Max Hastings is the author of many books on military history, including, most recently, Catastrophe 1914: Europe Goes to War. His new book, The Secret War, will be published next year.
 (October 2015)

How the Germans Closed Ranks Around Hitler

German civilians on an enforced visit to Buchenwald concentration camp, April 1945; photograph by Lee Miller from the exhibition ‘Lee Miller: A Woman’s War,’ on view at the Imperial War Museum, London, October 15, 2015–April 24, 2016. The catalog—by Hilary Roberts, with an introduction by Antony Penrose—will be published in the US by Thames and Hudson in December.
In 1943, Germans who enjoyed a joke envisaged two panzer-grenadiers sitting on a bridgehead in Russia in 1999, puzzling over an incomprehensible word they have come across in a book: PEACE. No one in their bunker understands it. The platoon sergeant shrugs his shoulders. Their lieutenant shakes his head, and …

The Most Terrible of Hitler’s Creatures

Heinrich Himmler (second from right) with Reinhard Heydrich (third from right) and Benito Mussolini (second from left) at a meeting of the police chiefs of Germany, Yugoslavia, Albania, and Portugal, circa 1938
In July 1945, the historian Hugh Trevor-Roper wrote in his journal: Now that the German war is over, and the surviving grandees of Nazi Germany are captured and talking, what poor, inflated vulgarians, what weak pretenders they all turn out to have been, how absurd and byzantine that fantastic court …

War by Fops and Fools

Elizabeth Thompson, Lady Butler: <i>Calling the Roll after an Engagement, Crimea</i>, 1874
Considering the depth of mutual suspicion and animosity between Britain and Russia after they were allies in defeating Napoleon in 1815, it is astonishing that the lion and the bear have fought each other only twice. At Winston Churchill’s behest, British forces took desultory action supporting the Whites in the …

The Most Influential Weapon of Our Time

József Tibor Fejes, a young Hungarian identified by C. J. Chivers in <i>The Gun</i> as ‘the first known insurgent to carry an AK-47.’ According to Chivers, ‘Fejes obtained his prize after Soviet soldiers dropped their rifles during their attack on revolutionaries in Budapest in 1956.... The Hungarian Revolution marked the AK-47’s true battlefield debut.’
The director of the British Museum, Neil MacGregor, last year captivated BBC radio audiences by delivering one hundred broadcasts about one hundred artifacts that have changed the world. A range of people were invited to nominate one that MacGregor had missed. I incurred some allegations of philistinism by suggesting the …

The Turkish-German Jihad

Kaiser Wilhelm II and Enver Pasha on board the battle cruiser <i>Goeben</i>, Constantinople, October 1917
In 1916, John Buchan published his best-selling thriller Greenmantle, which imagined a German plot to rouse the eastern legions of Islam against the embattled British Empire and its hundred million Muslim subjects. The book lightened the captive hours of Tsar Nicholas II of Russia before his 1918 murder by the …

The Hard Truth About the Foreign Legion

Gary Cooper as a legionnaire in <i>Beau Geste</i>, 1939
The world contains more misfits, sadists, masochists, and people who enjoy fighting than we sometimes like to suppose. How else can one explain the fact that the French Foreign Legion is heavily overrecruited? In an age when most of the world’s armies strive to make military service a less bestial and more enlightened experience than it used to be, the Legion still drives its trainees to scrub floors manically, fold kit and uniforms with obsessive precision, and march, march, march.

Drawing the Wrong Lesson

Otto Dix: <i>Shock Troops Advance under Gas</i>, 1924; etching from the exhibition ‘Otto Dix,’ at the Neue Galerie, New York City, March 11–August 30, 2010. The catalog is edited by Olaf Peters and published by Prestel.
Societies promote the study of their own past as an element of national identity. The US does so through the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966. President George W. Bush’s 2003 “Preserve America” executive order decreed: The Federal Government shall recognize and manage the historic properties in its ownership as …

A Very Chilly Victory

Churchill and Roosevelt Discussing Germany's Surrender Terms
Even in the twenty-first century, almost seventy years after the outbreak of World War II, it is astonishing how much of its history is still written from nationalistic perspectives. Winston Churchill may be forgiven for telling the House of Commons in September 1944, at the height of the conflict, that …

A Farewell to Arms

Italian riflemen leaving their trenches to attack the Austro-Hungarians during World War I; from Mark Thompson’s The White War: Life and Death on the Italian Front, 1915–1919
Many Anglo-Saxons perceive Italy’s role in modern history as marginal and verging upon absurdity. Few American or British people contrived to hate Mussolini and his nation in World War II as they hated Hitler and his, because they did not fear Italians in the same way. There were those ponderous …

Germans Confront the Nazi Past

Ruins of houses destroyed during World War II, Frankfurt am Main, Germany, 1946
It became a twentieth-century custom for nations to produce, under the auspices of government, official histories of their roles in great conflicts. The US and British studies of World War II are voluminous and uneven. Some contributions, like Samuel Eliot Morrison’s chronicle of the US Navy’s operations and Michael Howard’s …

The Most Evil Emperor

Winston Churchill was frequently criticized during World War II for displaying insufficient interest in Britain’s postwar reconstruction. He was obsessively preoccupied with the defeat of the Axis powers. South Africa’s prime minister, Jan Smuts, said, “Winston’s mind has a stop in it at the end of the war.” In this, …

Up Against ‘the Finest Soldiers in the World’

After World War II, when American and British veterans were quizzed about which theaters offered the most unpleasant experiences of combat, the Pacific and Burma were agreed to be the worst, but Italy ran them close. Far from being a land of sun, wine, and cheery peasants singing arias at …

How They Won

To become one of history’s great commanders, the first essential is to be born at the right time, around half a century before a big war. Countless aspirant Washingtons and Marlboroughs, Lees and Wellingtons, have moldered away their lives on obscure military posts, for lack of opportunity to display their …

Our Battle with Britain

Winston Churchill and Franklin Roosevelt lavished such extravagant rhetoric upon the Anglo-American alliance in the Second World War that illusions about its reality persist to this day. By 1945, not only was the United States victorious, its participation in the war had also been profitable. The nation was wealthier than …