At the Moral Front

Michael Burleigh’s new history of World War II is the latest in a seemingly endless procession of works on that subject.  Antony Beevor, Max Hastings, Norman Davies, and Rich Atkinson have all produced well-written and well-received histories of the war, and the reader is justified in questioning whether there is need of yet another one.  What sets Moral Combat apart is Burleigh’s examination of the moral aspects of the war and the choices made throughout by the participants.  As in previous works of his, dealing with the nonmilitary history of the Third Reich, secular pseudoreligions of the modern era, and terrorism, Michael Burleigh approaches the subject from the viewpoint of an English Catholic conservative.

For Burleigh, World War II is a painful personal reality.  His grandfather was a friend of Churchill, and his father was a wing commander in the wartime RAF.  Burleigh wrote the book yards away from a London park where over a hundred Londoners died when their bomb shelter took a direct hit during the Blitz.  To him, World War II was not only a necessary but a moral war.  The work discusses and describes all aspects of World War II, from Mussolini’s rise to power to the fall of Berlin, and from Operation Barbarossa to the bombing of Hiroshima.

As Burleigh convincingly shows, even the most hideous regimes have their admirers.  Nazi Germany’s British defenders included...

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