1973 - when I started asking questions, like, "Why are we all dressed so funny?"

Monday, January 11, 2016

John Lukacs, A Short History of the Twentieth Century

Coming in at just over 200 pages one might expect but a mere outline. Lukacs surprises and delights with an engaging narrative that leaves out much (how could it not?) but leaves one with a sense of knowing far more about the pivotal ideas and figures who shaped the century.

Some samples:
The enormous events of the twentieth century, the two mountain ranges that largely determined its landscape, were the two world wars -- the Second largely a consequence of the First, and the so-called Cold War almost entirely a consequence of the Second (3).
Hatred is stronger than fear. ... But in the human world, hatred eventually becomes self-destructive; it does not always prevail in the long run, while fear often does. Still, this can be no consolation to those who either experience or comprehend the power of hatred over fear in the short run. Besides, hatred, even more than fear, may also involve participation: people hate what they hate in themselves, or they often hate who or what is close to them. What is vengeance but the wish to cause suffering in order to heal one's own suffering? "In the spirit of revolt," Georges Bernanos wrote, "there is a principle of hatred or contempt for mankind. I'm afraid that the rebel will never be capable of bearing as much love for those he loves as he bears hatred for those he hates" (53). 
Enemies of Roosevelt would call these preliminaries to Pearl Harbor Roosevelt's "Back Door to War." That was a half-truth. What is true that throughout 1941, Roosevelt tried everything -- well almost everything -- to provoke a serious German attack on American warships in the Atlantic...(124). 
Churchill. Surely we assess him by his consequences. He did not win the Second World War in 1945. But he was the one who, in 1940, did not lose it. Whence his historical grandeur. ... He foresaw, perhaps before anyone else, what Hitler meant (128-9).
 One thing we may say in favor of Stalin: his ambitions -- contrary to the belief that was widely accepted for decades after the Second World War -- had their limits, not because of his modesty, of course, but probably because of his peasant-like realism (129). 

No comments: