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Journal of World History 7.1 (1996) 152-154

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A World at Arms: A Global History of World War II. By Gerhard Weinberg. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1994. Pp. xix + 1,178. $34.95.

Gerhard Weinberg opens his magisterial account of World War II with the text of a memorial erected in Assam to those British and Indian soldiers who died repelling a Japanese invasion of India supported by an Indian nationalist army under the command of Subhas Chandra Bose, who had earlier gone to Germany in an attempt to win Hitler's support for Indian independence. Weinberg employs this reference to illustrate why it seemed to him appropriate "to write an account of World War II which looks at it in global perspective" (p.xiii). The initial sections of his book excel at this task, for they draw upon Weinberg's previously published two-volume study, The Foreign Policy of Hitler's Germany (1970). This work demonstrated that "without German initiative another worldwide holocaust was inconceivable," for only Germany possessed an ideology sufficiently global in reach (p. xiv). Weinberg revisits this argument in the work under review by effectively contrasting German war aims with those of Japan, the Soviet Union, the United States, and U.S. allies.

The sincerity of Weinberg's commitment to writing world history is proven by his engaging global interpretations of Stalin's relations with Hitler, Hitler's policies in the countries occupied by his armies, Japan's [End Page 152] relations with the United States, and the impact of the lend-lease program with Britain and the Soviet Union. Weinberg is one of only a few scholars who correctly trace much of the Soviet success on the battlefield in 1943-44 to American-built trucks and communications systems supplied chiefly through Iran.

It soon becomes clear, however, that this magnificent tour de force will fall somewhat short of Weinberg's goal, at least as the term global is interpreted by practitioners of world history. The flow of Bose-like connections that illuminate the linkages between nations and armies never falters, but there is virtually no discussion of the many comparative and cross-cultural issues raised by the war. There is no inquiry into the impact of the war on the global environment, economy, maritime trade, or its Latin or African participants. No analysis is offered of the global implications of the famines the war occasioned, such as those in India and Vietnam. There is also no effort made to place Bose, or for that matter, M.N.Roy, India's failed Ho Chi Minh, in context with likeminded anticolonialists elsewhere. Weinberg provides a sensitive account of the fate of European Jewry, but he does not attempt to examine the place of racism in the war: there is no synthesis of European anti-Semitism, South Africa's racial outlook on the war, and the racial dimensions of the war in the Pacific. The concluding chapter addresses the war's global implications, but it does so largely along conventional lines, with brief references to decolonization, advances in technology, the rise to primacy of the United States in world affairs, and finally as well as appropriately, the war's demonstration of "the capacity of human beings for destroying each other and themselves, but in a way [that also provides] a clue to the enormous potential for organizing constructive programs and policies to which the energies of humanity might be harnessed" (p. 920).

Yet, if Weinberg ultimately fails to write an account of World War II from the broader perspectives favored by world historians, he has assisted their work by writing the first truly international history of that conflict. One example may suggest the quality and thrust of the whole. In his discussion of the close of the war in the Pacific, Weinberg reminds us that the launching of the first Soviet offensive against Japan coincided with the American atomic assault and demonstrates how these events, taken together, had a sobering effect on Japanese leaders. Then, drawing on interviews he conducted in...


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