An Incomplete History of World War II
by Edwin Kiester Jr.
Published by Murdoch Books
208 pages, 2007
Lest They Forget
Reviewed by Pedro Blas Gonzalez
With every passing sunset we see the fading memories and legacy of those who witnessed World War II firsthand. The significance of this reality is perhaps best captured through the staggering ignorance of historical events that subsequent generations display. And, if one agrees with the great American philosopher, George Santayana, that history repeats itself, then, the loss of the quickly disappearing World War II generation seems more pressing and vital than most people realize.
An Incomplete History of World War II does not pretend to be an exhaustive tract on the history of this devastating world conflict. Yet this may be the most enticing aspect of this work and what makes it so readable. The book is not a jargon-filled, hair-splitting, jaw-snapping academic text. It is instead a highly digestible account of the events that made up this world war, as this is reflected in the lives and stories of those who took part in it. In some respects, An Incomplete History of World War II is comparable to Jacques Barzun’s lively history, From Dawn to Decadence. This attention to historical minutiae is what the Spanish thinker and writer of The Revolt of the Masses, Jose Ortega y Gasset, calls historical reason, or what is essentially the individual vitality that underscores our interpretation of history as a monolithic human endeavor.
An Incomplete History of World War II focuses on the lives and anecdotes of famous leaders like Patton and MacArthur, but also the undistinguished G.I.s who served with dignity. The book contains two large world maps that show which countries made up the Axis and Allied powers, which others remained neutral, the major battles of the war, and even the site of concentration camps. It also contains many interesting photographs.
Most appealing, however, is the insight that one gathers from reading about what, in many cases, can be considered correlative events of the war. Given that the book has an introduction that is followed by 24 chapters, there are plenty of fascinating people and events to make for a very pleasant reading experience. The language of this book is lyrical, and its rhythm descriptively visual, not pedantic and over-intellectualizing.
From the outset, the author calls attention to the long held argument that perhaps World War II was in effect a continuation of World War I. What makes this argument most appealing is his presentation of the many silent and salient skirmishes that are not officially recognized as leading causes of the war. One particularly interesting mention of such hostilities is what took place between the Japanese and Chinese in the vicinity of the historical Lugou Bridge that flanks the Yongding River.
Also of considerable historical importance are the many articulate accounts of the people involved in the creation of the “Bataan Air Force,” the crucial importance that weather played in the planning of the D-Day invasion, and a band of bumbling, world weary spies that Hitler sent to the shores of Amagansett Beach in order to destabilize America. Of no lesser importance is the chapter on the Belgian Resistance, the “Rats of Tobruk,” the siege of Tobruk, the discovery of the Enigma machine and the ensuing quest to break Nazi secret codes.
The fading light that is falling on the lives of the few people left that can share their experiences of World War II also threatens to leave a historical vacuum of genuine understanding that is today in danger of becoming the domain of nay-sayers, debunkers and radical revisionists who have an ideological axe to grind. | October 2007
Pedro Blas Gonzalez is Associate Professor of Philosophy at Barry University in Miami, Florida. Amongst his intellectual pursuits is his interest in the relationship that exists between subjectivity, self-autonomy and philosophy.