Historiography of World War II


Historiography of World War II

World War II was the costliest conflict in human history; and ever since its conclusion vast amounts of time and effort have been poured into chronicling and interpreting it. Unsurpisingly, disagreements have arisen over what interpretation is 'correct', and this article attempts to chronicle them below:

Canada

Canada deployed trained historians to Canadian Military Headquarters in the United Kingdom during the war, and paid much attention to the chronicling of the conflict, not only in the words of the official historians of the Army Historical Section, but also through art and trained painters. The official history of the Canadian Army was undertaken after the war, with an interim draft published in 1948 and three volumes in the 1950s. This was in comparison to the First World War's official history, only 1 volume of which was completed by 1939, and the full text only released after a change in authors some 40 years after the fact. Official histories of the RCAF and RCN in the Second World War were also a long time coming, and the book "Arms, Men and Government" by Charles Stacey (one of the main contributors to the Army history) was published in the 1980s as an "official" history of the war policies of the Canadian government.

Some battles have remained controversial, such as Hong Kong and Dieppe, and a variety of books have been written on them from various points of view. Serious historians - mainly scholars - emerged in the years after the Second World War, foremost Terry Copp (a scholar) and Denis Whitaker (a former soldier).

Eastern Front

It is commonly said that history is written by the victors; but the exact opposite occurred in the chronicling of the Eastern Front, particularly in the West. Soviet secrecy and unwillingness to acknowledge events that might discredit the regime lead to them revealing little information, always heavily edited - leaving western historians to rely almost totally on German sources. While still valuable sources, they tended to be self-serving; German generals in particular tried to distance themselves and the Heer as a whole away from the Nazi Party, while at the same time blaming them for their defeat (individuals supporting these arguments are commonly called part of the 'Hitler Lost Us The War' group). While this self-serving was noticed at the time (see Barbarossa by Alan Clark), it was still generally accepted as the closest version of the truth. The end result was a commonly held picture of the Heer being the superior army, ground down by the vast numbers of the 'Bolshevik horde' and betrayed by the stupidity of its leader (ie Hitler). Not only did this ignore Hitler's talent as a military leader (something the West, and Germany, is generally loathe to acknowledge), it also severely undervalued the remarkable transformation of the Soviet armed forces (and in particular the RKKA, the Red Army) from the timid, conservative force of 1941 to the greatest operational-level military the world has ever seen.

After the fall of the wall, Western historians were suddenly exposed to the vast number of Soviet records of the time. This has led to an explosion of the works on the subject, most notably by Richard Overy, David Glantz and (perhaps infamously) Antony Beevor. These historians emphasised the brutality of Stalin's regime, the recovery of the USSR and the RKKA in 1942 and the courage and abilities of the average Russian soldier, relying heavily on Soviet archival material to do so.


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