Book Notes: A Short History of World War II

A Short History of World War II
I’ve only just begun the book (so far, I’m up to the surrender of France), but it is chock full of interesting tidbits and lessons.

For one thing, the lesson one can draw over and over again is how disastrous it can be to use the wrong frame of reference. Generals are notorious for fighting the last war, but even beyond that, it’s incredible how much depended on the perceptions of the two sides.

When Hitler threatened Czechoslovakia, his forces were outnumbered just by the Czech military, let alone the French and British. Yet because the French high command believed Hitler’s propaganda about the unstoppable German war machine, the Allies surrendered Czechoslovakia to him without a fight.

The story also illustrates the perils of wishful thinking and hoping that things work out, rather than biting the bullet immediately.

Neville Chamberlain famously told the British people that the craven appeasement of Munich had won them “peace in our time.” Unwilling to fight Hitler when they had the advantage, the Allies gave him the time he needed to gear up his war machine until they couldn’t stop it.

Even when they did fight, during the battle of France, the Allies bollixed things up. The northern armies left their prepared positions along the French border with Belgium as part of their previously generated plan to fight the Germans to a standstill in Belgium, in concert with Belgian forces. Instead, they found themselves without any defensive fortifications and ran smack into the German blitzkrieg. Had they remained where they were, they might have held off the advance.

I see the same thing happen all the time in the business world–people take a course of action that minimizes present pain, and allows them to *hope* that things will work out, rather than taking a more harshly realistic view and sacrificing up front in order to achieve a more viable strategic position.

One thing the book does not do is to change the perception of the French high command as an incompetent bunch of cheese-eating surrender monkeys. Vive le France!

1 thought on “Book Notes: A Short History of World War II

  1. By personal favorite bumpersticker is:
    “First Bagdhad… then Paris”

    My guess is that the heartless citizens of Paris would not offer half the resistance that our troops have faced in the streets of Iraq.

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