The West Point History of World War II

The West Point History of World War II, Volume 1

United States Military Academy, eds. Clifford J. Rogers, Ty Seidule, and Steve R. Waddell

Simon & Schuster, New York, 2016, 352 pages

Book Review published on: April 21, 2017

The West Point History of World War II is part of the latest installment of history books used by the United States Military Academy in its two semesters of “mil art” that educate its cadets in military history. This volume examines the origins of World War II and concludes at the midpoint of the war in early 1942. The graphics and pictures are superb throughout, and it does a splendid job of providing a broad understanding of the global war as well as examining some areas in detail. Those more familiar with military history would note that this volume has aspects of both so-called “old” and “new” military history or, put another way, history of warfare and history of war and society.

The editors organized this volume into six chapters and a conclusion. The first chapter is “The Road to War” by Professor Steve Waddell. Waddell does an excellent job with the monumental task of setting the stage for the largest war in history in a single chapter.

Chapters 2, 3, and 4 examine World War II in Europe. Dr. Robert Citino wrote the second chapter, titled “German Years of Victory.” This superb chapter examines several German campaigns. Citino does this in a balanced way, describing both how the Germans won great operational victories and how they benefited from several favorable circumstances.

The third chapter is “Britain Stands Alone” by Professor Richard Overy, who had the gargantuan task of discussing the Battle of Britain, the Mediterranean campaigns, bombing efforts, and much more. Thankfully, he includes the Special Operations Executive and political warfare into these chapters, as many authors have given short shrift to activities away from the front line. Overy does a fantastic job weaving a short but illustrative narrative.

Dr. Geoffrey Megargee of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum wrote “The Germans Turn East: Operation Barbarossa and the Beginnings of the Final Solution,” the fourth chapter. He does an excellent job of discussing the strategic and operational aspects of this war while at the same time illustrating its nature as a brutal race war.

The remaining chapters examine other areas of World War II. Dr. Edward Drea of the History Office of the Office of the Secretary of Defense wrote the fifth chapter, “Japan Strikes: From Pearl Harbor to Midway.” Drea does a great job setting the stage by going back to the Japanese seizure of Manchuria and detailing Japan’s first strikes, including the attack on Pearl Harbor and subsequent campaigns to Midway. Drea’s discussion of some detail on contemporary naval warfare is an important inclusion.

The last chapter, “People and Economies at War” by Overy, views World War II from another perspective. The inclusion of a “war and society” chapter is an important inclusion for West Point military history texts, as it reinforces that wars reflect the cultures of the belligerents and are an extension of politics. Finally, Clifford Rogers provides a very solid conclusion, “The War at Midpoint,” that both gives the volume a sense of ending and sets up the next volume.

The maps, pictures, and graphics are phenomenal and most of the writing is excellent, but I would also like to see the enhanced e-book by Rowan Technology Solutions that the cadets use. While this hardbound volume does a superb job as a backbone for teaching undergraduates about World War II, it leaves me wondering if it does enough to prepare future officers for their profession, especially as young platoon leaders. More specifically, this volume may not have enough material on military leadership in practice or enough coverage of the art and science of land warfare. Again, the e-book version’s additional material may obviate this potential shortcoming. Overall, this book is a phenomenal resource for the first half of World War II and would be a great addition to the library of anyone interested in military history and World War II.

Book Review written by: Lt. Col. Jonathan P. Klug, U.S. Army, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas