population in uniform than any other power (12 per cent) and its losses, while high by American standards (only being surpassed by the Civil War) were light by international standards. With 405,000 dead (291,557 in combat) the United States suffered a lower total casualty rate in terms of percentage of population than any other major belligerent. Thus for every American to die, 15 Germans and at least 53 Russians died1 Looked at another way, the Red Army suffered as many combat deaths in the Battle of Stalingrad as the Americans suffered in the entire war2 and more women lost their lives in the Soviet armed forces than men in the American military.3
John Plowright
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