On 1 June 1939, Georgii Zhukov, a short and sturdy cavalry commander, received an urgent summons to Moscow. Stalin’s purge of the Red Army, begun in 1937, still continued, so Zhukov, who had been accused once already, presumed that he had been denounced as an ‘enemy of the people’. The next stage would see him fed into Lavrenti Beria’s ‘meatgrinder’, as the NKVD’s interrogation system was known.
In the paranoia of the ‘Great Terror’, senior officers had been among the first to be shot as Trotskyite fascist spies. Around 30,000 were arrested. Many of the most senior had been executed and the majority tortured into making ludicrous confessions. Zhukov, who had been close to a number of the victims, had kept a bag packed ready for prison since the purge began two years before. Having long expected this moment, he wrote a farewell letter to his wife. ‘For you I have this request,’ it began. ‘Do not give in to snivelling, keep steady, and try with dignity to endure the unpleasant separation honestly.’
But when Zhukov reached Moscow by train the next day, he was not arrested or taken to the Lubyanka Prison. He was told to report to the Kremlin to see Stalin’s old crony from the 1st Cavalry Army in the civil war, Marshal Kliment Voroshilov, now the people’s commissar of defence. During the purge, this ‘mediocre, faceless, intellectually dim’ soldier had strengthened his position by zealously eliminating talented commanders. Nikita Khrushchev, with earthy directness, later called him ‘the biggest bag of shit in the army’.
Zhukov heard that he was to fly out to the Soviet satellite state of Outer Mongolia. There he was to take command of the 57th Special Corps, including both Red Army and Mongolian forces, to inflict a decisive reverse on the Imperial Japanese Army. Stalin was angry that the local commander seemed to have achieved little. With the threat of war from Hitler in the west, he wanted to put an end to Japanese provocations from the puppet state of Manchukuo. Rivalry between Russia and Japan dated from Tsarist times and Russia’s humiliating defeat in 1905 had certainly not been forgotten by the Soviet regime. Under Stalin its forces in the Far East had been greatly strengthened.
The Japanese military were obsessed by the threat of Bolshevism. And ever since the signature in November 1936 of the Anti Comintern Pact between Germany and Japan, tensions on the Mongolian frontier had increased between Red Army frontier units and the Japanese Kwantung Army. The temperature had been raised considerably by a succession of border clashes in 1937, and the major one in 1938, the Changkufeng Incident at Lake Khasan, 110 kilometres south west of Vladivostok.
The Japanese were also angry that the Soviet Union was supporting their Chinese enemy not just economically but also with T 26 tanks, a large staff of military advisers and ‘volunteer’ air squadrons. The leaders of the Kwantung Army became increasingly frustrated with the Emperor Hirohito’s reluctance in August 1938 to allow them to respond to the Soviets in massive force. Their arrogance was based on the mistaken assumption that the Soviet Union would not strike back.
Reprinted from the book The Second World War by Antony Beevor. Copyright © 2012 by Antony Beevor. Reprinted with permission of Little, Brown and Company, New York, N.Y. All rights reserved.
The Second World War began in August 1939 on the edge of Manchuria and ended there exactly six years later with the Soviet invasion of northern China. The war in Europe appeared completely divorced from the war in the Pacific and China, and yet events on opposite sides of the world had profound effects. With The Second World War, renowned historian Antony Beevor offers a magisterial history of the war that treats it as an amalgamation of struggles that together made up the conflagration we know as a “world war.”
Beevor clearly shows that the Second World War was not simply a monolithic clash of state against state, of three great Allied powers against the Axis and Japan. It was a war of many facets, from General Zhukov’s defeat of the Japanese at Khalkin-Gol on the Mongolian-Manchurian border to the Sino-Japanese War to the Winter War in Finland.
In many countries, especially in those occupied by the Germans and the Japanese, people found themselves crushed by rival factions in what Beevor calls an “international civil war” between left and right. Succeeding cycles of political polarization brought on by the defeat of the Central Powers in World War I, the Russian Revolution, and civil wars in Hungary, Finland, the Baltic states, and Germany itelf, fueled violence that soon spread across the globe. Beevor also looks at how the rise of the authoritarian state—which suddenly seemed to be the “natural modern order throughout most of Europe”—gave rise to the cycles of fear and hatred that played out on stages the world over. Drawing upon the most up-to-date scholarship and research, and writing with clarity and compassion, Beevor assembles the whole picture in a gripping narrative that extends from the North Atlantic to the South Pacific, from the snowbound steppe to the Burmese jungle.
Beyond his command of the conflict’s sweep, Beevor also clearly grasps its moral dimensions, whether he is writing about SS Einsatzgruppen in the borderlands, Gulag prisoners drafted into punishment battalions, or the unspeakable cruelties of the Sino-Japanese War. No other period in history has presented greater moral dilemmas both for leaders and ordinary people—nor offered such examples of tragedy, ideological hypocrisy, egomania, cruelty, and self-sacrifice—and Beevor captures all with compassion and rare insight. Although filling the broadest canvas on a heroic scale, he never loses sight of the fate of the ordinary soldiers and civilians whose lives were crushed by the titanic forces unleashed in the most terrible conflict in history.
Bringing together political, military, social, and cultural factors into a masterful synthesis, The Second World War is a landmark history that sets a new standard.
Hardcover Book : 880 pages
Publisher: Hachette Book Group Usa ( June 05, 2012 )
Item #: 13-620184
Product Dimensions: 6.0 x 9.25 x 1.375inches
Product Weight: 44.0 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
An impressive job of condensing an enormous amount of material into 830 pages (including an extensive bibiolography). Pays more attention to the Asian war than most authors do, including discussions of widespread rape, biological warfare, and cannibalism practiced by the Japanese Army. The author also takes up the post-war history of China, stating frankly that Mao was one of history's worst predators. "The personality cult, the Great Leap Forward which killed more people than the whole of the Second World War, the cruel madness of the Cultural Revolution and the seventy million victims of a regime that was in many ways worse than Stalinism proved totally beyond their [American Mao apologists'] imagination." Several bits are offered that capture the whole sweep of an event, such as the response of a British subaltern to a question about how many Italian prisoners had been captured: "O, several acres, I would think" and a picture of life in Stalingrad where tanks were destroyed not only by lack of fuel but by mice eating through the wiring. Gruesome images of cannibalism in Leningrad, which was being systematically starved by the Wehrmacht, such as parents eating their own children, although many people did what they could to save children. In a section that is going to irritate many political activists, there is an extensive discussion of the systemic raping of German women by the Russian army and of Stalin's inexcusable actions as the war came to a close. The whole gruesome and depressing story is summarized brilliantly on page 781: "The Second World Warm with its global ramifications, ws the greatest man-made disaster in history."
Reviewer: J B