Sunday, November 7, 2010

On my book pile

I've been busy busy reading lately. I've recently finished two more books on wartime propaganda so am quite keen to catch up on some films, something I've had a break from of late. Films and the Second World War by Richard Manvell is more of a filmography than an analysis but does allow you to get a small glimpse of propaganda films outside of Britain and the US. For instance, Japanese film makers didn't require a happy ending, in fact, the worse the better. Giving your all for lord and master was the goal. To do so at the cost of intense personal suffering just made it all the better. Russian propaganda was fueled by a vicious hatred of the Germans. They weren't discrete about showing the suffering of the Russian people at the hands of the Nazis and frequently showed close ups of dead and maimed bodies, most unlike the restrained British. An amusing contrast of propaganda styles is revealed through the frustrated and bewildered response of an official in the US: I can't find the exact quote but it's along the lines of - stop sending us films of British folks grinning and bearing it, stop sending us films of British folk singing amidst the bombed ruins of London, get out there and sock it to the Germans! What worked wonders for British morale simply confused the Americans.

I followed this up with a book on Nazi propaganda films and that was an extremely tough read. Written by a very angry German scholar there is much editorializing. It quotes heavily from Nazi press books released with the films and the reading of them is turgid - overblown, hyperbolic and mangled prose that simply makes no sense at all. I was glad to be done with it. More so when it concluded it with an account of all the formerly enthusiastic German actors and directors who claimed, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, that they were forced into collaborating.

Recently my young man asked me about the worst year of the war and I had to confess that my actual knowledge of the war beyond the home front and a smattering of SOE adventures was pretty thin. So I snapped up a book by Richard Overy on the events leading up to the war, called 1939 or something. I then attempted a military history of Dunkirk - Major General Julian Thompson's Dunkirk: Retreat to Victory - but didn't get very far. Turns out I'm not very interested on the accounts of individual regiments and lists detailing what arms they were equipped with. From what I read I did get a rather dim view of the French - though I think the author was a bit rough on the Belgians. It's bit like criticizing Tasmania if it gets invaded, it's not really in a position to do much is it?

Things got much better with Dambusters by Max Arthur. It's a brilliant oral history and leaves you wondering how anyone made it through the war alive. An absolute cracker and of personal interest as Kim's father had been invited to take part in the famous raid. It's also very well balanced by oral accounts of the German villagers who survived the attack. I then got back onto familiar ground with the story of an SOE operative, Denis Rake. Which I rather enjoyed, even though he was a bit of a fibber, and think it will take me down a new path - stories of the French Resistance.

So that was this week's reading. I've got some great source documents about cooking during the war that I'm keen to share with you soon.

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