Interviews Thinking in Public

The Storm of War and the Battle for Truth: A Conversation with Historian Andrew Roberts


Interview with Andrew Roberts

Thinking in Public

September 6, 2011

(This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated)

This is “Thinking in Public”, a program dedicated to intelligent conversation about front line

theological and cultural issues with the people who are shaping them. I’m Albert Mohler, your

host, and President of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky.

Mohler: The 20th century is just behind us; it is almost as if it is still here with us. Historical perspectives on events so massive as the Second World War and the history of the 20th century are still issues that are, well, very close to our modern consciousness, but essential to our current understanding. That’s the focus today for Thinking in Public.

Dr. Andrew Roberts was born in 1963. He is a graduate from Cambridge University from which he received his doctor of philosophy. Many Americans already know him by his writings, and in the English-speaking world, he is known as one of the preeminent historians in terms of his writings including most recently the best- selling book, The Storm of War: A New History of the Second World War.

Dr. Andrew Roberts, welcome to Thinking in Public.

Roberts: Thank you very much indeed.

Mohler: You wrote this book, and it in some ways a trajectory that can be noted in other of your writings. You have arrived at the Second World War writing this particular book. What led you to write this book at this time?

Roberts: Well, I have been really been studying the Second World War for the last quarter of a century or so, back in the late 1980’s I started working on a book about Lord Halifax, and Winston Churchill and Neville Chamberlain, foreign secretary, and so off and on I have been writing about and thinking about this period for a long time; decided really that it was time to try to bring all my thoughts together.

Mohler: Well, indeed you have, and I will argue that your new volume The Storm of War is the finest one-volume history of World War II I have ever read. And it’s a particular interest of mine, and so I was anticipating the volume and thrilled to read it. Those of us who have read a lot in the area often think there is not too much that can surprise us. And indeed you cover a lot of familiar territory, but I have to tell you one of the things I most appreciate about the way you approach the Second World War and other of the topics of your writing, is that you make a point that I think many historians do not often make so clearly and that is, it did not have to happen this way. It could have happened in very different ways and with very different historical consequences.

Roberts: Well, that’s absolutely right. Yes, it really did take the particular fanatisicism of the Nazi creed to send the whole of the world into what was actually a second European Civil War, and it was five years after the First World War. And for that to happen took such a catastrophe to overcome civilization so soon after the first World War, was something that I think has deep moral implications for the world as well as obviously military and ones.

Mohler: When you look at World War II coming with the sense of inevitability that we do from our position now in the 21st century, and then you look back to that period between those two world wars, and there are many historians who are arguing that it was one great world conflict, one great European conflict, with at a false peace there in the middle. When you look at that, how is it that you now from this distance explain how something so catastrophic could happen, so soon after the catastrophe after the First World War?

Roberts: Well, I think it isn’t a false peace, to do that I think would be to condemn the German people to be seen purely as absolute monsters who no sooner than losing the First World War in 1918, that they set about to try to plan for the next one; that is not what the German people are about as we have seen since 1945. They are cultured and even a pacific people that we have seen, a rather peace-loving people, a democratic people since 1945. No what actually happened was Nazism, pure and simple. It wasn’t the German people themselves have anything inherent in their DNA, in their psychological make-up as it were that they wanted to unleash a terrible war again. It was the fact that they were lead by a mantic whose views were impossible to strip away from war. They meant war not to equal war; fascism indeed equals war, so there was no way really that the world could have escaped by the 1930’s.

Mohler: Well, as we’ve said, you’ve now made the point once again that it did not have to happen this way; that there could have been incredible alternatives. What could have happened between the wars in Germany, in particular to have prevented this? And in other words, what could have prevented the rise of Nazism? Or to the contrary, why did it happen?

Roberts: Well, of course actually if one is to look at the true reason for the rise of Nazism you have to look here in New York, where I am at the moment, and Wall Street and the great Wall Street crash, and The Great Depression, and the inflation that hit Germany even harder than it hit your country. And that of course was the dynamic by which Hitler, who until 1923 was really only winning about 2.3% of the German popular vote, but by 1932 he was in a position to grant power, which of course he did, when he became Chancellor in January 1933. So it is very deeply concerned with the unemployment problem, and lots of economic factors which are pretty rarely and properly given their due. Many people talk about anti-Semitism, quite rightly of course. Many people talk about the Versailles Treaty, but one has to remember that on their own these would not have brought the Fuhrer to power, really also took this after sense of utter desperation, a feeling of hatred towards capitalism and of course also Bolshevikism in Russian, was much more reason, to make ordinary Germans feel that this maniac Adolf Hitler was their savior.

Mohler: You mentioned so many things about Hitler and drawing insights to the man, the personality, historical figure. But one of the things you make clear in your book is for instance he actually had this maniacal belief that he had been put on earth to do what he did.

Roberts: That’s right, and also, when on the 20th of July 1944 the Thumb Plot failed, he drew the assumption from the fact that he was so nearly killed, but actually only scratched and bruised, the astonishing sense that Providence was on his side, wanted him to survive and therefore …his enemies and destroyed the allies. He actually felt (there are plenty of people who feel that God is on their side) but he actually thought that he could change the will of God, effectively, that he could force Satan’s providence to go down his route through the act of his willpower and this really is very, very deeply psychologically disturbed, as we can all understand, but nonetheless it was something that drove him.

Mohler: Now you had previously written a book entitled, Hitler and Churchill: Secrets of Leadership that was also the basis for the BBC documentary series. So you have had an interest in Hitler as well as in Churchill for some time, but I want to stay on Hitler for just a moment, even as you make that point so importantly that here was a man who did have his own strange, weird demented understanding of the Providence, and even a Providence that he could change by the force of his will. This is a man who in fairly recent years had been the subject of a lot of historical revisionism with a good many people arguing; surprisingly, that he was indeed what he thoughthe was, a military genius. You actually, perhaps better than anyone that I have seen, in a very deft way, demonstrate that this was no military genius.

Roberts: Well, no, I mean his early victories in the west and in obviously in Scandinavia, and over Poland in 1939 and 1940, really also if you count Yugoslavia and Greece which fell in seven weeks in 1941. These were an astonishing series of tremendously oppressive victories. But what I try to point out in The Storm of War as you kindly say, they weren’t his. The Sickle Cup Maneuver that Erik Malenstein produced which won the battle of France was very much Malenstein. The plan to attack Poland was very much dependent on Munstead.. What Hitler was doing was what a politician should do, was to oversee the generals and to double check their plans and to support them when they needed support. Only in 1941 did he start believing Joseph Goebbels, his propaganda minister’s statements that he was the greatest warlord of all time, and all of these victories came as a result of his willpower, as you mentioned. And so he suffered from the classic hubris of the Great Commander once he, one with the great obviously with Napoleon before one he was with his attach on Russia 129 years previously, where he believes that he can do anything. And so he stopped listening to his generals, he would go to meetings with them, and would spend hours with them, at the end of the meeting he would do exactly what he originally intended.

Mohler: And he would pontificate to them.

Roberts: Yes, he was a great one for showing off his knowledge of railway gauges and tank calibers and how many tons his warships displaced and how fast his planes could go and things. He was (I don’t know if you have the same expression in America) he was what you would call a “train spotter.” And he would be very good in this kind of thing but when it actually came to the logistics for fighting a massive campaign, instead of leaving it up to men who were far greater strategists than he, men like, as I mentioned, Manstein and Wanstead, and Vodarian and others. Instead of actually trusting these people who had actually been soldiers and officers in the First World War, when he had only been a corporal, he again and again knew that he knew best.

Mohler: One of the most difficult things about reading your book, or any honest assessment about the Second World War, is just the sheer scale of the carnage. And the horrible decisions, and failures that produced this, the abominable ego, and you would have to make that plural, egos behind this. But as I read through, it becomes very clear, and this is the sense of inevitability that just doesn’t come soon enough, that it eventually becomes clear that the German general staff knows the war is lost. Eventually, the German soldier begins to pretty much know that the war is lost, but when did Hitler know that the war was lost?

Roberts: Oh, he didn’t really know until the failure of the Battle of the Bulge in January 1945, so he only discovered an awful lot later. As you say, the generals knew a lot earlier, they tried to kill him of course, early in July of 1944 because they knew that he was losing the war. They never would have done that if he was winning it, and it’s really not until this amazing, surprise attack – 39 Divisional Attack, to try to get to the river Muse, in fact it almost reaches the Muse, because it once tried to get to the channel. It turned back by the British and American armies and at that point he starts to make arrangements for the last part of the war, which is all about Scorched Earth Policy and destroying what remains of German civilization of that state.

Mohler: You write a great deal about America, the way that Americans are probably not accustomed to reading, for instance, on page 214 of The Storm of War you write,

When the United States entered the war, she had the 17th largest army, numbering 269,02,3 smaller than that of Romania. She could only put 5 properly armed, full-strength divisions into the field, at a time when Germany welded 180. The Great Depression had taken a physical toll on American manhood, even though the army would accept just about anyone sane, over five feet tall, 105 pounds in weight, possessing 12 or more of his own teeth, and free of flat feet, venereal disease and hernias. No fewer than 40 percent of Americans failed those basic criteria.

Now I knew, and had read so much to know, that America was woefully unprepared to enter this war, but that tends to put it in terms that just about all of us can feel with a tremendous sense of alarm. How was America caught in this position by your reading?

Roberts: Well again, I mean with regard to the physical side of things, it was the Great Depression, again there was, not exactly wide malnutrition across the nation, but people were not at their physical best and as a result you did have 40 percent of the people being turned away. That wasn’t the case later on in the war. But you also did have this fabulous sense, which you do so often through American history, of optimism, of the can-do spirit, of the belief that you are going to win, not least by completely out-producing every other nation in the world. By the calendar year 1944, when the British had produced 28, 000 war planes and the Germans and Russians 40,000 war planes each, America produced no fewer than 98,000 war planes, as much as the world put together. And you see there, you have this sense in every area, and liberty ships that were coming out at the rate of one a week, one being made per week, this was an astonishing thing. Thousands were being made but it only took a week to make a Liberty ship; and of course, huge amounts of tanks and 51 million pairs of boots that you give to the Soviet Union in order to keep them still fighting. This incredible act of productivity is effectively something that arms the democracy.

Mohler: You make another point that I think many Americans, almost by, more than benign neglect but by an almost force of the will actually do not want to confront the contribution that Russia made to the war, and let’s just name it, the Soviet Union. Its life was on the line in a very different way. And it had historical culpability especially thru Stalin as to how it became one of Hitler’s victims. But at the end of the day, one of the most difficult parts of your book to read is just the carnage that takes place in Russian city, and Russian battle, one after another and you make the point very clearly that Hitler really bled out in the east, rather than in the west.

Roberts: Yes, I think the central statistic of the Second World War, or the one for me rather than anything else, for every five Germans killed in combat, I mean actually on the battlefield, not bombed from the air, for every five German soldiers killed, four of them die on the eastern front. And so you know what we the British view the Americans, Canadians, and others in the Western, is effectively killing the fifth German. The other four are being killed in these appalling battles, that you mentioned the ones on the eastern front, the battles of Moscow and Stalingrad of Kursk and of course in Leningrad where 1.1 million people, soldiers and civilians, died in the siege of Leningrad, in a single siege. That is twice as many as Britons and Americans who died in the entire war. So it has to be placed, very much had to be the Soviets leading the Americans, and of course the Germans leading the Soviets, to the extent that some 27 million Russians die in the Second World War.

Mohler: Yes in fact, toward the end of your book you write, “It was the Russians that provided the oceans of blood necessary to defeat Germany.” And it cannot be reiterated enough that for every five Germans killed in combat four died on the eastern front. You said again that that is the central statistic of the Second World War. Earlier you said, for every American who died the Japanese lost six people, the Germans eleven and the Russians 92. I just think that those of us in the United States need to hear that.

Roberts: They do, but at the same time, one has to remember that tanks and planes and ships win wars as well as people and that those statics would be almost reversed when it comes to ratios to be reversed when it come to the United States and the sheer production. At the same time of course, you are fighting a massive war in the Pacific which you win pretty much single-handedly with the help of 50 million Chinese, but none-the-less not much else. You are also bombing the German towns and cities with the USAA air, causing absolute destruction of German war production which is vital, because if ____________ hadn’t been facing the west trying to defend cities against British bomber commands and American USAA airs, they would have been used against the Russians and might well have won the battles of Stalingrad, Kursk and so on. And of course as I mentioned earlier you are putting enormous amounts of tanks and aircraft into Russia…going…using the convoys up in the Arctic. So all-in-all the American contribution is massive, but fortunately of course, nothing like the massive, just in terms of blood, as the other countries.

Mohler: And that’s the reason why I think, I mean the point I wanted to make was that Americans would look at World War II quite differently if we were looking at it with the same scale of loss that was experienced by many of our allies, even erstwhile allies in the midst of that war. For many of these countries it was a matter of life and death, for a way that many Americans didn’t perceive it quite to be so.

Roberts: Well that’s right, for some countries, Philippines, Poland, lost over ten percent of their actual numbers, of their population during the Second World War, and these are vast figures. You are now a country of 300 million today, if you were to lose 13 million people you would of course look at any conflict as completely different. You did of course; it is worth remembering in the middle 19th century the 600 thousand killed in your civil war.

Mohler: Yes.

Roberts: And that was from a country that was an awful lot smaller, about 18 or 20 million, so I mean in that sense Americans had already gone though the cataclysmic bloodletting that the rest of the world went though.

Mohler: And I thank you as a British historian for putting your finger on something that Americans may know, even if they do not articulate, and that is that we look to World War II as a war of great victory. But we still look to the civil war as a war of great tragedy.

The Second World War looms in the American consciousness as this massive endeavor that brought Americans together with other allies in the world to defeat Hitler, and of course to defeat the Japanese Empire as well. We have a very positive memory about the Second World War. For America the lesson of the Second World War is that we could do this, we would do this, and on the other side of it we would immerge as a much stronger country. Other peoples remember this war very differently, not because they wish it had ended differently, but because the costs that were paid were incommensurate. We need to remember the morality of history, it often has a great deal to do in terms of our understanding of the event with how much of a price was paid in order for us to even survive to ask the question.

This view of leadership becomes front and center in the study of history. It’s not just that the great men make history, as is often criticized by the great-man theory of history; it is that, if you look at history, it is hard to explain it without the role of very significant individuals. Two of those individuals in the 20th century who require our very careful attention, are Adolf Hitler and Winston Churchill. Andrew Roberts has given these men attention in his book Hitler and Churchill: Secrets of Leadership. If you are interested in leadership, much less in Hitler and Churchill, this is something like indispensable reading.

Now Andrew Roberts when you discuss Hitler you describe him as something like a charismatic leader. When you speak of Winston Churchill, you speak of him as an inspirational leader. Can you help us understand that distinction?

Roberts: Yes, they are two very different things. Charisma is an artificial comstock. , It is something that can be learned, can be taught, can be self-taught, which is something that Adolf Hitler did. He used to engage in various tricks, one would see this with his speeches, some speeches that would, that when you actually see them on the TV now you tend to get the ranting and the screaming and the raving, and that comes very much at the end, the last five minutes of his speeches. Up until that point he had been subtly building up his audience to a fever pitch. He did this through oratorical tricks. He would slowly get louder when he was speaking, he would shorten his sentences and he would speak faster. And all of those things, without them not quite knowing, it would get them excited. And that was a classic secret or trick of leadership that he used as a form of charisma that he would use on people. He would also stare at people and not blink, the kind of thing that you or I would get over by the age of about seven…those kind of games still used by the Fuhrer up until about the last half of his life. And there is no doubt that he had this charisma because generals who believed that they were beaten and went back to Hitler to tell him that they were beaten would come away from meetings with him infused with the idea that they were going to win. But of course it helps enormously if you have the whole of the Nazi state ____star films, and Albert Speer rallies, Joseph Goebbels propaganda working for you, all at the same time.

But Winston Churchill had none of this, he had no speech writers, he had no spin-doctors, he had nobody doing his PR for him. He really depended on a completely different oratorical style. Again, one that appealed to the heart of (?) God, but also to the intellect, and he was somebody who was inspirational, because of what he said as opposed to the way that he said it.

Mohler: I think that is a very crucial distinction. One of the amazing things that I think that perhaps Americans observed, those that were at least watching such things, was that in Great Britain since the period of the Second World War, and especially into the 80’s and the 90’s and beyond. There’s been a lot of revisionism on Winston Churchill, figures such as Clive Ponting and Christopher Hintchens who have really tried to destroy Churchill and to suggest it was a Churchill myth. You know try as I may, as much as I admire Churchill, I’m trying to imagine how it could have been otherwise, I can’t come to turns with how Britain and for that matter the Western world could have survived but for, humanly speaking, the immergence of someone like Winston Churchill.

Roberts: Well that’s right and he put in to it, as I say, that what he was saying was something that the British people desperately needed to hear in 1940 and 1941 and the rest of the civilized world need to hear as well. What you have to do I think, frankly with people like Hintchens and Ponting and indeed David Irving, is to see where they are coming from. Usually they have what is called stances…opinions and they come for the right or the left or from wherever, or maybe they are just trying to be perverse. Which I think is probably the case in Chris Hitchens’ point of view. And I wonder to the extent, I have reviewed all three of those people, and reviewed them very critically indeed. And frankly the facts that they present in order to help their cases, back up their cases simply don’t do it. When you look at the notes in the back of the book by he and Ponting and they don’t in fact correlate to the arguments that they make inside the text of their books, and so this is really in a sense completely unacceptable historically. It is not a fair way to deal with Winston Churchill and it is something that needs to be faced and exploded really.

Mohler: From a standpoint of academic history, the two volumes that exist of the biography of Churchill by William Manchester are not the most documented but they might be the most lyrical. And in the preface to that first volume William Manchester mentions that Britain desperately needed a leader who was a Manichean, who understood the difference between good and evil. And one of the points that I think that you continuously make, both explicitly and implicitly in your books, is that a moral understanding of history is absolutely necessary. It was morally necessary that the allies defeated Hitler, it was morally necessary that the fascism be defeated.

Roberts: Well, that’s right, I mean the sheer horror of what the world was forced to undergo in the late 1930’s and 1940’s was, as we mentioned earlier, unnecessary and therefore, morally wrong. And there should be a sense of outrage that Adolf Hitler should have been able first to take over a country of Beethoven and Shalov and Gartan and then to turn it into this monstrous killing machine in the course of which he attempted to entirely wipe out the Jewish race in Europe. But these are vicious crimes against mankind, the worst kind really in the whole of human history. And they must be seen in that regard, they must be denounced properly. The world that just looks at the mechanics has not seen enough to me. There must also be an element of strength, of moral purpose, didacticism really in order to understand the horrors in that decade.

Mohler: Let me ask you to respond to two other writers that I know that you will know in terms of their arguments about World War II. Nicholas Baker and Pat Buchanan in their own ways have argued that World War II was an unnecessary war. I would like to ask you to respond to those revisionist arguments.

Roberts: Well I have again taken on both Nicholas Baker in his book Human Smoke, a truly disgraceful work/display of literature. He certainly knew nothing about the Second World War as is clear from his book. And again look at the notes; they just have nothing to do with the original sources with the arguments that he attempts to make from them.

The second person, that you mentioned, one was Baker, who was the other one?

Mohler: Pat Buchanan

Roberts: Oh, yeah, Pat, well I debated against Pat Buchanan, we had 2000 people turn out to the Central Hall in the Methodist Hall in Westminster last year to debate exactly if this Second World War was necessary. Whereas 181 people were for him, 1800 were for my side of the argument. We had a very good hard 2 hour debate, in the course of which he, frankly, belittled the holocaust. He said that it wouldn’t have happened if Churchill would not have forced the war on Hitler. Frankly this is just totally unhistorical, it’s ahistorical, and it’s of course a monstrous thing to say it at all. So I enjoy frankly taking on these revisionists, they always have the great Achilles heel, which is unlike Gilbert, as you mentioned. They don’t really rely on the sources. They try to use the source to alter the record and that will not work in the end.

Mohler: I raised the question and was able to predict your response, quite frankly and appreciated it, precisely because, I have to say I think the big issue there is that neither one of them is able to face the reality of the fascist evil. And the fact is as you said at the very beginning of our conversation that fascism equals war.

Roberts: The trouble is you see that a lot of people just assume that Hitler was yet another general statesman, this is the problem that A.J.P. Taylor caused when he just wrote his book The Causes [Origins] of the Second World War back in the 60’s and tried to argue that Hitler was really no different from Bismark or Frederick the Great the other German leader. And he is just completely wrong. The ideology was everything to Hitler.

The reason that he invaded Russia was because he wanted laborers around for the master race. He wanted to kill the Jews, half of which lived in USSR in 1941 and he wanted a final battle against Bolshevism. All of those things were ideological they wouldn’t have driven Frederick the Great or Bismark one iota. But they mattered completely for Adolf Hitler. He is an entirely different kind of statesman than we have ever seen before.

Mohler: In one of your most important, if not most massive books, A History of the English=Speaking Peoples Since 1900 you basically bring us up-to-date from where Winston Churchill left off in his 4 volume work that won him the Nobel Prize for literature, and that is the A History of the English-Speaking Peoples. So you had added a fifth volume. You mentioned four different onslaughts. The first Prussian Militarism, the second Fascist Aggression, the third Soviet Communism and the fourth Islamic Terrorism and its allies. Why the fascination with the English-speaking peoples, I ask that as, at least I remember, that it was Bismark that close to his death bead was asked about the one great fact that would shaped the history of the world was the fact that – Americans speak English.

Roberts: Yes, he goes to the absolute heart of it, because of it, doesn’t it?, because as well as the fact that we have similar law coming from the English Common-law and all the way back really to Magna Carta. And we have the same attitude toward free market and the capitalism in general, and we have actually the same literature of course, this is really all bound up in the fact that we speak the same language that your country and our’sare intertwined disparately. And then Bismark appreciated that that was going to be the key factor of the 21st century, so it is proved because America when it became a hegemonicnic power had fortunately ever since Teddy Roosevelt and Lord Salisbury, good relations with the British Empire. So as the British Empire subsided, and it was eclipsed, the American republic came up and there were no clashes between them, thank God. And so instead of having a weakened English-speaking people, we were able to have a fortress civilization, which again and again, as you mentioned, had to face barbarism and various mutations of fascism, in its various guises. The latest one of these, as you say, is the fundamentalist fascist totalitarian of Islamic terrorism. Fascistism, Totalitarianism. In a sense that we are very fortunate that we have done it before, again and again, we are constantly attacked out of the blue. So, 9/11 can be seen in its historical context. Certainly that of Pearl Harbor and other attacks in the past, and so it means that if we do learn the lesson if history that the British and the Americans should stay strong and stay together. We are more likely to be able to survive this onslaught of war than if we were separated.

Mohler: You have given a great deal of your life indeed to the task of writing and understanding history and interpreting and understanding history. Speaking to an audience that is interested in history, affirm for us in your own words why the understanding of history is so important.

Roberts: Well, to walk through life without history, is like trying to walk down a street without any memory. It’s all about memory, it’s all about the past, it’s all about who you are, and it’s all about identity. It’s about what Edmund Burke said, it’s about not being left bereft in the moment of crisis, because you have instincts, you have things that you can turn to, things deep within yourself that make you who you are. If you do have that star to guide you, and intellectually it can only come from what your forefathers and your country have done in the past. Then you at least have a path. It might not necessarily be the exact path, it might not be the same path that you want to take years down the line, but it is at least the path which in the past in our countries, because of our victories over these fascism that I mentioned earlier, something that has proved good for us, and worthwhile. Something that it has been worth loosing good people over and so…it occurs to me that if you try to rewrite history like those revisionist that we mentioned, or to ignore history to pretend it hasn’t happened, we put it behind us 100% and look solely at the future, would be like trying to cross the nation without the GPS system.

Mohler: That conversation with Andrew Roberts was absolutely fascinating, to talk to an historian that has dealt with so many events, personalities, and crisis that shaped the 20th century and are issues of such vital interest to us, well, it was just a good experience. I had also enjoyed reading his books and over the years coming to have something of a knowledge of his mind, his understanding of history, and historiography. But when it comes to the conversation, I am glad that we began mostly with World War II. Not just because his most recent best-selling book is entitled The Storm of War – a one-volume history of that war, but because the Second World War brings to an absolute and undeniable focus the fact that history matters.

One of the issues that I accredited to Mr. Roberts in terms of the way he considers history, writes history, surveys history is that he makes clear that it could have been otherwise. Oftentimes people read history, or look back at history as if these events were inevitable. But those of us who are Christians need to remember that we have to read history with a providential understanding. We need to understand that God made human beings as responsible moral actors. And human beings both alone and collectively make decisions that matter. Looking back to the 20th century we see this in many different twists and turns, certainly in the tremendous tragedies of the First and Second World Wars, but of course with other issues as well. And that’s where Mr. Robert’s helps us by not just focusing on the Second World War, as he did in his most recent book, not just focusing on Hitler and Churchill, as he did in a previous work; but also on the history of the English-speaking peoples which was his way of getting at more or less the history of the world in the 20th century. The moral perspective of history is absolutely indispensable. It is often the case that we think that we know exactly what happened and we draw a conclusion prematurely. But far more lamentable is the contemporary temptation, certainly among post-modernists and others, to refuse to make the kind of moral verdicts that are absolutely necessary. This is no time for the moral disarmament of historians and for those of us who have to live with the kind of memory of what happened in the past, in order to understand the challenges and crises of the present. It really did matter that fascism was defeated. It was inevitable that either fascism would win and war would lose. And if you look at it in that perspective what would have happened in the alternative history had Nazism reigned supremely in Europe and beyond is virtually unthinkable. It is not only a matter of world politics and economics; it’s a matter of genocide and murder and as former US National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski said, Mega Death.

I am very thankful for the view of leadership that is illustrated by the men Churchill and Hitler considered by Andrew Roberts in one of his previous works, it is really important to understand that distinction between charismatic leadership and inspirational leadership. A charismatic leader who can convince a personality and use all kinds of manipulative means in order to sculpt a public image and a brand or a persona, that could be lead to manipulate millions of people, versus an inspirational leader who does have undeniable rhetorical talents, as did Winston Churchill and an inflexible and indomitable will. But also the force of argument, and I appreciate what Andrew Roberts makes clear and that is it had to be won on the force of argument. Churchill’s point had to be not only more convincing, it had to be true. And it was upon the truth of that understanding of that world, and that understanding of Hitler, and that understanding of right and wrong, that there were those who were willing to fight a war, and to endure all of its carnage and all of its hardship and all of its terrors in order to defeat something that was even worse than the reality of war.

When we look at the study of history it is very important that we understand that it is not merely an academic discipline, though it is a very important academic discipline. It is an essential mechanism for understanding who we are. We have no idea who we are; we have no idea how to understand ourselves without putting ourselves in an historical context. Thus it is a matter of our very important intellectual stewardship as Christians that we intentionally do our very best to frame an historical understanding that is true and that is meaningful through the lenses of the Christian worldview. We look back at history not only as an event, lest we look back at it not only as a chronicle. We look back at it not only for crying out loud like did Henry Ford as one event after another. We look back in order to say, it could’ve been different. It did happen this way. Moral actors are responsible. Individually and collectively, history has its victors and its victims; and sometimes they are the right victors and sometimes they are the wrong victors. And it really does matter, it is very important that history is not just one thing after another, it is a moral test of human beings. It is indeed a diorama of Genesis 3 in fallen humanity. In reading a book like The Storm of War, and I very much hope that you will read it, will for Christians remind us that when we look at history and we consider the present, with the eyes of the gospel, we are to yearn for the kingdom yet to come. Human history underlines as does perhaps no other knowledge the reality of the need for redemption.

Thanks for listening to Thinking in Public. Thanks again to my guest Dr. Andrew Roberts for joining with me today. You can hear our program on Stitcher Smart Radio and on I-tunes. You can download for free today at or at the app stores. You can also always hear it at

For more information go to my website at  You can follow me on Twitter by going to  For more information about The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, go to   Thank you for joining me for Thinking In Public.  Until next time, keeping thinking.  I’m Albert Mohler.