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The Long Shadow of World War II Cover

The Long Shadow of World War II

The Legacy of the War and Its Impact on Political and Military Thinking since 1945

Edited by Matthias Strohn

Casemate, Havertown, Pennsylvania, 2021, 288 pages

Book Review published on: October 21, 2022

Matthias Strohn’s The Long Shadow of World War II: The Legacy of the War and Its Impact on Political and Military Thinking since 1945, published seven months prior to Russia’s 2022 invasion of Ukraine, is a timely and relevant book. Daily news reports and headlines about the savagery, human suffering, and humanitarian crisis caused by the Russia-Ukraine War continue to decry “Europe has not seen these challenges since World War II.” Although World War II ended seventy-seven years ago, its “impacts, legacies, and varied interpretations” continue to shape and influence the actions of peoples, nations, and “realpolitik” on the global stage.

In the introduction, Strohn skillfully blends a range of disciplines including war and memory studies, military history, security studies, and international relations outlining the broader context of the book. This anthology of essays written by a diverse group of scholars and practitioners examines the traumatic experiences, collective national memories, and strategic culture of select countries (Russia, Poland, Germany, China, Baltic States, France, United Kingdom, United States, Africa, Netherlands, Austria, Denmark, and Iran) who participated in and endured World War II to answer the question whether World War II still matters in the twenty-first century. Strohn and the other authors posit “to really understand ourselves and others in the 21st century, we must first understand the frames of reference (historical context) of our friends, allies, and adversaries that influence their policies, strategies, and actions in both national and international arenas in order to formulate sensible policy and strategy.”

Chapter authors examine World War II through the lens of their respective countries using a similar analytical framework (illustrative case study). The analysis focuses on the collective experiences of World War II, the varying and divergent postwar changes and implications over time across political, economic, and security domains within each country, and how national narratives, attitudes, and behaviors continue to shape and influence political leaders and the interaction of these countries in the twenty-first century. The chapters on Russia, Poland, the Baltic States, China, and Iran are particularly interesting given today’s news headlines. The analysis clearly shows that the personal, collective, and learned experiences of leaders and diverse populations coupled with perceived “threats,” biases, and prejudices, formed before, during, and after World War II continue to shape the actions and policies of states. Although the end of World War II set conditions for a “new rules-based world order” with the creation of multiple international and regional institutions over time, political leaders and governments continue to frame the narrative to invoke the memories of World War II to mobilize political will, the actions of populations, set state policy, and make decisions that may appear irrational to the untrained eye.

This thought-provoking book provides policy makers, senior military leaders, and the general reader alike with an easy-to-understand analysis of how the collective memories of World War II continue to influence international and regional relations between states. Strohn is an accomplished historian and analyst of strategic policy and practice. He is the author of fifteen books, head of historical analysis at the Centre for Historical Analysis and Conflict Research, professor of military studies at the University of Buckingham, senior lecturer in war studies, UK Ministry of Defense, and a lieutenant colonel in the Bundeswehr (German Defence Attaché Corps [Reserve]). This is a well written and documented book with extensive notes at the end of each chapter to enable further research.

Book Review written by: Lt. Col. Edward D. Jennings, U.S. Army, Retired, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas