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The Fear and the Freedom by Keith Lowe

The Fear and the Freedom by Keith Lowe
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As a society, we talk about the Second World War an “awful lot”, said Dominic Sandbrook in The Sunday Times. “Probably no event is more tediously over familiar.” Yet as historian Keith Lowe argues in this wide-ranging and insightful book, we would do well to talk less and understand more, for we still “understate” the conflict’s “impact”. Open any newspaper and the evidence is there: most of the world’s major geopolitical issues – from North Korea to the Middle East to Russia’s fear of “encirclement” – originated in the Second World War. Even more significantly, the War has become the West’s “foundational myth, its fundamental origin story”, with the likes of Hitler, Mussolini, Chamberlain and Churchill replacing older “moral archetypes”. Contemporary questions are discussed through its frame: for some Brexiteers, the EU is “almost akin to a Fourth Reich”; while the most diehard Remainers see leaving the EU as “embarking on a path that will inevitably lead to pogroms and purges”.

One of the many “myths” this book skewers is the “illusion of Allied perfection”, said Saul David in The Daily Telegraph. We remain deeply reluctant to acknowledge Allied barbarity in the War – the fact, for example, that US troops raped “as many as 17,000 women in North Africa and Europe”. And this denial helps shape current behaviour: having told themselves that they were involved in a “good” war, Americans and the British have been “searching for a new good war ever since”. Five years in the making, The Fear and the Freedom is a “masterpiece of historical inquiry” that, unlike many bestselling history books, doesn’t simply tell readers “what they want to hear”, but instead pushes them to challenge the stories they tell themselves.