In The Legacy of the Second World War, Mr. Lukacs asks — and tries to answer (though with a measure of ambiguity) — six questions:
• “Was the Second World War inevitable?”
• “Was the division of Europe inevitable?”
• “Was Hitler inevitable?”
• “Was the making of the atomic bombs inevitable?”
• “Was America’s war against Germany inevitable?”
• “Was the Cold War inevitable?”
One of more intriguing chapters in the book deals with a vital, but sometimes overlooked moment in 1941 — one that had a decisive impact on the conduct and outcome of the war — as well as hegemonic influence over post-war geopolitical dynamics. Two men — Werner Heisenberg (German) and Niels Bohr (Danish) — met in Copenhagen in September of that year. Both had been recipients of Nobel Prizes in Physics. Their meeting has become, over the years, a window into the various efforts of the United States and Germany to develop an atomic bomb — even being dramatized in an award winning play called, simply, Copenhagen.
John Lukacs also writes in this brief work (less than 200 pages), a fascinating chapter dealing with Rainbow Five — a secret plan developed by U.S. military minds more than a year before Pearl Harbor. This plan, in short, called for a Europe First strategy should America find itself fighting a two-front war (the other potential front being the Pacific).
This plan was famously leaked to the world via the Chicago Tribune in early December of 1941, but before the story could get any traction, Sunday the 7th arrived and the rest is history.
The Legacy of the Second World War, by John Lukacs, might be a relatively quick read — but is not a short story.