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  • Writer's pictureMichael Baker

Revisiting World War Two (WW2)

Updated: May 21

8 May marked VE Day, when the Nazi state formally and unconditionally surrendered to the Allies in Berlin in 1945. It was an apposite date on which to launch a new series of Unknown Warriors, this time about the Second World War (WW2), as a follow-up to my earlier series on the First World War (WW1). The new series comprises 10 fresh episodes, each up to an hour or more in length, in which leading historians explain how modern scholarship and fresh perspectives have transformed the received narratives of this second global conflict of the 20th century. Our view of the past always starts from our present-day standpoint, and this is as true of the Second World War as of the First, with perceptions of these conflicts heavily influenced by our contemporary concerns and values. That said, over time both wars have acquired a received narrative or set of narratives, often high-flown and sentimental in tone, that emphasises national virtues of unity, courage, resistance, and justice. Today's historians, many decades after the end of these wars, now challenge these narratives as seriously outdated, being not just simplistic but sometimes deeply misleading about conflicts that had a unparalleled global reach and complexity. Most new books on the Second World War, as on the First, look at newly discovered individual stories or a fresh angle on some well-known episode or exploit. What Unknown Warriors seeks to do is examine the broader context to these smaller stories, to see how the bigger picture has changed over so many years. The new WW2 series will look at Britain's war, how the global dimensions of the conflict affected winning and losing, the often misrepresented Pacific War, how food could be a matter of life and death, the complexity of the Holocaust, China's largely forgotten contribution in the Asia-Pacific region, the little known underground war fought across Europe by resistance cells, partisans, and defiant Jews, the massive and decisive Soviet-German struggle on the eastern front, America's so-called 'Good War', and how the aftermath of WW2 played out in all its anarchy and violence.

Hitler, Hirohito and Mussolini appear as thuggish pirates
Arthur Sjik's Murder Incorporated (1941)
French machine gunners in action in WW1
CRW Nevinson's La Mitrailleuse (1915)

If you think you know about WW1 and WW2, it's time to think again.

An Understanding History podcast

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