The trouble with reading too many books about our dark periods of history is the lowering effect it can have on the rest of ones life. Loved ones become accustomed to lectures over breakfast on the iniquities of Nazi Germany. Squabbling children are reminded about the consequences of unbridled human aggression. Family shopping trips are punctuated by laments on the consumerist nature of today's culture. After a literary diet of "Auschwitz" and "Their Darkest Hour", it's back to the Moomintrolls and Clive James for me. That or I'll find myself banished to the Sunnydays asylum for over-serious wives and mothers.
But I digress. "Their Darkest Hour" is a fine piece of work and a very necessary read for anyone trying to understand the lessons that a conflict like WWII might teach us. Rees has used the source material from his other historical works to construct a readable, thoughtful and intelligent assessment of what war can teach us about ourselves as humans. The lessons might seem simplistic, but if they were, we wouldn't be inclined to make the same mistakes over and over again. Obviously. And in a clever piece of journalism, Rees juxtaposes material from the various "sides" in the conflicts to demonstrate neatly and quietly, that no one culture can lay claim to evil or the capacity to commit it. We may vary in the way we express our basest instincts, but there's no blue print for producing bad behaviour, or for that matter, altruism. Shattering the smug assumptions about "goodies" and "baddies", which are almost universally fostered in WWII reporting, is one of the most important effects of this book.
So impressed am I, that I plan to read Rees' two other works: "Nazis: A Warning from History" and "Nightmare in the East" in due course. Meantime, in the interests of domestic harmony - "One grey morning the first snow began to fall in the Valley of the Moomins. It fell softly and quietly and in a few hours everything was white."
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