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100 Books in a Year: Endgame 1945 by David Strafford

By Mike R. (Dr. Controversy) | Books | April 16, 2009 |

By Mike R. (Dr. Controversy) | Books | April 16, 2009 |

Wow…I finished Endgame 1945. This isn’t an insult to David Stafford, or his work of historical importance, it’s just a comment on the length of the damn thing. It’s 604 pages, counting footnotes and the bibliography, but they’re a dense 604 pages. Information floods out of this book, yet at the same time you can sense the depth of all the threads explored here. If you’re expecting a beach read, go somewhere else. If you’re expecting a comprehensive historical account of the ending weeks of World War II, and those who experienced them, then this is a book worth your bookmark.

World War II is a popular subject in the historical subconscious of the world. Gone was the gentleman’s war that was World War I, and in came the savage inhumanity that was World War II. Indeed, one of the themes used in materials about the war, both fictional and non-fictional, is man’s inhumanity against his fellow man. The struggle of the minority against the majority, good triumphing over evil, and a nation being so blindly led by its leaders that they couldn’t stop to think about what was going on in their own backyards are all aspects that embedded themselves in the country’s minds even more firmly during the second “Great War.” Perhaps one of the reasons for its popularity is that World War II was (at least in my Poli-Sci addled mind) the last widely known (you know as well as I do that history classrooms don’t teach the Korean War in depth) legitimately actionable conflict the United States was involved in. As popular as the subject is, it’s taught rather hastily. Most classrooms would have you believe (at least the way they teach it) that after Hitler killed himself, everyone just kind of sat around and waited for Potsdam to miracle them out of the war. They would have you think everyone sat around playing Apples to Apples while waiting for all the bureaucracy and the formality of victory to set in. Unfortunately, that is a big fat lie, and in that widely unacknowledged truth is where Endgame 1945 tells its story.

Endgame 1945 begins where most WWII stories would start winding down, with Hitler and Ava Braun taking their lives and Germany in ruins. From this jumping off point, we follow the lives of several men and women we’ve never heard of before. We follow their triumphs, their awakenings, their pains, their pleasures, and their eventual postwar fates. We learn of Fey Von Hassel’s internment due to her indirect connection to the failed July 20th plot. We see war through the eyes of Leonard Linton, Reg Roy, and their respective battle outfits as they slog their way through the European theater fighting party faithfuls and worrying about the fabled “Alpine Redoubt.” We follow Robert Reid in his chronicles for the BBC, who actually recorded a report in the middle of a firefight and through such actions was one of the first reporters to bring the war home to his audience through the medium of radio.

It is through these stories that we see a more complete picture of the last days of World War II, and that picture shows us that just because the war was “over” by traditional standards, it didn’t mean the fighting was over. Germany didn’t rebuild itself overnight, the Nazis didn’t give up their arms and surrender automatically, and most importantly the book properly foreshadows the coming Cold War between the Russians and the Americans by detailing their actions and their tactics in dealing with each other. You can sense the tension, and the clashing of ideologies, particularly in one incident towards the end involving press coverage of the American treatment of Nazi prisoners.

Endgame 1945 is a slow read, and definitely not something that can be breezed through. It took me about two months to read this book, but it was well worth it. I recommend this to history buffs, and anyone who’s curious as to what happens in the immediate aftermath of conflict.

This review is part of the Cannonball Read series. Details about here and the growing number of participants and their blogs, from which these reviews are pulled, are here. And check here for more of Mike R.’s reviews.