Volume LIV Number 11
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Moral Combat: A History of World War II, by Michael Burleigh; HarperCollins, 2010, 576 pages, $69.99.
War is a cruel business and so a degree of moral ambivalence is always going to be a part of the whole picture. All the same, in Moral Combat Michael Burleigh argues that the attempt by some historians to re-apportion criminality and victimhood in the Second World War has gone too far. Burleigh finds his own moral bearings by beginning with the obvious: responsibility for the Second World War and its attendant horror lies with Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy and Imperial Japan.
All three regimes were predatory, but none more so than the Third Reich. The chapter “The Rape of Poland” illustrates all too clearly the diabolical consequences of Nazi ideology on humanity. The German Labour Front, for instance, took German soldiers on leave through the Warsaw Ghetto to satisfy their ghoulish inquisitiveness: “As time passed, these visitors inevitably saw corpses lying in the streets, waiting to be taken by cart to the cemetery, which was the high point of each trip.” So defiled were they by Nazism, the perpetrators of some of the most notorious murders in history could see their killing as “a form of racial altruism”.
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