Monday, September 21, 2009
A war run by psychopaths (Books - The Fall of Berlin 1945 by Antony Beevor)
It was a twisted road that led me to read Antony Beevor's The Fall of Berlin 1945. I have read several works of fiction this year set in Europe during and just after World War II - The Night Watch, Little Boy Lost, and Pictures at an Exhibition. Reading the second two books got me interested in post-war France and when Cornflower Books did a post on Beevor's book about Paris following liberation, I decided I wanted to read it and learn more about that strange, divided time in the history of that wonderful city. I looked Beevor up on line and ordered a second-hand copy and since I could get free shipping if I ordered a second from the same shop and since I remembered seeing Sheila reading his book about the siege of Stalingrad, I looked for that one and they didn't have it and so I ended up ordering his book on Berlin in the final year of the war instead. Usually I am not one for military history, but Beevor does more than discuss the movement of battalions and the shaving habits of famous generals, he is able to get at the tenor of the time, the desperation of the German troops who knew they were being led to slaughter, the sex-starved Russian men who readily raped German women but were reluctant to kill them because 'they weren't barbarians like the Germans.' Beevor really gets into the mind of the characters he is playing and tells the story of war as the story of the forces driving the behavior of crazed men, depicting Hitler's pathological denial of the true state of his campaign in 1945, the internicine rivalry between Himmler and Bormann, and Stalin's utter unpredictability. His general, Chernyakhovsky described him as "a living example of dialectical process. 'It's impossible to understand him. All you can do is to have faith.' Chernyakhovsky was clearly not destined to survive into the post-was Stalinist petrification," Beevor adds. "He was perhaps fortunate to die soon in battle, his faith intact." In these last months of the war, the Russians were able to maneuver their troops faster than the German's were able to relay messages between generals, which meant that the German plans were constantly made upon dated information. It is a fascinating pressure-cooker atmosphere with an unbelievably inhumane amount of carnage and Beevor makes mesmerizing drama of it in his history.