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Archive for May, 2011

Re-examining the Second World War

Friday, May 20th, 2011

“The Second World War still holds a magnetic attraction for many of us,” writes British historian P.M.H. Bell. “It dominates the history of the twentieth century … and its fascination seems endless.” There have been, I believe, almost as many books written about it as there have been books about Lincoln and Jesus. Obviously, if there were some way to cram all three subjects into a single volume, you’d have a for-sure bestseller on your hands.

Bell has confined himself to just one of those three, but his new book, “Twelve Turning Points of the Second World War” (Yale University Press) has an unusual twist. The author examines all aspects of the global conflict to come up with turning points, which he defines as events representing “decisive or important change.” That allows him to look beyond the battlefield for something other than magic moments to see how the war’s outcome was most thoroughly affected. Some of his his conclusions may surprise you, others may not.

For instance, the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor — which drew the United States into the war is a rather obvious choice, as is the Battle of Midway, which heralded the descent of the Japanese Empire in the Pacific. Likewise, the D-Day Landing and the Battle of Normandy played a significant role in the outcome of the war in Western Europe, as did the Battle of Stalingrad in turning back the German tide on the Eastern Front.

But Bell looks at some other matters just as important. Among them the “war of the factories,” the contests for war production in the Allied and Axis nations — which ultimately swung in favor of the Allies (thanks in large part to the United States) and ensured defeat for Germany and Japan — and the Teheran Conference, also in 1943, in which Roosevelt, Stalin and Churchill met for the first time and issued a proclamation that focused on the total surrender of Germany as the only means of ending the war.

Bell cites the Battle for the North Atlantic in 1943 as a significant contributing factor in Allied success, the defeat of Japan and the dropping of the Atom Bomb, and the fateful Yalta Conference in 1945 in which, Bell argues, Roosevelt and Churchill has little choice but to give in to Stalin’s demands or face a divisiveness in Allied unity that might have prolonged an alrxeady-too-long war.

This is a provocative book. Certainly WWII scholars have much to debate here. Those of us who read history as laymen will likely find some of the author’s observations at variance with out own beliefs. I think the chances are very good, however, that all of us will profit from Bell’s studied conclusions. His book is richly sourced and lucidly written and reminds me once again why the Second World War remains a subject of such inexhaustible exploration. I recommend it highly.

A Quirky Look at Backroads Georgia

Tuesday, May 10th, 2011

Let’s take an around-the-world trip, with stops at the classic cities of  Athens, Rome, Damascus, Corinth, Jerusalem. And yes, of course, there’s Cairo, Budapest, Berlin and Vienna. And yes, you’ve probably already guessed correctly that you don’t have to leave the state of Georgia to visit these places.

You may not be aware, however, that there are temples in Athens, a shroud in Turin, a library in Ephesus and even a barber in Seville. And once again, you’re not leaving the borders of the Peach State to see them. Have we got a wacky state or what?

The answer to that is that we do indeed have a very wacky state, not even counting the dim-bulb politicians, and just how crazy it is may be glimpsed in a new book written by a Savannah photographer and graphic designer named Harlan Hambright. And that’s his real name, too. His book is “The Idiat and the Odd-yssey,” pronounced approximately like The Idiot and the Odyssey. It’s Hambright’s off-beat look at the somewhat daft geography of places and place names in Georgia.

How did Amsterdam get its name? (Amsterdam, GA, that is.) Not sure, but certainly not because of its pot shops and red-light district. Egypt, GA was so named because of the fine corn once grown there. Seville, GA actually boasts of a barber shop (and not much else).

Hambright’s book is one of those delightful little volumes to be stuffed into the car for the next time you’re hitting our state’s backroads. Really backroads. It has some gorgeous photos of places that don’t always show up handsomely in pictures, and the book is a wonderfully quirky addition to anyone’s Georgia library.

I recommend it. and I predict it will give you a few chuckles.