Thursday, November 29, 2012
Books I'm Reading: The Hinge of Fate (November 29, 2012)
It's only at the very end of this long book that much hopeful news emerges. The allies finally stop the German advance in the deserts of North Africa at Alamein, and the US begins to have some success against the Japanese in the Pacific. Churchill says about the victory at Alamein that it will survive as "a glorious page in British military annals" because of the long odds against success the allied armies faced, but also because "it marked the turning of 'the hinge of fate.'" "It may almost be said," Churchill writes, "Before Alamein we never had a victory. After Alamein we never had a defeat." Hence the title.
Books about war often dwell on details of clashes of arms, creating the false impression that wars are won exclusively on the battlefield. Churchill sketches battles only broadly, while focusing as much or more on the decision-making behind strategy, on politics behind the scenes, and on such mundane issues as supply and logistics and how they affected planning and the outcomes of the physical struggles we normally think of as the activity of war. I felt a little overwhelmed by the end of The Hinge of Fate. In places it even felt a little tedious. However, while Churchill's insistence on covering all of his activity during the war can be challenging, it ultimately has the positive effect of bringing home very clearly just how important the details are, particularly getting supply and logistics right, and in Volume V, there will much more of this leading up to the invasion of Normandy, a project of unprecedented scale and one that involved a great deal of delicate diplomacy.