Psychological history of WWII
I recently came across this essay by Lee Sandlin, entitled "Losing the War." It was recommended to me by the inimitable Gerard Van Der Leun, who is certainly no slouch in the essay department himself.
Sandlin's article is well-written and insightful, and is somewhat of a psychological history of WWII, describing the reactions of those on the home front and those at the actual front. It is very lengthy--War and Peace without the "peace"--but well worth the read.
Sandlin does a phenomenal job of writing about a war we tend to think of as familiar, describing it in ways that are quite new. He shows us the war as experienced by those alive at the time, rather than the version that's been wrapped up into neat history for those of us who came later.
For those who live it, war usually is utter chaos, and WWII was certainly no exception, as Sandlin makes clear. Ever since I first heard about that war when I was a young child, I've had one overriding personal thought about it, which is that I am extremely happy I was not alive during it. I simply don't think I could have endured the fear and the uncertainty, not to mention hearing about the scale of the carnage in real time. I have often marveled at the courage of those who lived through it without knowing the outcome in advance; it was awful enough to learn about it ex post facto.
Sandlin's article is nothing if not a demonstration of Churchill's warning:
Never, never, never believe any war will be smooth and easy, or that anyone who embarks on the strange voyage can measure the tides and hurricanes he will encounter. The statesman who yields to war fever must realize that once the signal is given, he is no longer the master of policy but the slave of unforeseeable and uncontrollable events.
The only point of contention I can find with the article is that Sandlin calls the idea that Japan was unlikely to have surrendered prior to the dropping of the atomic bombs "preposterous"--and then he proceeds to give a fairly good argument as to why Japan was probably nowhere near surrendering at that point. His description of Midway will make your hair stand on end, and he adds new points of extreme creepiness to the familiar portrait we have of Hitler.
Illuminating and highly recommended.