The majority of the civilian soldiers of the Western democracies, by contrast, just wanted to survive and return to normal life as soon as possible. That also meant that American and British generals had to eschew the dashing aggression of their Russian and German counterparts, who could squander lives with impunity. Thanks to the bloodbath in Russia, where the Wermacht was broken and nine out of ten German soldiers who died in the war met their end, they could permit themselves to be more cautious.
Mr Hastings excessively admires two German field-marshals: Gerd von Rundstedt and Eric von Manstein, whereas only Bill Slim and George Patton rise above the general mediocrity of Allied field commanders. Luckily, the tactical virtuosity of the Germans and Japanese was more than matched by their strategic incompetence in declaring war against Russia and America. Less hubristic and more informed leaders would have realised that both countries had the manpower and industrial resources to prevail in a war of attrition.
马克斯·哈斯丁极为敬重两位德国陆军元帅：格特·冯·伦德施泰特（Gerd von Rundstedt）和埃里克·冯·曼施坦因（Eric von Manstein），相比之下他认为盟军的将领中却只有比尔·斯里姆（Bill Slim）和乔治·巴顿（George Patton）非泛泛之辈。所幸，德日两国的战略水平远低于其战术素养，对美苏宣战在战略上筑成了大错。更谦逊、见识更为广博的将领会意识到俄美两国都有足够的人力物力打赢一场消耗战。
Overall, however, Mr Hastings does an admirable job of weaving together deeply personal stories with great events and high strategy. This raises the question of whether another book covering essentially the same ground is necessary. The answer depends on what the reader is looking for. Mr Beevor, who is known for using the sometimes unbearably moving diaries and letters of ordinary soldiers to shed new light on old battles, is otherwise less generous than Mr Hastings in the space he gives to primary sources. He has written what is in many ways a more conventional military history. But where he is good, he is very good.
Mr Beevor is full of insight about the connections between things—he sets out “to understand how the whole complex jigsaw fits together”. Thus the relatively little-known Battle of Khalkhin-Gol, in which Japan’s plans to grab Soviet territory from its base in Manchuria were undone in the summer of 1939 by the Red Army’s greatest and most ruthless general, Georgi Zhukov, had profound consequences. The Japanese “strike south” party prevailed over the “strike northers”, ensuring that Stalin would not have to fight a war on two fronts when the Germans launched Operation Barbarossa in 1941. Mr Beevor decries the rebarbative “Bomber” Harris’s attempt to win the war by bringing death and destruction to every major German city as a moral and strategic failure. But he also points out that by forcing the Nazis to move squadrons of Luftwaffe fighters from Russia to defend the Fatherland, Harris’s campaign allowed the Soviet air force to establish vital air supremacy.
Mr Beevor also has a surer hand than Mr Hastings in describing how the great land battles of the war unfolded. Although his judgments are less waspishly entertaining than his rival’s, they are also more measured. He is notably more generous about Britain’s contribution to defeating Hitler, which Mr Hastings at times appears to think was mainly confined to the code-breaking centre at Bletchley Park and, after defeating the Luftwaffe in 1940, providing an “unsinkable aircraft-carrier” for the build-up of American military power.