Politics and Demography
links for 2009-06-02

Hoisted from Archives and Comments: Robert Gordon Reviews Tooze's "Wages of Destruction"

Robert Gordon:

Grasping Reality with Both Hands: "Death of the Wehrmachtl": I am currently writing a book review of the impressive Tooze book "Wages of Destruction". Contra Brad's description, this is not military history but rather economic history. My initial criterion to assess the value of the book is to ask "what is new" as compared to the Abelshauser chapter in the Mark Harrison edited (1998) volume on the Economics of World War II.

I learned two big new ideas from the Tooze book as contrasted to the huge existing literature on Nazi society and economy 1933-45. First, the push to rearmament 1933-39 was consistently forced to face a severe foreign exchange constraint. An oddity of the Nazi economy was its refusal to devalue its currency. Instead, it placed extreme constraints on imports of consumer goods. This was in addition to what everyone already knew, that the Nazi economy held down wages in order to boost profits and stimulate production and hiring.

The second big new idea in the Tooze book, which maybe everyone already knew about but has gotten lost in the focus on the Holocaust, was General Plan Ost. This was a mind-boggling plan to deport (to some unknown destination, mainly death) most of the inhabitants of non-Jewish Poland, Belorussia, and the Ukraine in order to provide "lebensraum" for German settlers. Tooze documents plans to deport as many as 40 million inhabitants. Fortunately, the reverses suffered by the German army starting with the Moscow campaign in Nov-Dec 41 postponed the General Plan Ost. According to Tooze, they tried it out on a part of Poland, and the inhabitants ran away into the forests rather than being subjected to deportation.

Brad talked about his top three WWII military histories of the last half-decade. One of the best new books is Ian Kershaw's (2007) "Fateful Choices" about strategic choices in the major capitals (London, Berlin, Moscow, Tokyo, Washington) in 1940 and 1941. This is deep and wonderful writing about the big issues of WWII -- why didn't the British negotiate with Hitler, why did Hitler decide so early (July 1940) to invade Russia, what was Roosevelt thinking in 1940-41, and the biggest puzzle of all, why did the Japanese decide to attack Pearl Harbor. A related book on strategic planning, but mainly about the U.S., is Michael Beschloss (2002) "The Conquerors" about FDR and Truman. This book's major figure is Morgenthau, and many will be interested in M's efforts to get FDR to take the ongoing holocaust seriously.

Posted by: Robert J. Gordon | February 28, 2008 at 10:59 PM

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