Sunday, September 23, 2012

Liveblogging World War 2: an appreciation

- by New Deal democrat

On of my very favorite reads on the entire internet is Prof. Brad DeLong's continuing series, Liveblogging World War 2. The series is a day-by-day description of the war in the present tense from a variety of contemporaneous sources on all sides of the war.

While we know the outcome of the hostilities, those who wrote in the moment obviously did not, and so we get to experience the war as they did: chronologically, without knowing what is to come next - in other words, as close as we could possibly come to experiencing the war without living through it.

For the last 3 years, there has been an almost unrelenting series of victories and conquests by the Axis powers, as they invaded or scored smashing victories against China, Poland, the Benelux countries, France, Indochina, north Africa, Russia, Pearl Harbor, the Phillipines, Burma and Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, and New Guinea. The victories of the Allies have only been in blunting Axis advances: Britain saved itself from invasion in 1940, Russia has defended Moscow and Leningrad, and in June of this year the US prevented the Japanese from taking over the mid-Pacific in the Battle of Midway, in which they sank 4 Japanese aircraft carriers.

By now Germany and Japan have agreed to split Asia along a line roughly on the border of present day Iran and Pakistan. Germany is advancing east through the Sahara and intends to capture and cross the Suez canal and then conquer Arabia. They have also conquered the entirety of the Ukraine and are virtually at the shores of the Caspian sea, stopping along the way to the critical Caucasus oilfields to advance on Stalingrad on the Volga River. Japan is at the doorstep of India, and has continued to advance south to threaten Australia, the northernmost of which has seen at least one Japanese bombing raid.

In response, during the last month the British have established a defensive line in Egypt at a place called El Alamein. The Russians have launched a fierce and desparate counterattack to cling to Stalingrad. The US has sought to stop the Japanese and launch a counterattack at a nondescript island in the Solomons about 1000 miles northeast of Australia called Guadalcanal. The Japanese navy still has the advantage as the US has just lost the aircraft carrier Wasp, and now has exactly one carrier, the Enterprise, left in the entire Pacific. At each of the three locations, the enemies are pouring more and more resources into the battle.

There is no knowledge as to how any of these battles will turn out. Neither the Axis powers nor the Allies have reason to know that the long line of Axis victories are about to end, almost simultaneously, at each of the three obscure locations - El Alamein, Stalingrad, Guadalcanal.

We must stay tuned to find out.