Geoffrey Fox's Reviews > Postwar: A History of Europe Since 1945

Postwar by Tony Judt
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Dec 18, 10

Read in December, 2010

Judt gives such a thorough, vivid, coherent rendering of events that these years that I felt that I was reading my biography where I wasn't mentioned but implied. Almost every event in the book was familiar, but not in such detail and not in such a clear relationship to other events. The utter devastation of all of continental Europe plus the terrible damage to much of England at war's end was for me but a hazy memory, filtered through all the black-and-white movies and the myths of heroic resistance against the Nazis. In Judt's reading (I think accurate), the resistance in France, Holland and other western countries had been much weaker and less popular than it was later portrayed; collaboration was more typical, sometimes out of pro-Nazi conviction but more often just as a way to survive. Much fiercer and more persistent resistance took place in eastern Europe, where many of the guerrillas continued their struggle against the Soviets after the Nazis had been defeated. The haphazardness of the way Europe was divided into pro-Soviet and western blocs, the vital role of US aid through the Marshall Plan in enabling Germany and France to recover in very different but dramatic ways, the phony and real menaces of the Cold War, and then the sudden and mostly unexpected collapse of the entire Socialist Bloc in 1989 — it becomes clearer in this account, even if you're not always convinced by Judt's way of relating events to one another. For example, Gorbachev's laisser-faire policy toward the "socialist" subject states was undoubtedly important, but was it really the most decisive factor in the overthrowing of Communist Party power in Poland, then Hungary, then Rumania and Bulgaria and Germany? We may come up with a different balance of causes, but even when we disagree with him Judt's clear, precise writing and his often ironic comments should stimulate fresh thinking on the making of our age in one important part of the world. For Africa, Asia and Latin and North America, we'll need other sources, but we can't understand the world today without understanding Europe.
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