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About this book

The Second World War ended the Nazi attempt to establish Germany as the dominant power in Europe and the world; and Japan's aim of controlling South East Asia and the Pacific. It also resulted in the creation of two super-powers and led to the Cold War.

A. W. Purdue provides one of the most concise yet comprehensive accounts of the entire course of World War Two, covering both the European and the Asian Pacific conflicts. Thoroughly revised and updated in the light of the latest scholarship, this second edition of an established text:

* challenges accepted views and reassesses the war, rejecting the simplistic concept of a 'war against fascism'
* discusses the historiography and critically analyses key themes and issues, as well as examining current debates
* considers changes in popular attitudes to the Second World War.

Ideal for students and general readers alike, this is an essential introduction to the causes, nature and significance of World War Two from the perspective of the twenty-first century.

Table of Contents

Introduction

Abstract
Writing 15 years after the end of the Second World War, the historian A.J. P. Taylor wrote that the war, ‘… like its predecessor, has passed into history’ and was as remote to students as the Boer War to their lecturers’. He was, of course, wrong, for in Britain at least, the war cast a long shadow, invading language, and becoming central to that mixture of memory and myth that constitutes the national self-image.
A. W. Purdue

Chapter 1. The Origins of the Second World War

Abstract
Two statements which generations of students have been invited to discuss as essay questions encapsulate the most popular and contradictory explanations of the causes of the Second World War: ‘The origins of World War II lie in the Versailles Settlement’ and ‘The causes of the Second World War can be summed up in one word, Hitler’. A third thesis, which has recently gained ground, is that the First and Second World Wars were inextricably linked with a common cause, the upsetting of the balance of power of Europe by the emergence of a united Germany with expansionist ambitions.
A. W. Purdue

Chapter 2. A European War

Abstract
Britain and France went to war in September 1939 to prevent a German domination of Europe. Poland and its independence were the occasion rather than the cause of their intervention. The aim of the Allied powers was not the total defeat and surrender of Germany, but to achieve by war what diplomacy had failed to achieve, a European settlement. Such a settlement would leave intact the revisions to Versailles which had taken place, with the exception that the Czechoslovakian Republic, dismembered in the spring of 1939, would be re-established. Hitler had proved himself both aggressive and untrustworthy, and it was hoped that military pressure would result in his replacement by a new German leader with whom it would be possible to negotiate.
A. W. Purdue

Chapter 3. A World War?

Abstract
What gives the Second World War its claim to have been a world war in a more complete sense than the First World War is the involvement of Japan. The Japanese attack upon the US fleet at Pearl Harbor can be seen to have made a European war a world war. There are, however, a number of problems with this essentially Eurocentric perspective.
A. W. Purdue

Chapter 4. Behind the Lines

Abstract
Despite the successes of the Japanese, the humiliations of the British and the defeats of the Americans, and despite the great swathe of Soviet territory conquered by Germany, it could be argued, from a British point of view, that, with the entry of the USSR and the USA into the war, ultimate victory was secure. As Churchill wrote in his memoirs: ‘We had won the war. England would live.’ His optimism that, if Britain could hold out long enough, the USSR and the USA would be drawn into the war, had been justified, even though their entry had been determined by the aggression of Germany and Japan rather than by their own volition.
A. W. Purdue

Chapter 5. Roads to Victory 1943–4

Abstract
By the spring of 1942, the Japanese conquests in the Pacific and the position of the German armies deep within the Soviet Union suggested that military advantage and strategic initiative lay with the Axis forces. There is, as we have seen, a powerful argument that Germany and Japan lacked the resources to ultimately prevail, but the potential power of the USA and the Soviet Union was not yet fully realised, and both powers were still reeling from the force of Japanese and German attacks.
A. W. Purdue

Chapter 6. Unconditional Surrender

Abstract
Hitler and the Nazi leadership continued to hope that total defeat could be avoided despite the desperate military position. These hopes were based on a correct perception that the alliance against Germany was increasingly under strain. What they failed to grasp was that they had become so hated and unacceptable that even an incompatible alliance would remain intact until after the destruction of German power. As Norman Davies has written: ‘Though the anti-Nazi alliance was to be wrapped in the verbiage of freedom, democracy, and justice, the Big Three were bound together by cynical convenience.’1 The closer the Allies came to victory, the more differences as to the geopolitical shape of post-war Europe overshadowed the straightforward goal of victory. Nothing did more to expose the fundamental differences between the allies than the question of Poland, the very state for which Britain had, ostensibly, gone to war.
A. W. Purdue

Conclusion

Abstract
The Cold War provided a structure, lasting for nearly half a century, within which major developments, the end of colonialism, the creation of the European Union, and even the emergence of the Pacific economies, were opposed or supported, accommodated, articulated and interpreted. To a considerable degree it also imposed a perspective upon the great conflict which preceded it. Most obviously, because it seemed to make ideology the key to the present, the Cold War perspective emphasised the ideological dimension of the Second World War, conceiving of it as a clash of ideologies. Thus the concept of a war against fascism, rather than of a war between states wedded to different ideologies and systems, was influential. The fact that none of the allies had, in fact, gone to war to crusade against fascism was not allowed to interfere with what was, essentially, a convenient fiction.
A. W. Purdue
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