Monday, 31 January 2011

V Season One

V Season One

We are of peace, always

I have a terrible confession to make. I never actually saw the original series of V. I did read the novel that came out some years ago, but I have always had my doubts as to how well the book translates onto the screen and vice versa. So, when my brother gave me the set of DVDs of Season One, I came to the show largely unspoiled. Some loved it; some disliked it…and I resolved to make up my own mind.

To summarise the plot, one day in the very near future, giant spaceships appear over the Earth’s major cities. (One character references Independence Day as a joke.) The spacecraft carry attractive humanoids – one of the characters asks if there is any such thing as an unattractive V – who claim to come in peace and want to help humanity. Over the next few episodes, they set up healing centres to heal all who want treatment and give Earth the gift of Blue Energy, a pollution-free power source, while recruiting Peace Ambassadors who spread the word of peace and harmony. Unluckily for humanity, the aliens do not come in peace; they have been on Earth for years, preparing the ground for an invasion. The arrival of their spacecraft is merely the next stage in their plan.

As the story wears on, a strange cast of humans and aliens is woven together to fight the encroaching alien threat. A FBI agent, forced to work with the Visitors, ends up leading the Fifth Column. An alien sleeper agent finds himself fighting his own people, while worrying about his pregnant human girlfriend. A priest questions the arrival of the aliens; a soldier of fortune is framed by the V, only to be brought into the Fifth Column. A reporter finds himself working directly for the aliens. And the FBI agent’s son finds himself falling in love with one of the aliens, their creepy leader’s beautiful daughter.

So…what did I think?

I confess that I rather like Anna, the leader of the aliens (and apparently their Queen, although the mysteries of alien biology have yet to be revealed.) She has a definite presence that rather reminds me of Six from BSG, a strange mixture of humanity and something disturbingly…other. Erica, on the human side, is a strange mixture of kick-ass FBI agent and weak mother, something that shows up as her son – Tyler – becomes more and more involved with the aliens. Chad Decker is quite convincing as the reporter who finds himself wondering if the Visitors are as peaceful as they seem, while Father Jack Landry struck me as more unconvincing. Ryan Nichols, a Visitor posing as human and a Fifth Columnist trying to undermine the insidious plans of the Visitors, does a remarkably good job of playing a man with a duel role. Kyle Hobbes is a reasonably good character, although one who should have been – IMHO – introduced much earlier.

One character that should have been disposed of – rather than the actual shock death at the end of Episode 12 – was Tyler, Erica’s son. I disliked him intensely and, just by being there, he dragged Erica’s character down as well. He comes across as a whiny brat who refuses to grow up and Erica’s failure to explain the truth to him is just silly, all the more so because Tyler isn’t a knowing agent for the Visitors. The best thing that could have happened to him would have been a sound thrashing, probably from Kyle.

In some ways, that illustrates one of the problems with the show. The writers didn’t seem to realise that Tyler could have just asked Lisa for a DNA check that would have confirmed that his father was his real father. Lazy writing, folks; you saw it here.

I liked many of the details of the underground war, but there were some quite considerable problems. The Fifth Column is amateurish and far too small to be a concern. Yes, they recruit Kyle Hobbes, but what about others? Surely Father Jack – an ex-soldier from Iraq – knows a few war buddies who could be brought into the circle? They don’t need a person with dubious motives like Hobbes. The Fifth Column is also remarkably incompetent at times – it never seems to occur to them that the V could monitor their cell phones – although their incompetence is matched by the incompetence of their enemies. The Visitors do monitor phone calls in Ep.2, but they don’t seem to do it later in the show. It’s a little weird. The Fifth Column needed to work more on recruiting and propaganda.

A point that does stick out is one piece of shameful incompetence. The Fifth Column plans to shoot down a V shuttle loaded with alien soldiers. In a manner well above careless, Father Jack reveals the plans to Chad Decker, who takes them to Anna and allows her a chance to brand the Fifth Column as terrorists and mass murderers. If that wasn’t bad enough, the Fifth Column blunders badly several times in the operation, narrowly escaping discovery by the FBI.

The issue of outsiders is one other problem. Apart from the Fifth Column, hardly anyone seems to question the Visitors. The only large-scale exception is the UN Secretary-General, who questions Anna when she delivers Blue Energy to the world, but what about the others? If Blue Energy can do what she promises – free the world from its dependence on oil and suchlike – it is a deadly threat to the oil-rich states of the Middle East, all of which depend on oil revenues to keep their people quiet. As they back terrorists, why aren’t the terrorists attempting to attack the Visitor ships? Political correctness or lazy writing?

Another point that grates is the reference to universal healthcare. It’s just annoying.

The show definitely picks up speed towards the end of the season, with the finale pulling out all the stops for a hard-hitting end to the season. Even so, the lacklustre progress in the middle of the season hampers the overall score. Season Two needs to move on to the open invasion…

Seven out of Ten.

Thursday, 13 January 2011

The Second World War (Gordon Corrigan)

The Second World War
-Gordon Corrigan

There is a story, attributed to one of Winston Churchill’s political opponents, that says that someone, upon reading Churchill’s history books, exclaimed; “oh look – Winston has written a book about himself and called it The Second World War!”

Reading Corrigan’s largest piece of historical work, I am inclined to proclaim that Gordon Corrigan has written a book about Churchill and called it The Second World War. Throughout the book, Churchill is constantly put down by the author (although he does note some of Churchill’s successes) and treated as a meddling moron. Given that the book claims to be a military history of World War Two, there is a certain amount of cheek in that approach.

Gordon Corrigan is a revisionist historian in the truest possible sense. His earlier book, Mud, Blood and Poppycock, was a well-received piece of work that attempted to destroy many of the myths surrounding World War One – specifically, Britain’s role in the war. The loose sequel, however, was clearly that of a man with a drum to beat – specifically, proving that Churchill was not the great genius that he thought he was. Reading it, I wondered if Corrigan had a personal agenda in attacking Churchill; historians, even revisionist historians, are supposed to attempt to view their subjects dispassionately. Let’s face it; he wasn't writing about Hitler.

The Second World War is an attempt to produce an accessible book covering the entire war. That is not an easy task; the writer will find himself unsure of what to put in and what to leave out, leading to accusations that he didn’t put in the right material or pay the right amount of homage to certain historical figures. Corrigan does provide a good general overview of the conflict, but there are problems with balance. The writer spends as much time on the Battle of Hong Kong (a minor, if embarrassing, British defeat) as he does on the Battle of Poland (the first major encounter between the Germans and an opponent and an event of unquestionable significance.) In general terms, the writer concentrates on British ground forces and spends far less time with the air and naval side of the war. Certain parts of the war – China, for example – are simply glossed over. Other parts are ignored.

The writer attempts to write in a chatty style, including reminisces from his own life as a young (post-war) Ghurkha army officer. Sometimes this works; sometimes this comes across as a man biting away at an undeserving target. Corrigan’s pen drips with scorn for Churchill, Montgomery and various other senior British officers. The only non-British officer who comes in for heavy bashing is Macarthur – and even he gets favourable mentions. The suggestion that Monty was a suppressed homosexual, for example, was a new one for me. This rapidly becomes annoying; Corrigan chooses to make glib comments rather than conduct a proper analysis.

Corrigan’s desire to humiliate Churchill – a pointless exercise as the man died years ago - leads him to make factual mistakes. Churchill was, he claims, willing to override the Chiefs of Staff on a regular basis. He did, in reality, meet staunch resistance – not least from Brooke, who had a will of iron (and was generally fond of Churchill.) Further, Corrigan is unable to understand that Churchill not only lacked the benefit of hindsight – it is easy to say in 2011 that the Allies would win the war – but had to worry about politics. Attacking the French fleet in 1940, a decision Corrigan condemns, was seen very well in the USA. It convinced many that Britain was not about to throw in the towel and seek peace at any price.

This grinding axe leads to many odd points. Corrigan gives Percival, the commanding officer of Singapore, a surprisingly gentle treatment. Yes, Percival didn’t have the resources he needed; that is beyond dispute. At the same time, however, what he did have was sufficient to hold the base for some time (holding it permanently would have been impossible) and military incompetence certainly goes some way towards explaining that disaster.

There are also a number of odder interpretations. Corrigan asserts that no one ever suggested dropping an atomic bomb on Germany because they were white, civilised and Christian – a return to the old myth that dropping the atomic bomb on Japan was a racist decision. Unluckily for that myth, the atomic bomb did not enter service until Germany was effectively defeated and using them on the remains of Germany would have blown up a great many allied troops too – something that blowing up some or all of Japan’s cities would not have done. Had Germany held out for even a month or two longer, the first a-bomb might have been dropped on German soil. In short, although Corrigan does stumble over several genuine controversies, he is largely incapable of doing them full justice.

Reading the book again, there is an underlying claim; the armies of all nations (certainly Britain, Germany and America) were held back by their political masters and prevented from gaining the great victories they could have if they’d been allowed to operate freely. It is an attitude that befits a young army officer, but politics and war are always intermingled and battles are fought for political decisions, not purely for military reasons. Hitler certainly never learned not to meddle. As for Japan, the latitude given to military commanders in the field led to nothing, but disaster.

Corrigan appears to suggest that if he’d been in command of the war, he could have done a much better job. With the benefit of hindsight, he is probably right. Being an alternate historian myself, I know that there were many points in WW2 where a different decision could shorten the war. Even so, the people in WW2 lacked hindsight. They had to operate on the basis of what information they had at the time and it was often lacking.

There are also a number of funny points, mainly – I suspect – because Corrigan has a professional disdain for politics. Hitler’s demands on Poland were far from ‘mild.’ Taking the Polish Corridor would have made the Poles dependent on Germany. Furthermore, Poland’s long history is one where small surrenders led rapidly to partition and the eventual destruction of their country. He professes himself bemused why the Germans – morality aside – started the Holocaust without winning the war first. The answer was that racial war was part of Nazism and Hitler’s devotion to exterminating the Jews prevented him from taking a more practical – if no less evil – stance.

There is much to recommend this book, I should admit. It presents a reasonably comprehensible history of the war and it is often entertaining. On the other hand, the sound of grinding axes drowns out the sensible, sound narrative. Corrigan is after the quick judgement and the glib throwaway, not a sustained and detailed analysis of difficult and controversial times. If you want reasoned criticism, there are far better books. As a general history of World War Two, however, it reads fairly well.

Dead or Alive (Tom Clancy/Grant Blackwood)

Dead or Alive (Tom Clancy)

Guest Review

I missed the great time of techno-thrillers. Born as the Cold War and Soviet Union began to end up on the ash heap of history, most great techno-thrillers (The Hunt for Red October, Red Storm Rising, Red Phoenix, Vortex, Team Yankee) were already written when I was a kid. Thanks to used book stores and the internet I was able to read these works through high school and college. So now that I’m older it does pain me that the good classic techno-thriller seems dead. Even the man who somewhat invented the genre, Tom Clancy seemed to lose his skill with his last three fiction works, The Bear and the Dragon, Teeth of the Tiger, and Red Rabbit (the most acceptable of the three IMO).

However like one of Max Brook’s zombies, it seems Mr. Clancy has returned from the dead, so to speak. The newest Tom Clancy novel came out shortly before the holidays titled, Dead or Alive. Now there is a question of how much of the book Clancy actually wrote, since there is a co-author, Grant Blackwood. Blackwood had ghost written for other series. Even if you hadn’t noticed Blackwood’s name on the cover you can tell the writing doesn’t flow like usual Clancy (not in a bad way but the change is noticeable).

Dead or Alive is the follow up book to Teeth of the Tiger which featured the first adventure of Jack Ryan Jr. son of the more famous Jack Ryan. Jack Jr. works not at CIA but a secret off the books anti-terrorism agency named The Campus. Set up in the waning days of the Ryan Administration, The Campus is run by a former Senator Gerry Hendley who disguises it as a mutual firm. Unlike CIA, The Campus is allowed to prosecute and eliminate terrorists without government oversight. In case any of this is discovered President Ryan made sure to leave dozens of signed but blank Presidential Pardons for all involved. Jack Ryan Jr. being a smart boy figures all this out in The Teeth of the Tiger.

The second novel starts not too long after the first. Jack Jr. works as analyst at The Campus. He eliminated a terrorist near the end of his first book prompting the young man to think about more fieldwork. The rest of The Campus crew returns as well. Among them are Jack Jr.’s cousins Dominic Caruso and Brian Caruso both who are twin brothers. Dominic was an FBI Agent and Brian a former Marine. In Teeth of the Tiger they were the operation element of The Campus. Other characters are part of the group but none of them stand out as anything other than background players.

Since Tiger was received poorly, Clancy I think made a decision to bring more familiar faces into the story from his pervious books. First are John Clark and Domingo Chavez. Clark, Clancy’s CIA paramilitary man turned into Rainbow commander plus his friend and son in law Chavez, who also worked for CIA before joining John at Rainbow. The start of Dead or Alive had both men returning to USA from England. Rainbow which had a successful run (read Rainbow Six and The Bear and the Dragon) is being reformatted do to European politics. One could also speculate that Clancy had his characters coming back because terrorists no longer really focus on hostage taking but inflicting mass causalities. This eliminates Rainbow’s usefulness as a story tool (although there is one last Rainbow mission in Libya which provides intelligence for later in the book).

Other returning Ryanverse characters are the former President himself. Jack is upset at what is happening with the country and the damage that the current president is doing to the economy, military, and intelligence agencies. Robbie Jackson, Jack’s best friend and VP from The Bear and the Dragon, was killed before The Teeth of the Tiger (something I’ve never forgiven Clancy for killing him off-page) so his opponent, Ed Kealty from Debt of Honor and Executive Orders walks into an easy victory. As Jack stews he is being pushed to re-run for president by his former Chief of Staff Arnie Van Damm. Jack’s role in the book is limited and probably included to further his role in perhaps a new novel in the future. Another returning character is Mary Pat Foley. Once the Deputy Director of Operations at CIA, she is now hovering near retirement but still working for the government at a joint terrorism task force. She like the rest of the characters (excluding Jack Sr.) is hunting the same man, the Emir.

The Emir is Clancy’s version of Osama Bin Laden. Running an Al-Qaeda like organization he was mentioned in Tiger but now plays a more centered role. He is surrounded by various other terrorists who are coordinating a series of attacks designed to do massive harm to the United States. All the action in the book involves hunting the Emir and figuring out what he is up too. This causes the books to plod along for the first half with us following multiple terrorists and characters across the globe whose actions don’t come together till later. Things speed up two-thirds of the way through heading to the conclusion.

My main problems with the book do not stem from the plot or terrorist plan. Its fine, nothing ‘too’ unbelievable, The Emir hopes to push the U.S. into a gross overreaction to his terrorists attacks (some small scale against people, others larger including an attempted chemical attack and a nuclear attack against the Yucca Nuclear Waste site). Kealty being a dumb-ass would move against the terrorist hideouts in northern Pakistan brining about the collapse of Pakistan in general in which the Emir’s terrorist network could then get their hands on the Pakistani nukes. No surprise to you, this plan fails.

The biggest issue I had in the book was Clancy/Blackwood ignoring the Ryanverse’s own cannon. 9/11 still occurs in the Ryanverse including the response by invading Afghanistan. First there is a problem right there. Several Clancy books have featured deadly mass terrorist attacks, including the nuclear weapon used at Denver in The Sum of All Fears plus (now here’s the big one) the crashing of a 747 into the Capital Building at the end of Debt of Honor. Clancy wore the 747 crash years before 9/11, so shouldn’t the security officials in the Ryanverse be maybe thinking about this happening again? I would think things in the Ryanverse itself would butterfly away 9/11. Of course Clancy writes his books so that the politics and geo-political situation are tied into our own world for the most part. So I can forgive this. However I can’t forgive other things that make no sense at all.

My biggest continuality problem is Iraq. If you had read Executive Orders you know that Saddam Hussein was killed by a member of his own security detail (an Iranian agent) paving the way for Iran to take over the country (following the abandonment of Iraq by the Ba’ath Party). In its wake a new country the United Islamic Republic was formed. The UIR under the leadership of the Ayatollah launched a bio-war attack on the USA (another reason for 9/11 to be butterflied away) followed by an invasion of Saudi Arabia. The U.S. defeats them and President Ryan assassinates the Ayatollah with some F-117s and laser guided bombs. Iran and Iraq get new governments. Now you may be wondering why I mention all this. For some reason in Dead or Alive, Iraq has been invaded and occupied as in OTL. No explanation of why this occurred or who even launched the invasion is mentioned. Since Clancy altered the line of the Presidents far earlier in the timeline (Fowler, Durling, Ryan, Kealty) which one of them invaded Iraq? If Ryan had done it I believe it would be something he’d talk about (since he’s writing his autobiography in the book), Kealty is desperately trying to pull out of Iraq so he certainly didn’t do it.

This is an example of Clancy trying to bring our current world and problems into his creation and failing. The fact that we went to war with the UIR is hardly mentioned. Just as Iraq is screwed up in relation to the Clancy timeline so is Iran. Like our OTL Iran, its working on nuclear weapons and interfering in Iraq (there is also a massive nitpick where the book says the Shia are the minority in Iraq compared to the Sunni, when as we all know after nearly ten years of news coverage its the other way around). Iran had launched a bio attack against the U.S. and paid the price, why would they bother building nuclear weapons or go about trying to interfere in Iraq which they had already done once and failed at.

Further issues with established Clancy timeline also exist. No mention is made of the conflict between Russia and China in The Bear and the Dragon. Considering how bad that book was maybe it’s not the worst idea to say it never happened (like Superman III and IV). Even if I was going to forget it, there are other issues which seem to have been ignored or grossed over. Vladimir Putin is mentioned despite him never having existed in the Ryanverse before this point. Nothing is mentioned about Ed Kealty’s sexual misconduct (a theme of both Debt of Honor and Executive Orders). Kealty, trying to dig up dirt on Ryan Sr. seems to of forgotten he already learned about Ryan’s activities at CIA in Executive Orders.

Besides the continuality issues, there is also the issue of the portrayal of certain people in the book. Kealty’s administration seems too dumb to actually function. At the beginning of the book a team of Army Rangers raids a cave that might be a possible hiding spot for the Emir. During the raid one of the Rangers (who ends up a minor side character) kills nine enemy fighters as they sleep in the cave, their weapons close by. When this is discovered by a lawyer at DOD he is shocked and then sends the info to the Attorney General. In turn this info ends up at Kealty’s desk who also highly taken aback that the Ranger ‘murdered’ these men and wants to put the Ranger on trial…are you shitting me?

Almost every other character in the book sees no problem with the soldier’s actions. He killed enemy combatants, if they were asleep too bad for them. However the Kealty’s peoples’ reactions seem too stupid to be believable. The president thinks it’s a good idea to put on trial a soldier who killed during a sensitive mission, which needed stealth, even if he did think that, he doesn’t have anyone on his staff to tell him he’s a moron? The soldier is saved by Jack Ryan Sr. campaign announcement (further proof that if your opponent is going to use this against you, why you do it in the first place is beyond me). More stupidly is shown when John Clark does a debriefing at Langley with a character (whose name has to be a dead one from an earlier Clancy novel I swear) says his career at CIA was ‘messy’. Messy? Clark was a paramilitary officer who did clandestine stuff of course it was messy. Anyway some of this stupidity on the part of these characters is a little unbelievable, but maybe I’m giving government people more credit than they deserve.

These issues with Ryanverse cannon as it stands and the behavior of opposition characters (not the terrorists except for one action which I had a hard time believing, the Emir hiding out in the USA) are my main problems with the novel. Otherwise it’s okay, better than I expected. There isn’t tons of action more spying and field craft. There is a very gusty move on the part of the author regarding the loss of one of the characters, which surprised me. I’d say the best is B- or C+ work. If you wish to read it, wait for the paperback version and save yourself some money. It has made me want to go back and re-read Teeth of the Tiger to see if it is better a second time around. Hopefully if there is another Clancy book we’ll move on to something other than terrorism.

Wednesday, 5 January 2011

Visions of Victory (Gerhard L. Weinberg)

Visions of Victory - Gerhard L. Weinberg

Gerhard L. Weinberg is well known for producing A World At Arms; a global history of World War Two. In Visions of Victory, he takes on the dangerous - some would say impossible - task of studying the victory plans of eight World War Two leaders; Hitler, Mussolini, Tojo, Stalin, Churchill, DeGaulle, Chieng and Roosevelt. (For some reason, neither Truman nor Mao are mentioned.) Their dreams of victory have their effect upon the outcome - and some of his conclusions may surprise you.

But no matter. Weinberg begins with the Axis leaders, starting with Hitler, who apparently intended to keep a solid European base for his empire, including Britain. Both France and Britain would have gotten the boot - Britain in particular would have been firmly subordinated to the New Order, although if it would have been under Edward and Mosley, or someone else, is not determined. France would have remained firmly subordinate to Germany; despite French attempts to gain influence within the Axis, they would have remained slaves. Turtledove, it seems, had it right in Colonisation; France would have remained under the Germans for the foreseeable future.

Weinberg makes some further predictions, including the resettlement of thousands of Germans and 'Aryans' into Russia, the crushing of any feminist movement and worse. Hitler suffered from appealing ignorance about the world - apparently convinced that New Zealanders lived in trees (WTF?) - and used that to guide his speculation. One would imagine that the performance of the ANZAC forces would have convinced him otherwise, but…ironically, some of the people who most benefited from Hitler's defeat were his own former comrades from WW1; the crippled, the deaf, and the other handicapped.

One thing stands out - a world with Hitler would have been one of endless war.

Mussolini's war aims have received much less scrutiny, not least because the Italians performed so badly in WW2. Weinberg says much less about him, but considers him to be a gambler on a far greater scale than Hitler, a man who gambled, won slightly, and then threw it away. His aims apparently included a major empire in Africa and major holdings in Malta, Corsica, Cyprus, Greece and portions of the French Riviera and southeast Switzerland - just how long they would have lasted if Hitler had to bail him out is questionable. Hitler's admiration for Mussolini himself might have remained fairly strong, but he had certainly lost whatever he had once felt for the Italian armed forces. Mussolini had no grand plan for Empire; he only wanted to take opportunities…and bit off much more than he could chew.

Tojo remains something of an enigmatic figure, not least because Japan never possessed a dictator. Weinburg, however, is fairly confident that Japan held much of what it wanted in the Pacific in the six months following Pearl Harbour, although it lacked the economic power to actually hold them. Assuming that America gives up the war, for whatever reason, the Japanese would have ushered in a world of amazing brutality across the 'Bamboo Curtain,' one that would have shocked the world. There is an old Giles cartoon about Hitler complaining that the Japanese had invented some new atrocities and were showing the Germans up - "we'd better invent some new ones." East Asia under Japanese rule would have been a nightmare.

(One of the odder little facts to pop up is a German-Japan division of the world; Japan would apparently have had Cuba and Alaska.)

Despite that, Japan lacked the capability to hold onto its empire. Weinberg believes that the Japanese would have faced much more opposition from the natives over the coming years - China had gobbled up thousands of Japanese soldiers for no apparent benefit - and it would have collapsed.

Chiang has never been treated well by historians. To some extent, this is unsurprising; China was never capable of being more than a punching bag for Japan. The Chinese might have had more opportunity, had they not lost badly to Japan in 1944, which destroyed the best of Chiang's forces. Even so, Chiang apparently was prepared to accept a disarmed Japan, provided that the Chinese were permanent members of the UN Security Council. Chiang dared to hope that the Chinese would be able to recover Hong Kong before the British, but the failures within the Chinese military made that impossible.

Stalin's thinking on the war was, naturally, very different from everyone else's thinking - with the possible exception of Hitler. Stalin seems to have intended to take advantage of the 'Capitalist War' by securing the USSR's borders, including Finland and Romania. Other than that, he wanted to remain out of the war and was reluctant to believe that Hitler genuinely meant him harm, something that cost the Red Army its chance at an early victory. Once Hitler had started the war, however, Stalin seems to have been willing to discuss a peace with Germany, even as late as 1944 - is anyone else thinking of Fox on the Rhine here? Stalin was, perhaps, the most successful of the allied leaders in WW2, at least in the short term. In the longer term, the new territories of WW2 cost the USSR its existence. Stalin's demands, however, were for security and he was willing to pay any price to ensure that the USSR was secure.

Churchill and DeGaulle seem to have been two sides of the same coin. Both of them, according to Weinberg, seem to have considered the war in terms of gaining more territory for their empires, unaware that the time for that had drifted past. Weinberg is wrong here - Stalin did gain territory for his empire - both the French and the British simply lacked the power to do so. DeGaulle, despite the major weakness of the French forces, attempted to gain additional territory and to 'restore French pride,' something that infuriated the other Allies. France, they thought, was in no position to make demands. Churchill, who had much more manoeuvring room, did better, but in the end the British Empire had been slain by its own economy. The best that can be said about that was that the British avoided an Algeria or a Vietnam. Churchill might not have believed that that language of the Atlantic Charter applied to British possessions, but Britain didn't have the power to make that vision stick. Stalin did.

Finally, Roosevelt. Roosevelt remains as enigmatic as he always was - on one hand, he was a pragmatic politician, on the other, he was a dreamer without any grip on reality. Roosevelt's vision for the future - the UN, the global network, the collapse of the colonial empires - came closest to fruition, but at the same time Roosevelt was unable or unwilling to recognise some of the problems in his global vision. It was preposterous to believe that Stalin, much less Churchill and DeGaulle, would meekly accept a permanent American monopoly over the atomic bomb - it was downright impossible to imagine that the rest of the world would accept only the 5 great powers having weapons! Roosevelt, as a man who had been in power for years, should have understood the limits of power - there were times when he seemed to believe that power has no limits. Stalin was not impressed by anything, but power, and Roosevelt's willingness to embrace the Soviet Union cost Eastern Europe its freedom. Despite that, Roosevelt's vision of the future came the closest to realisation, which has Weinberg considering him the hero of the book. The real world is not neat and tidy - Roosevelt seemed to have missed that point. American Empire was easy to recognise - except by Americans.

In conclusion, this is a fascinating book. It’s well worth a read.

A World at Arms: A Global History of World War II (Gerhard Weinberg)

A World at Arms: A Global History of World War II

Gerhard Weinberg’s A World at Arms is a vital possession for every World War 2 and alternate history buff. Every significant event in a conflict that Weinberg sees and treats as a storm that enveloped every country in the world; even Uruguay and Mexico are indexed and details supplied. Weinberg does a great job of weaving developments on obscure fronts (Finland, Sub-Saharan Africa, India) and the behaviour of neutrals (Sweden, Turkey, Portugal) into the general narrative. He is particularly good on Soviet-Japanese relations and his use of Japanese diplomatic sources commenting on the war in Europe is fascinating.

In general the tone is dispassionate, although there are occasional flashes of well-deserved scorn for the Axis and their apologists. For example, he repeatedly derides the supposed "success" of Germanys aerial rearmament in the 1930s, by pointing out that Germany was eventually bombed to bits—a detail that does not need to be repeated in each summary of developments in the air war.

The book sticks mostly to grand strategy and doesn’t try to recreate the experience of the war, either on the battlefield or the home front. It also eschews biographical sketches of the major figures, perhaps assuming that they are already sufficiently familiar. Use of memorable quotations (such as Churchill’s matchless oratory) would have lent more colour and spark to the narrative.

My biggest quibble with the book is maps. The publisher has generally produced a very handsome volume, but the maps are tucked into the back rather than interspersed with the text. Moreover, they are few in number, difficult to read, and lacking in detail.