John Mosier presents a revisionist retelling of the war on the Eastern Front. Although the Eastern Front was the biggest and most important theater in World War II, it is not well known in the United States, as no American troops participated in the fighting. Yet historians agree that this is where the decisive battles of the war were fought.
The conventional wisdom about the Eastern Front is that Hitler was mad to think he could defeat the USSR, because of its vast size and population, and that the Battle of Stalingrad marked the turning point of the war. Neither statement is accurate, says Mosier; Hitler came very close to winning outright.
Mosier's history of the Eastern Front will generate considerable controversy, both because of his unconventional arguments and because he criticizes historians who have accepted Soviet facts and interpretations. Mosier argues that Soviet accounts are utterly untrustworthy and that accounts relying on them are fantasies. Deathride argues that the war in the East was Hitler's to lose, that Stalin was in grave jeopardy from the outset of the war, and that it was the Allied victories in North Africa and consequent threat to Italy that forced Hitler to change his plans and saved Stalin from near-certain defeat. Stalin's only real triumph was in creating a legend of victory.
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The tone grows wearisome after a few chapters
Any book on the subject of the Eastern Front of WWII is welcome. It's a part of WWII that for my generation (graduated college during the Cold War) was mostly ignored in history class. Yet it was the largest and deadliest theater of the war. However, Mosier's tone and pet phrases such as "You would think...but you'd be wrong", "Contrary to conventional wisdom..." gets more and more grating with each chapter.
Despite his insistence that he is speaking the truth against the official accepted history, much of his view of the Eastern Front is not unique or shocking. His scrutiny of evidence from the belligerents is biased to support his thesis (that the Germans were much closer to victory in the East, and that it was the Allied offensive in the West that compelled Germany to retreat in the East to better defend the West). Official Soviet numbers (from casualties to weapons production et al) are laboriously explained away as propaganda, but rarely is the same level of examination given to Nazi numbers. In fact, to support his contrarian view that German troops were not demoralized during their retreat Mosier refers to photos of happy German soldiers from that period. He insists without proof that they were candid and not staged, and somehow a handful of photos is a clear indicator of overall sangfroid up and down the German lines as they marched backwards through Poland.
Overall, I can't recommend this book. However, I will give Mosier credit for his insights at the end of Deathride. No single book could sum up what a tragedy the War was for the people of Eastern Europe, but Mosier's overview of the staggering human costs can be felt as it is read. His summary of the post-war consequences of Stalin is apt and thoughtful, too. The Soviet Union never recovered from the incalculable death and damage or the War, and Stalin's incompetence and ruinous policies that beat the Nazis led to the eventual collapse of the Soviet Union.
Speaking the un-speakable
- Jonathan Gardner