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Interview by Donald A. Yerxa


The Moral Complexity of War

A conversation with Max Hastings

Can there be anything else to say about the collapse of the Third Reich—anything worth saying, that is? Sir Max Hastings, one of Great Britain's most respected military historians, convincingly shows that there is much more to the end of the Third Reich than speculations about mystery weapons and accounts of those murky final days in Hitler's Berlin bunker. Hastings' new book, Armageddon: The Battle for Germany, 1944–1945 (Knopf), is an impressive and disturbing account of the last stage of the European war. This was nothing short of a cataclysm, and Hastings recounts some of the "extraordinary things that happened to ordinary people" on both fronts. What emerges is a picture of suffering, degradation, dignity, and profound moral complexity.

Hastings was an award-winning foreign correspondent for many years, reporting from more than sixty countries for BBC TV and the London Evening Standard. He has presented historical documentaries for BBC TV, including most recently (2003) on Churchill and his generals. He has written 18 books on military history and current events, including Bomber Command (which won the Somerset Maugham Prize for nonfiction), The Battle for the Falklands, and Overlord: D-Day and the Battle for Normandy. He was editor-in-chief of the Daily Telegraph and Evening Standard, from which he retired in 2002. Donald A. Yerxa, editor of Historically Speaking and a professor of history at Eastern Nazarene College, interviewed Hastings in the Boston offices of the Historical Society on December 1, 2004.

What drew you to write an account of the battle for Germany?

It was a bit of unfinished business. Twenty years ago, I wrote Overlord: D-Day and the Battle for Normandy, which ended in September 1944. I have always had a nagging fascination with what happened afterward, in particular with why the Allies didn't win in 1944. At the beginning of September 1944, most of the Allied leadership, with the notable exception of Winston Churchill, was completely convinced ...

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