I find them endlessly fascinating, the two despots who were responsible directly or indirectly for the death of 60 million soldiers and civilians from 1937 to 1953. Laurence Rees has given them a joint salute in Hitler and Stalin: The Tyrants and the Second World War. (I am adding the prewar famine and purges in the Soviet Union, and the postwar suffering in Eastern Europe and the Gulag, while subtracting those for which the Japanese warlords were responsible.) Mr Rees is a British film producer and historian, and while the book is largely drawn from the archives, he spins the raw material into a story spellbinding enough for the recreational reader. Both men were arguably mad, both were bloodthirsty, and both were comfortable with genocide. Where they differed was the outcome: Hitler was more successful with genocide, while Stalin was more successful at winning wars -- and the peace as well. For me, Mr Rees is nowhere more interesting than when he describes how Stalin outwitted not only the ageing Franklin Roosevelt but also the supposedly more cold-blooded Winston Churchill. (And of course Stalin's triumph over the fate of Eastern Europe neatly paralleled Hitler's victory over the French and British leaders at Munich in 1939.)
Then there's the author's assessment of the literal and figurative rape of Eastern Europe in 1944-1945. "No one can ever know exactly how many women were raped by the Soviet conquerers," he writes. "It's possible, however, that nearly two million women and girls in Germany alone endured this horror.... The situation was so bad that women in Berlin did not ask each other whether they had been raped, but simply inquired 'how many'?.... [A Soviet general] had no sympathy: 'When you see this German beauty sitting and weeping ... why did she not cry when she was receiving parcels from the Eastern Front?' [Similar were] the sentiments of the Soviet propagandist Ilya Ehrenburg, who wrote: 'Soldiers of the Red Army. German women are yours!'" The same of course was true of the Polish, Ukrainian, and even Russian women in the path of the victors. Hitler and Stalin will be sold in the US in February. You can pre-order it now, and the British paperback is available from Amazon vendors including the reliable Book Depository.
Also reviewed on the Warbird's Book Club this month: Michael Walsh's Last Stands: Why Men Fight When All Is Lost, a spellbinding study of courage in the face of likely or certain death; and Ho Chi Minh Trail 1964-73: Steel Tiger, Barrel Roll, and the secret air wars in Vietnam and Laos, not an easy read but a worthwhile one.
Starting in 2006, when I was revising my history of the Flying Tigers for HarperCollins, I began to notice an increasing presence of Claire Chennault and the American Volunteer Group on Chinese websites, to the point where Chinese youngsters knew more about this story than their American counterparts. Yes! China and America had fought side by side against the Japanese invaders! Left unsaid, of course, that this was the Nationalist government of Chiang Kai-shek, whom the Communists chased off the mainland in 1949 and into exile on the offshore island of Taiwan. George Orwell would have been impressed, as AVG veterans and fans were enlisted into this propaganda campaign. It's still going on, and the Flying Tigers have now redefined by China to include any airman of any nationality who flew on behalf of the Nationalist government during the Pacific War. See the article distributed by the Xinhua News Agency that begins with this plea: "We must keep the bond between the U.S. and China alive. It was forged in blood and honor," said Harry Moyer, a veteran pilot who flew with the famed "Flying Tigers" 76 years ago in China to help the Chinese combat the Japanese invasion.
All honor to Mr Moyer for his military service, but he's being used used to rewrite history on behalf of a despotism as evil as Hitler's or Stalin's ... and a lot more clever. (The article is one of many such by Julia Pierpont, who is herself one of China's useful idiots in the US. But she at least is getting paid for it.) Blue skies! — Daniel Ford
Here are a thousand or so files on airplanes, pilots, and the wars of the past hundred years, grouped under these headings: