Allies Won the Opening Line of Historian Book Review

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Allies Won

The opening line of historian Richard Overy's book Why the Allies Won is "why did the Allies win World War II?" It is a straightforward question, and yet one that is rarely posed with sufficient verve by scholars, students, or curious history buffs. That the Allies won is taken for granted due to the basic fact that history will be penned forever by the victors, or at least the perceived victors who control the discourse following the War. In reality, the Second World War was not necessarily "won" in the sense of definitive gains for England, the United States, and the Soviet Union, versus "lost" in the sense of measurable blows to Italy, Germany, and Japan. In fact, just laying it out on paper makes the concept of an Allied victory seem preposterous. Japan, Germany, and Italy have well moved on since the end of World War Two. The United States of course emerged with flying colors, to spearhead a revolution in political, economic, and social reality for the 20th century. However, the United Kingdom was not necessarily better off than it was before the War. Humiliated, economically tapped out, and in some way demoralized, the United Kingdom never again experienced the grandeur of its previous days as the British Empire. The situation might have been well for the colonized peoples of the world, but the fact remains that the Second World War was closer than the history books would have us believe. In Why the Allies Won, Richard Overy creates a paradigm shift in the study of history by claiming that the Allied powers won not because of military superiority but because of a more cohesive moral vision than what was cultivated by the Axis powers.

Overy begins by laying a solid foundation by stating the Allied powers did not win because they were somehow preordained to do so. And yet traditional explanations in Western history books presume "a strong element of determinism," (Overy 1). The challenge of probing the central question, "why did the Allies win World War II" is that it threatens the prevailing worldview.
That worldview suggests that the Allies won World War Two definitively and absolutely. Overy states that, "To ask why the Allies won is to presuppose that they might have lost," and that loss was "in fact" a strong possibility (1). There was absolutely nothing that was "preordained" about Allied victory in World War Two (Overy 1). Why has it been so tempting to frame the Allied victory in the manner in which it is? Overy answers that Allied victory represents the classic "right over might…moral order over nihilistic chaos" model" that is so very appealing on a visceral, cultural level (1).

Therefore, Richard Overy suggests that "much of what we believe about the war is illusion," (2). One point Overy makes to substantiate this claim is that since World War Two, the world became far more prone to adopting communist or otherwise un-democratic forms of government than it did democracy. The outcome of the Second World War therefore did not mean "victory" of democracy over tyranny, despotism, communism, or any other perceived injustice. "If anything," claims Overy, "the war made the world safe for communism," (2).

The Soviet Union played a much more important, decisive, and even morally positive role than is usually given credit in Western historical literature, claims Overy. One of the great ironies of World War Two is that the Allied powers included the Soviet Union: the very entity that would become Superpower Enemy Number One. The Soviet Union was a strategic ally par excellence. If it was not for the Soviet Union, the Nazis might have never been repealed in the first place. As Overy puts it, "the great paradox of the Second World War is….....

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