72 of 83 people found the following review helpful
A compelling and sometimes preachy overview
, 1 July 2008
This review is from: Armageddon: The Battle for Germany 1944-45 (Paperback)
An impressive panoramic narrative of the battle for Germany, "Armageddon" combines a wide range of sources (including many veterans) with Hastings's sharp, often iconoclastic judgement. His criticism of the military folly of Operation Market Garden, the Ardennes offensive, and Zhukov's Oder crossing is hard-hitting, but frequently deserved. Hastings is no apologist for military failings, although he frequently gets moralistic: discussions of the justice of the allied cause or the tyranny of Stalin, which is perceived in downright Manichean terms, should not be part of a work of history. This is not to deny the reality of good and evil, or to say that tales of atrocity should not be included: of course they should, especially in a book that intends to provide a comprehensive narrative. It's just that anti-communist and anti-Nazi polemic should not be part of a work of history; it should be left to philosophers and politicians.
Apart from that criticism, Hastings provides a compellingly readable and frequently heart-wrenching account of the final months of the war, paying almost equal attention to the topics usually ignored in the west, such as the sheer magnitude and ferocity of the war on the eastern front. In "Armageddon", the catastrophic climax of the Second World War comes to life, and although we probably can't imagine accurately that awful time, Hastings comes pretty close.
Two minor criticisms. The first is that Hastings argues that the allied carpet bombing of German civilian homes is justified on the grounds that the workers who got bombed were supporting the German war effort through their labour. This is of course correct, but it's a very slippery slope. Taken to an extreme, this argument completely removes the distinction between civilian and military targets: after all, enemy women are also working and supporting their working husbands, thus contributing to the war effort, and children will grow to become enemy soldiers.
Secondly, the maps Hastings includes (e.g. pp.4-5) are extremely strange, inasmuch as they show Europe in the borders of 1937 (except for Luxemburg, which Hastings for some reason considers a part of Germany). As a consequence, Hastings's maps feature a number of countries which did not in fact exist in 1944-5, such as Austria, Czechoslovakia, or Estonia, and simply do not show several countries which did exist, such as Slovakia and Croatia. Of course, the borders of 1937 are broadly those accepted by the Western allies, but they have nothing to do with the political realities of 1944-5; Austria, for instance, was not an independent country, as "Armageddon" suggests, but an integral part of Germany. The problem is sometimes compounded in the text. What is the reader to imagine when told that a certain regiment was moved "to the Czech border"? What Czech border? The pre-1938 Czech border did not exist in 1944-5 either politically or ethnographically. Thus Hastings causes considerable confusion, as there is no clear sense where exactly the "frontiers of Germany" are, or anything else for that matter.
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