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Synopsis

In this sweepingly ambitious overview of WorldWar II, Michael Burleigh combines meticulousscholarship with a remarkable depth of knowledgeand an astonishing scope. By exploring themoral sentiments of entire societies and their leaders,and how such attitudes changed under the impact oftotal war, Burleigh presents readers with a fresh andpowerful perspective on a conflict that continuesto shape world politics. Whereas previous historiesof the war have tended to focus on grand strategyor major battles, Burleigh brings his painstakingscholarship and profound sensibility to bear on thefactors that shaped choices that were life-and-deathdecisions. These choices were made in real time,without the benefit of a philosopher’s reflection,giving a moral content to the war that shaped it asdecisively as any battle.

Although the Nazis and the Japanese had radicallydifferent moral universes from those of theirAllied opponents, as rejected in the atrocities theycommitted, the Western Allies found themselvesaligned with a no less cruel dictatorship after rejectingthe option of appeasing aggression. The warwas the sum total of myriad choices made by governments,communities, and individuals, leadingsome to enthusiastically embrace evil and othersto consciously reject it, with a range of more ambiguouslyhuman responses in between. Spanningboth major theaters and ranging across these issuesand more, from the “predators” (Mussolini, Hitler,and Hirohito) to appeasement, from the rape ofPoland, Barbarossa, and strategic bombing to thecomplexities of justice and retribution, Moral Combatsheds a revealing light on how entire nationschanged under the shock of total war.

Emphasizing the role of the past in making senseof the present, Burleigh’s book offers essentialinsights into the choices we face today—in some circles it is always 1938 and every aggressor is a newHitler. If we do go to war, we need to know whatit will mean for the individuals who command and fight it. Original, perceptive, and astonishing inscholarship and scope, this is an unforgettable andhugely important work of Second World War history.

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