The Need for Wider Perspective from International Historians

24 Apr

Halik Kochanski’s The Eagle Unbowed: Poland and the Poles in the Second World War

American historians who have had their work published are occasionally suspected of partiality in transmission of their histories of the Second World War. Read enough of what others have to say about this history to-date and you’d likely hear assertions similar to “the Americans think they alone won the war,” or “they take the credit for victory.” Have we as U.S. readers unknowingly become programmed to accept our national collective literature and POV (point of view), and none other? Could it be that less international work is translated and published here domestically?

We know that Japan and Germany are reluctant to openly recognize their aggressive roles in the 1930s and 40s. Thus we see few books domestically from Japanese or German historians of their historical perspective. The former Soviet Union had been an altogether different case due to censorship and Stalin’s documented “rewriting of Soviet history.” But can you recall just one book published about the War on the Eastern Front, written by a Russian historian or Soviet-era writer, that we have been offered here in the United States?

This dilemma begs many questions. Are more Second World War histories written by American historians than others around the world, which in turn might lead to this perception of nationalism? Asked another way, are American writers turning out more history books on World War II to satisfy a huge American market, more than historians from other countries, save for the British possibly?

In all fairness, it was the Allies who won the war. Great Britain strongly embraces its history in both World Wars. They both provide a sense of national pride. The Telegraph’s website has a wonderful in-depth microsite dedicated to World War II. British historians are second only to their American counterparts in published histories of the war. Some of the finest works have been authored by British historians including: Antony Beevor, Richard Evans, Niall Ferguson, Max Hastings, Ian Kershaw, Richard Overy, and Anna Reid to list just a few.

As research historians we are implored to consider all facts—whether determining a thesis or writing new histories. The same should hold true for us as readers of history. We need perspectives of writers from many countries. For additional viewpoints, there are superb contributions to the history of the Second World War written by historians from other countries and different ethnicities. After all, it was a world war, wasn’t it?

Here are but a few recent contributions from historians outside the U.S.

Karl-Heinz Frieser – Germany

Karl-Heinz Frieser’s The Blitzkrieg Legend: The 1940 Campaign in the West from 2005 is an exceptional contribution to the history of Germany’s early trample through Western Europe. Frieser was a colonel in the German army at the time of this book’s publication date. It is interesting perspective from Frieser; himself an officer in today’s German military who seeks to dispel the blitzkrieg myth. His arguments are persuasive and convincing. The reader becomes acutely aware of the inevitable downfall of this European bully once Germany’s focus turned eastward in June 1941.

Eri Hotta – Japan

The very latest contribution on Japan’s initiation and involvement in Asian and Pacific aggressions comes from historian and Professor Eri Hotta. Her 2013 book Japan 1941: Countdown to Infamy is a fresh look back at the events which led to Japan’s Asian and Pacific hostilities. Born and educated in Japan as well as the United States and United Kingdom, Dr. Hotta taught at Oxford and at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem.

Halik Kochanski – Great Britain

The Eagle Unbowed: Poland and the Poles in the Second World War is an outstanding new contribution to the history of Poland during World War II. Published in 2013 by Harvard University Press, Halik Kochanski covers a subject that should have greater awareness among the literature of the war. She has taught at King’s College London and University College London. She is also a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society.


Posted by on April 24, 2014 in Historians, WWII in Europe


2 responses to “The Need for Wider Perspective from International Historians

  1. Janine

    April 24, 2014 at 7:09 pm

    I am always looking for perspectives outside of the American, and as you say, there isn’t very much out there. I have been imagining that it’s because they aren’t written in English and so I’m not finding them here (in the United States). I’ll be interested in, eventually, reading all three of the books you mention here.

    • Scott M.H. Lyons

      April 25, 2014 at 12:11 pm

      Hi Janine, I agree with you. I am particularly anxious to find writings on the Eastern Front from Russian and Soviet-era historians. The War on the Eastern Front dwarfed the other theaters of war.


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