Tag: World War II

How to Give a Great Speech: A Master Class with Winston Churchill

Literary ChurchillChances are good that you have been asked to speak in public before and will need to speak in public again. Giving a compelling speech is no easy task at any level, be it giving a TED Talk in front of hundreds or just summarizing a novel at school. You may wonder how anyone ever managed to do it with even a modicum of style. Jonathan Rose‘s new biography of Winston Churchill  shows how one of the greatest orators of all time conquered the challenge of winning over an audience. The Literary Churchill considers the politician as an author, a reader, and an actor, explaining how his favorite plays and books formed the foundation of his public persona. Rose’s analysis fits the man particularly well since, as The Daily Beast puts it, Churchill would be famous today on the strength of his writing alone. Churchill remains the only British Prime Minister to have won a Nobel Prize in Literature, and he published as a war correspondent, a biographer, a historian, and, less successfully, as a novelist.

It is one of Churchill’s unpublished pieces, however, that will come to your aid as you prepare to give a speech. In 1897, he wrote “The Scaffolding of Rhetoric,” a guide to oratory and a reflection on the nature of the craft. Rose interprets the essay as an indication of Churchill’s hushed enthusiasm for Oscar Wilde, and you can read an excerpt on the subject via Biographile. The guide has become useful to the scholar, but Churchill intended for the following topics to serve the beginning orator.

Diction

Churchill writes that “there is no more important element in the technique of rhetoric than the continual employment of the best possible word.” As Rose notes, this is bit of a truism. Of course one should choose the most effective words, but which words are the most effective? Churchill says that, contrary to popular assumptions, short, common words are better than long, uncommon ones. He cautions against puffing up one’s rhetoric with Greek and Latin, suggesting that punchy, Anglo-Saxon words “appeal with greater force to simple understandings.” Rose admits that this passage tempted him to write “e.g. blood, sweat, tears” in the margin.

Rhythm

One must also attend to the way the words flow together, Churchill advises. He reminds the reader of the power of sound, and says that the sentences of the best orators become “long, rolling and sonorous,” with “a cadence which resembles blank verse rather than prose.” Rose offers a biographical insight here, noting that Churchill tended to write his speeches in something like vers libre, poetry based on speaking patterns, rather than continuous paragraphs.

Churchill V

Churchill, one week after his “Blood, Toil, Tears, and Sweat” speech

Accumulation

Churchill discusses the way careful repetition and modulation can help build an argument toward its climax. A speaker can encourage enthusiasm by employing a variety of images and facts “all pointing in a common direction” such that the audience can anticipate the conclusion before it is reached. Churchill’s “Blood, Toil, Tears, and Sweat” speech again rings in one’s ears as the speaker follows his own advice to great effect.

You ask, what is our aim? I can answer in one word: It is victory, victory at all costs, victory in spite of all terror, victory, however long and hard the road may be; for without victory, there is no survival. Let that be realised; no survival for the British Empire, no survival for all that the British Empire has stood for, no survival for the urge and impulse of the ages, that mankind will move forward towards its goal.

Analogy

A speaker, Churchill writes, can use apt comparisons to produce conviction in an audience. He says that analogies can “translate an established truth into simple language” or “aspire to reveal the unknown.” The passage goes on to suggest that analogies are “among the most formidable weapons of the rhetorician” and that “the effect upon the most cultivated audience is electrical.” Churchill quotes some examples, but to 21st century readers they testify to the imperialism, sexism, and racism of 19th century British politicians rather than to their rhetorical talent. Churchill’s own prose, however, displays some flair for analogy, as he uses the phrases “formidable weapons” and “electrical” to conjure the word “power” without using it outright.

Extravagance

Churchill writes that in emotional speeches one may use language “so wild that reason recoils.” The most persuasive orators sweep their audiences off their feet with phrases that hit upon the group sentiment and amplify it to an extreme. In political oratory, these phrases “become the watchwords of parties, and the creeds of nationalities.” Rose notes that Churchill used this kind of hyperbolic register often, and one can see him employing it at the end of the “Blood, Toil, Tears, and Sweat” speech, in which he moves swiftly from country to empire to millennia of human progress.

Chances are good that your next public speaking opportunity will not decide the fates of empires. Nevertheless, you will want to speak accurately and beautifully. You will want to convince and inspire. You will want your audience to remember your message and how impressively you delivered it. In this pursuit you will find no example more memorable, more inspiring, or more literary than Winston Churchill.

 

Jewish American Heritage Month Features The Glatstein Chronicles

Get the ebook of The Glatstein Chronicles for only 2.99 via Open Road Media this Jewish American Heritage Month!

 

In 1934 and with World War II steadily nearing, Jacob Glatstein, one of the most prominent Yiddish-language poets of his time, boarded a ship from the United States to visit his dying mother in his hometown of Lublin, Poland. It is this trip that serves as the basis for the two novellas of autobiographical fiction comprising The Glatstein ChroniclesTold from the first-person perspective of Yash, The Glatstein Chronicles highlights the decline of an entire community through the lens of international Jews in the years leading up to World War II. Book One, “Homeward Bound” details Yash’s observations of his fellow passengers’ political and social leanings over the course of his journey. Glatstein combines childhood memories of violent pogroms in Poland with commentary on escalating anti-Semitic sentiment in Europe to highlight the resilience of the Jewish people and their ability to remain united as a collective group in the face of growing hostility.

In book’s second half, Glatstein reveals the true matter at hand, once again through the experiences of others: the utter despair and seeming lack of hope that must be endured by the Polish Jewry in an environment almost wholly overtaken by anti-Semitism. The Glatstein Chronicles’ importance lies not only in its ability to shed light on the Jewish experience in the years leading up to World War II, but also in its prescience, foreshadowing the imminent horrors of the Holocaust Jews had yet to face at the time of the novellas’ publication.  At the end of Book Two, “Homecoming at Twilight,” before his return to the United States, Glatstein reflects:

Even my mother’s death seemed to coincide oddly with the downward movement of my own life, and all this was in step with Jewish life as a whole, maybe even with the twilight now settling down over the whole world.

Although fraught with anguish and hopelessness, The Glatstein Chronicles serves as “a filial homage to Polish Jews,” offering hope, a hope rooted in the notion that solidarity with one’s community is the most crucial to enduring harship.

This month is the perfect time to explore the life of Yash Glatstein and the experiences of the Polish Jew through The Glatstein Chroniclestranslated by Maier Deshell and Norbert Guterman and part of Yale University Press’s New Yiddish Library series.

JewishHeritageMonth_socialgraphic_600x320_Glatstein

Book Excerpt: A World Without Jews: The Nazi Imagination from Persecution to Genocide

Alon Confino‘s A World Without Jews: The Nazi Imagination from Persecution to Genocide centers itself around an important question: Why exactly did the Nazis burn the Hebrew Bible everywhere in Germany on November 9, 1938? The events of Kristallnacht have not been adequately accounted for by historians in their large-scale assessments of how and why the Holocaust occurred, Confino argues. He draws on an array of archives across three continents to propose a penetrating new assessment of one of the central moral problems of the twentieth century; tracing the stories the Nazis told themselves about their past and destiny, Confino proposes a penetrating new assessment of the Holocaust, showing how a world without Jews was conceivable and imaginable before and during the war. Below you can read an excerpt on the book as a primer for our further discussion of the book when we post more for Jewish American Heritage Month in May.

The imagination of a Germany without Jews links anti-Semitic actions and ideas in the prewar and war years because it describes Nazi anti-Semitism as a work in progress, built gradually over the years between 1933 and 1945. I thus challenge the mainstream view in popular and scholarly understanding of the Holocaust that the mass murder of the Jews during the war had not been anticipated, that victims and perpetrators alike scarcely believed what was happening, that it was unimaginable and unrepresentable. Primo Levi expressed this idea in one of the twentieth century’s most profound statements: “Today, at this very moment as I sit writing at the table, I myself am not convinced that these things really happened.”8 The sentiment cannot be denied. At the same time, historians know that all that happened was, in some way, somehow, imagined, not literally, not exactly, but it was put into images and words that made it possible. No historical event springs from thin air, none is unique, because this implies having no links to context, past, and present. Of course, on November 9, 1938, no one could imagine the gas chamber of Auschwitz, not even Hitler himself. But on that day one could imagine a German world in which Jews and Judaism were terminated by fire and violence. Our aim is to seek patterns of meaning and purpose in a world of fantasies that made the extermination possible precisely because it was, somehow, imaginable and representable.

The Nazis imagined the Jew by using anti-Semitic ideas from their present-day German society. This statement may seem obvious, but it has consequences for our understanding of the Holocaust. A key approach to the Holocaust has been to focus on anti-Semitism as the primary motivation of the Nazis and to view Nazi racial ideology as the modern form of the old hatred. On one level, this argument is unassailable, for any account of the Holocaust that denies or minimizes anti-Semitism is bound to be unsatisfactory. But beyond this broad agreement, my argument here is in some respect fundamentally different from some trends in the anti-Semitism approach to the Holocaust. A central tenet of many studies of this approach, explicitly or implicitly, has been that an accumulation of the ancient hatred through the centuries paved the way and ultimately produced the Holocaust. I argue the opposite. It is not that the past (of anti-Semitism) produced the present (of the extermination), not that the ancient hatred led to the Holocaust, but that the Nazis interpreted anew the past of Jewish, German, and Christian relations to fit their vision of creating a new world. The Nazis, as we shall see, told a story of national origins at the center of which were the evil Jews. But in telling this story they picked and chose from the history of Jewish, German, and Christian relations elements that fit their narrative while creating anew their own present. It is the Nazis who made sense of, and gave new meaning to, past anti-Semitism, not so much the other way around. It is always people in the present who give meaning to the past, while the past itself can never give meaning to a future not yet born.

At the same time, the Holocaust cannot be understood without consideration of the history of European colonialism. Colonial genocides of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries were part of a process of accelerated violence related to nation-building at home and imperial territorial expansion abroad. The Nazi notions of race and of inferior groups who had no right to live belonged in the tradition of European colonialism, which, long before 1933, provided popular, “scientific,” and political legitimacy to British, French, Dutch, Belgian, and others to rule over and kill millions around the world. What set the stage for the Nazi genocides were the broken taboos of earlier decades: the Holocaust was thinkable because, to give but one example, of the prior German extermination of the Herero and the Namaqua between 1904 and 1907 in South-West Africa (present-day Namibia) and the realization that wiping out peoples was a possibility.

Similarly, the enmity against and extermination of the Jews was part of Nazi universe of racial enemies and exterminations. The Jewish genocide was bound up with a set of racial ideas that produced other Nazi mass killings and genocides of, among others, mentally ill patients, Ukrainians, and Russians. The Nazis were determined to build an empire, extending from the Atlantic in the West to the Pacific shores of Siberia in the East, devoted to expansion and the annihilation of entire populations. The Holocaust was only one in a series of genocides committed by the Nazis, and it can be understood only when placed within the comparative history of modern genocides.9 It belongs squarely within the genre of genocides and was not an exceptional, stand-alone historical event. (That said, it has its own particularities because not all genocides are identical, though they all share certain common denominators that group them together as genocides.)

But in themselves the European traditions of modern colonialism and racial ideas cannot account for the Holocaust, and at some point I part way with the scholarship on comparative genocides and on the Nazi empire. Some scholars question in various ways the extent to which the Holocaust was central to understanding National Socialism. In making the Nazi empire, some argue, the Holocaust was a result rather than a goal of Nazism, growing out of the specific circumstances of the war.10 Others integrate the Holocaust into a history of totalitarian genocides committed by Hitler and Stalin in eastern Europe, implying that the Holocaust was a result of the linked policies of the two dictators as they pushed each other to commit ever-worsening crimes.11

The limits of these arguments should also be made clear. If the Holocaust was a result of mass murders in eastern Europe between Hitler and Stalin, why did the Nazis choose to exterminate the Jews of Corfu, and by extension of western Europe, who had no direct relation to this conflict? If the Holocaust was essentially only part of mass murders such as the premeditated starvation of Ukrainian peasants by Stalin in the early 1930s, then why was it that the NKVD, Stalin’s secret police, did not seek to kill all Ukrainians in the Soviet Union or indeed the world, whereas the Gestapo searched for every single Jew in occupied Europe to be murdered and, beyond that, asked the king of Bulgaria and the sultan of Morocco to hand over to the Nazis “their” Jews in order to send them to Auschwitz (both rulers refused)? The genocides in eastern Europe by Stalin and Hitler were bounded by territory, space, and time and had political, social motivations in the mind of the perpetrators. Why did the Nazis target the Jews as the only group that was hunted all over the Continent, as a sort of a spaceless and timeless enemy, whereas other victims of genocide in this period, such as, for example, mentally ill or asocial groups, were not considered existential threats that demanded deportation to Auschwitz from Athens or Rome? The problem with the arguments that the Holocaust was not central to understanding National Socialism is that they view a close description of the circumstances of the Second World War—that is, of what happened—as an explanation to what people believed and imagined—that is, of why things happened. According to these views, implicitly and at times explicitly, anti-Jewish sensibilities were not of major importance in the making of the Holocaust. I wonder about that. Empire building, multiple genocides, and other wartime circumstances cannot account for Germans’ culture and motivations, much as the Nazi immigration policies to push the Jews out of Germany before November 1938 cannot account for burning the Bible.

My view is different. The Holocaust should be placed within a history of Nazi war and occupation, empire building, and comparative genocide. The Holocaust was not unique. But it was perceived during the war as unique by Germans, Jews, and other Europeans, and if we want to understand why the Holocaust happened, we ought to explain this. The comparative approach to genocide sharpens the similarities but also the differences between the Holocaust and other genocides. On the one hand, the idea of exterminating racial groups had been building in European culture and politics for a century before the Third Reich. But on the other hand, it is evident that for the Nazis the persecution and extermination of the Jews was more urgent and historically significant than other genocides they committed. Although they set out to kill all the Jews immediately during the war, they did not have a similar policy for other groups of victims. This only begs the question: Why did the Nazis view the extermination of the Jews as so urgent and fatal to their survival? Why did Germans, Jews, and Europeans perceive during the war the extermination of the Jews as unlike any other genocide perpetrated by the Nazis?

 

Excerpted from A World Without Jews: The Nazi Imagination from Persecution to Genocide. Copyright © 2014 by Alon Confino. All Rights Reserved.

Raphael Lemkin: The Unsung Hero Who Gave Genocide Its Name

Guilt without guilt is more destructive to us than justified guilt, because in the first case catharsis is impossible.

Totally UnofficialHe was the man who coined the term “genocide” and dedicated his entire life to making it illegal — but most people still don’t know his name. Raphael Lemkin, a Holocaust survivor, successfully campaigned in the 40s for the United Nations to approve the Genocide Convention, which establishes genocide as an international crime and emphasizes the punishment of the perpetrators. And yet for the better half of the past century, he has been largely ignored by the general public. Published here for the very first time, more than fifty years after his death, is Lemkin’s own account of his life.

Part history and part memoir, Totally Unofficial, edited by Donna-Lee Frieze, intertwines the momentous events of World War II with the intimate thoughts of a Polish Jewish refugee, who could only watch helplessly from America as his entire family was killed in the Holocaust, and who then threw himself into an all-consuming, self-punishing quest to fight the worst of all crimes against humanity.

Born in 1900, Lemkin was just six when he received news about a pogrom in the city of Bialystok, a few miles away from his family farm. There, anti-Semitic mobs had cut open the stomachs of their victims and stuffed them with feathers from pillows and comforters. He took an intellectual interest in the persecution of minority groups as soon as he learned to read, devouring books about the destruction of the Christians by Nero; of Carthage, the Huguenots, the Catholics in Japan. These readings left an indelible mark on his young conscience, as he renders sensitively in his introduction:

My conscience protested when I read that the Huguenots in Lyon were roasted alive by being compelled to sit with naked bodies on heated irons. The Moors were deported on boats. While on deck they were stripped of their clothes and exposed for hours to the sun, which finally killed them. Why should the sun, which brought life to our farm and reddened the cherries on our trees, be turned into a murderer?

Later in his youth, when he was a law student at the University of Heidelberg in Germany, he was similarly affected by the case of Shalom Schwarzbard, a Jewish tailor who had shot the Ukrainian minister of war, Symon Petliura. Petliura was responsible for the massacres that had taken the lives of Schwarzbard’s parents. Schwarzbard was eventually acquitted on the grounds of insanity, but Lemkin deplored the legal framework in which the decision had been made. The man had avenged hundreds of thousands of innocents with this assassination, but he had had to take the law into his own hands to do so. Why did the perpetrators of genocide have to be punished by vigilantes, and why could the court condemn only the latter?

When the Nazis invaded Poland, Lemkin was forced to flee to Sweden, and then to the United States, where he obtained a visa based on his appointment at Duke University. One morning in June 1941, he opened a well-worn envelope which had been traveling for more than two months. Written on a scrap of paper were a few simple words from his parents: “We are well and happy that the letter will find you in America.” Something within Lemkin told him that this was his parents’ final goodbye, and for days he could not chase away this heavy feeling:

Several days later, when the North Carolina night was paling, I woke, covered with deep sweat. I had had a dream in which my mother’s face came close to me. I didn’t see her body, just her face, with her hair combed low on her forehead. Her eyes smiled through a thick mist of sorrow, as if she knew a secret I did not. I stretched my hand toward her face, to caress it, but she moved back from my touch, fading gradually, and I awoke.

Several years later, he learned that his parents’ home had been burned to the ground, and that they had been sent to the gas chambers.

In a sensitive and penetrating review in The New Republic, Michael Ignatieff examines the obsessional quality of Lemkin’s devotion to his cause. Lemkin never married, had few friends, and left stable jobs to pursue his campaign to promote the Genocide Convention. In 1959, he died alone, with neither money nor friends. “He appears,” Ignatieff writes, “to have been on of Kafka’s hunger artists, those moving, self-punishing creatures who cut themselves off from the world, preyed upon by a guilt they cannot name, making their misery into their life’s work.” Towards the end of the book, Lemkin recounts an exchange with—who else—himself, as he considers the enormity of the project he has undertaken. In his mind, the sacrifice for the survival of future generations was always one that had to be made, and one that he took on in full knowledge that it would, ironically, lead to his own demise.

But this fight will finally destroy you, yourself. So what? Whoever fights for an ideal must risk his life.

Character Sketch: The Comic That Inspired Roy Lichtenstein

Roy Lichtenstein, “Whaam!”(1963)

Roy Lichtenstein: A Retrospective, by curators James Rondeau and Sheena Wagstaff (2012), accompanies an expansive Lichtenstein exhibition currently at the Art Institute of Chicago, later moving to the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., then to the Tate Modern in London, and finally to the Centre Pompidou in Paris. Among the works in the show are, of course, Lichtenstein’s iconic paintings of images based on comic strips. A precocious viewer may well wonder, Who are those characters? We wondered the same thing.

Several of Lichtenstein’s comics-inspired paintings, including Okay Hot-Shot, Okay! (1963); Von Karp (1963); and Jet Pilot (1962), are based on a character named Johnny Cloud from the DC Comic’s All American Men of War series (1956 to 1966). Johnny is a Navajo fighter pilot in the U.S. Air Force during World War II. He was named “Flying Cloud” by his father, a Navajo Indian Chief, and called “Navajo Ace” by his fellow fighters. Johnny was the victim of prejudice growing up but went on to become Lieutenant and, later, Captain of the U.S. Army Air Force. Regardless of promotion, he continued to feel like a victim of racial prejudice.

Johnny destroyed a large number of Nazi planes and became a reoccurring DC Comic hero, joining a member of the elite military combat unit called The Losers. They operated in the European theater behind enemy lines for many years fighting for the Allies. Cloud always felt responsible when a pilot died under his command. When a pilot named “Wyoming”, who was flying beside him, died in aerial combat, Cloud’s guilt-ridden actions flew him into a mountain.

Johnny Cloud was created by Robert Kanigher and Irv Novick, first appearing in All-American Men of War in 1960.

Information provided by: The Roy Lichtenstein Foundation, Comicvine.com, and the DC Comic Database.

Architectural Space in Hitler’s Berlin

Seventy years after the end of WWII, we tend to associate Hitler and the German Reich with destruction. Yet, as Hitler rose to power in the 1920s and 1930s, construction was a key part of his political agenda, a fact that Thomas Friedrich makes clear in Hitler’s Berlin: Abused City, translated by Stewart Spencer. In this compelling study, to be published this summer by Yale University Press, Friedrich, a longtime resident of Berlin and a distinguished museum curator, draws on new and little-known German sources to give a comprehensive account of Hitler’s attitudes towards the city he visited first as a young man in 1916.

Hitler’s relationship with the city was above all instrumental, changing as he came into power to reflect the way in which the city could be used to forward to drive the Nazi agenda forward.  From fairly early on, it is clear he saw the potential in urban planning:  Hitler’s secretary Rudolf Heß recalled that, “he often walked with us through Berlin, which he knew like the back of his hand, and with a wave of his hand demolished old and unattractive blocks of houses so that existing buildings or others yet to be constructed should have more space to create a better impression.”

Later, at a meeting with municipal authorities in 1933, Hitler made the aims of such redevelopment schemes clear, announcing that, “Berlinmust be raised to such a height in respect of its urban planning and culture that it can compete with all the cities of the world.” Also in 1933, leading up to the opening of the Berlin Olympics, Hitler arranged for the Reich—rather than the city— to oversee the construction of new athletic facilities. His logic, expressed in a meeting at which the famous Nazi propaganda minister Goebbels was also present, was that if the world had been invited toBerlin, the Olympic site needed to show “exactly what the new Germanywas capable of achieving culturally.” The readiness with which Hitler devoted the Reich’s funds to the project is indicative of its importance to his political schemes: in 1934, he promised 1.2 billion marks to redevelopBerlinduring the following two decades.

While Hitler’s architectural rhetoric tended to focus on nationalism and the project of creating a “real and genuine capital of the German Reich,” his architectural ambitions also formed a part of his autocratic politic scheme.  Friedrich identifies among “the standards that he applied to buildings designed for the exercise of state power” the ability to impress visitors, along with the power “to inspire in them a sense of fear.” In this way, then, the new face of Berlin was inexorably tied to the Fuhrer’s anticipated domination of all Europe, meaning that, with the commencement of WWII and Hitler’s eventual suicide, the world capital Hitler wanted to name “Germania” would remain forever Berlin, truly a city “abused” by the political ambitions that attempted to shape it.

To London, with Love: For the Fighter, Not Your Lover

Ivan Lett—

Despite recent posts, I am not inclined to change the title of this column to “War!”, as one e-mail suggestion read…. If I seem stuck on the topic of recent books on World War II, it is primarily because:

  1. Other WWII books I’ve read never consider a Germanic or Japanese perspective; everything is focused on the British, American, and sometimes Soviet and French experiences of war.
  2. I never had a full picture of the war in Asia and its consequences.

I noted last week that by December 1941, the Japanese were the runaway military power in a region of the world where Britain’s ability to protect its vast colonial empire was quickly disappearing. That strain opens Frank McLynn’s The Burma Campaign: Disaster into Triumph, 1942-1945, the second of McLynn’s books published this year by Yale University Press, now available in the US. (I couldn’t help but notice that he doesn’t make it past page two in his writing without an allusion to Captain Cook.)

Part of the Yale Library of Military History, The Burma Campaign—and McLynn—was fondly referred to by one Yale-UK colleague as “one for the boys”, because his narrative spares no detail of action and leaves the disturbing conditions of theBurma campaign to speak for themselves:

Chungking, battered by years of Japanese bombing, overpopulated, crowded with refugees, insanitary and ill-provisioned, was certainly no Shangri-La, with humid heat in summer and rain and mud the rest of the year. Every night an army of rats appeared, and everywhere was filthy, feculent, noisome and stinking; it was said there were enough bad smells in the city to last anyone a lifetime.

And that was just China. McLynn raises the question of what everyone—the British and Commonwealth allies, the Chinese, the Americans—were doing fighting the Japaense in Burma. Leaving aside how we may take war for granted, please let’s not forget the importance of where a war is taking place. European perspectives on the war and its fighting have left out the physical and economic conditions that made this one of the most astonishing—yet largely forgotten—campaigns in the Second World War, and the longest single campaign fought by the British. McLynn’s story is effectively a biography: through portraits of four main Allied commanders—William Slim, Louis Mountbatten, Orde Wingate, and Joseph Stilwell—he recreates the hectic organizations, difficult relationships, and horrors of warfare that transformed the fighting in the Asian war. Add to this the blocked roads and railways, treacherous serpents of the region, mysteriously disappearing soldiers,  even Operation DRACULA, and you’ve got one remarkable adventure tale.

 

Ivan Lett is Online Marketing Coordinator for Yale University Press.

To London, with Love: For the Fashionably Late

Ivan Lett—

It has been observed many times, many ways, how late the United States entered World War II, much to the chagrin of its European friends fighting the Axis Powers. My favorite recap comes from Eddie Izzard’s Dress to Kill, where he imitates the arrival of a US cavalryman, remarking “I love the smell of Europe in the morning.” His British counterparts are less than amused: “…hell, where’ve you been!?”

Although textbooks date the start of the war with the Nazi invasion of Poland on September 1, 1939, by December 16, 1941, en route to talks in Washington, Winston Churchill proclaimed “This is a new war.” With Britain confined to its island, the lines of Soviet Russia backed up to Moscow, the rest of Europe in the hands of Nazi Germany and its supporters, and Japan’s official decision to go to war with the United States and Britain as its forces dominated the Pacific Rim, the tides of war began to turn. This is the opening of Evan Mawdsley’s December 1941: Twelve Days that Began a World War.

What I appreciate most about Mawdsley’s narrative is that the action and—I daresay excitement—has less to do with the events themselves and more with his writing. Unlike some focused studies of World War II that have become even more difficult to enjoy as the books multiply and room for interesting observation shrinks, December 1941 covers a brief but critical period of the war, seamlessly showing that the start of this “new war” is responsible for the new world that followed. (I should add that this brilliant structure is similarly employed in P.M.H. Bell’s Twelve Turning Points of World War II; more on this to come next week.) Mawdsley’s writing is fast and animated, packed with detail—the good kind. But as this reader noticed along the way, he blends military and political history so well that it borders on a cultural history, a living culture of international war, specific to these days alone.Through his retelling, the tensions and stakes felt by all sides, and a precise positioning of politicians and soldiers alike during this micro-moment, create a world easy for us to imagine, difficult to conceive in scope of importance without this book.

But why am I going on about this when you can read Mawdsley’s countdown articles on the London office’s Yale Books Blog? Fashionably late, or simply long-worded, as always.

Ivan Lett is Online Marketing Coordinator for Yale University Press.

The Final (Re)Solution

With so much political activity and talk of revolution in Egypt, Tunisia, and the greater Middle East, perhaps it is time for us to revisit the darker side of resolutions and how regimes can affect the greater course of human history with decisive action. Indeed, when the object of “solving” measures is a targeted group of people, we see a range from humanizing benevolence, in the forms of enfranchisement, emancipation, and liberation, to tragedy—civil violence, slavery, and genocide.

Ian Kershaw’s Hitler, the Germans, and the Final Solution is a social history of the most infamous atrocity of the twentieth century, presented by one of the most distinguished historians of Hitler, the Germans, and the Final Solution: Ian Kershaw the period. He fully explores the mindset of the German people in the Third Reich, and Adolf Hitler’s termed “final solution of the Jewish question.” Drawing on research completed over the course of thirty years, Kershaw synthesizes his research to look at three main components: Hitler and the Final Solution; popular opinion and the Jews in Nazi Germany; and the Final Solution in historiography, that ultimately addresses the uniqueness of Nazism for our better understanding. In conversation with then-Editor of the Washington Post Book World, Marie Arana, Kershaw remarked that “the Third Reich shows in vivid form our terrible capacity for evil. But it is important to temper this pessimistic view of human nature with our immense capacity for good. Humanity has—and has had throughout history—a Janus face.” Hauntingly, or even fittingly, like January itself.

Scenes from the other “London Underground”

Churchill's Bunker: The Cabinet War Rooms and the Culture of Secrecy in Wartime London: Richard Holmes Faced with the impending blitz during the Second World War, Winston Churchill and his cabinet sought protection in an underground headquarters beneath the Treasury building in London. Though the prime minister much preferred to observe the war from the keener vantage point of the top floor of 10 Downing Street (“to the horror of his staff”), the Cabinet War Rooms played host to more than 100 meetings of Churchill’s war cabinet between 1939 and 1945.

Since 2003, when the restored Churchill War Rooms were reopened to the public, visitors have had the opportunity to tour the site for themselves, yet many continue to wonder how a dank storage basement could have become the prime minister’s base of wartime operations, not to mention what life was really like in this underground bunker. Drawing on a wealth of original material, including new firsthand accounts of the people who lived and worked there, distinguished Churchill biographer Richard Holmes provides the first comprehensive history of the Cabinet War Rooms in his new book Churchill’s Bunker.

For those unlikely to be making a pilgrimage to London in the near future, be sure to view the Imperial War Museum’s excellent virtual tour below, and read up on Churchill’s wartime retreat in Holmes’s excellent new book.

ChurchillTour