“Engaging scholarship and polished delivery combine with judicious multi-media that enrich rather than overwhelm the story. Three hours never seemed so short.”
— James Carafano, vice president of defense and foreign policy studies at The Heritage Foundation
The enormity of World War II in history is staggering. It encompassed 17 different wars, included conflict on every continent, and led to three great holocausts in Germany, China and Russia. Fifty million to 70 million people were killed, more than in any other war or any other event in European history since the Bubonic plague. “World War II permeates history in the 20th century, and it permeates the past, present and future of Western civilizations,” says Victor Davis Hanson. Explore the war through his insights in our six-part lecture series.
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1) The Causes of World War II (1919-1939)
An episode of collective madness orchestrated by three lunatic dictators, World War II had three main causes at its root. The first was “the German problem” that dominated Europe from the rise of the kaisers in 1871 through World War I. Adolf Hitler made that nationalist arrogance an even bigger problem when he added the energizing but destructive Nazi ideology to Germany’s politics and culture. And he used both of those pokers of pride to stoke the fire of lingering anger over how World War I ended for the Germans. Learn more about those factors that influenced World War II, as well as the agendas behind it and the depth of destruction that resulted, in debut episode of our series.
2) The European Wars: From Poland to the Invasion of the Soviet Union (Sept 1939- June 1941)
Among the multiple arbitrary points that could be pegged as the beginning of World War II, the one that gains the most consensus is Germany’s invasion of Poland on Sept. 1, 1939. It prompted both France and Britain to declare war within 48 hours. The Nazis then conquered Norway, Denmark and France, and set its bombers’ sights on Britain. In this lecture, Victor Davis Hanson explores the blitzkrieg tactics that fueled Adolf Hitler’s success and the foolish appeasement philosophy that empowered Germany, Italy, Japan and, for a while, the Soviet Union. Hanson also gives viewers a peek into the lunacy that eventually led Hitler to invade the Soviet Union and the Japanese to attack Pearl Harbor. The dynamics changed in a war that had appeared to be over when France fell on June 20, 1940.
3) The New World War: Operation Barbarossa and Pearl Harbor to Stalingrad
World War II did not become a truly global conflict until after two of the Axis aggressors, Adolf Hitler of Germany and Hideki Tojo of Japan, picked momentous fights with the Soviet Union and the United States. Hitler’s troops invaded the Soviet Union on June 22, 1941, turning on a nation that had been their ally, and Tojo’s navy attacked the U.S. Pacific fleet at Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941. The conflict went around the circumference of the world from that point. Follow along as Victor Davis Hanson revisits the ego-driven, strategically flawed thinking that inspired these two decisions. He recaps the most important battles of 1941 and 1942, explaining how they emboldened the Axis powers but also strengthened the resolve of the new Allies — the United States, Great Britain and the Soviet Union.
4) The Allies on the Offensive: The Red Army Offensive to Island Hopping and D-Day
On the defensive early in World War II, the Allies claimed key victories in 1942 at El Alamein in North Africa, Guadalcanal in the Pacific and Stalingrad in the Soviet Union. This reversal of fortunes, along with an edge in industrial production and wartime technology, led to a change in strategy. The Allies decided to take the war to the Axis homelands. This fourth lecture by Victor Davis Hanson guides viewers through the Allied invasion of Italy, the island-hopping toward Japan and the landing at Normandy. Hanson also explores a great irony of the war — that the Axis powers did not work well together despite their shared fascist ideology and that the Allies clashed philosophically but overcame their differences to battle a common enemy.
5) The End of the Axis
As the Allies gained the upper hand toward the end of World War II, they could not simply defeat Germany, Italy and Japan. They had to humiliate them in order to fulfill their promises of eradicating fascism and deterring its proponents from ever again waging worldwide war. But the Allies wanted to achieve that goal without shedding any more of their own people’s blood than necessary. The uneasy alliance with Soviet leader Josef Stalin also posed new challenges. Watch as historian Victor Davis Hanson analyzes the impact of the deadly Battle of the Bulge, the horrific siege of Berlin and the relentless U.S. bombing of Japan, including the first use of atomic weapons.
6) Winners and Losers (1945 – )
More people died during World War II than during any conflict in history, and the war left the world in ruins. So who were the winners and losers? The Axis nations lost in the big-picture sense. Germany in particular was defeated, occupied, humiliated, discredited and shamed. But Germany quickly became relevant again as two of the Allies, the United States and Soviet Union, engaged in a decades-long ideological Cold War. Great Britain, meanwhile, was on the winning side but lost its empire and global clout. It also turned inward, nationalizing key sectors of its economy. Japan and Germany were in better positions 20 years after the war. Victor Davis Hanson digs into all of those post-war developments and more in this final episode of our six-part Freedom Academy lecture series.