My rating: 5 of 5 stars
A detailed, engaging, moving narration.
Kershaw balances the depiction of the courage and valour of soldiers with the horrors and agonies of war in this comprehensive narrative that describes the Battle of the Bulge at the end of WWII. And, perhaps unintentionally, he demonstrates selflessness and dedication, on the part of soldiers and their direct leaders, that stands in stark contrast with the selfishness and personal politics of leaders of armies engaged. Of particular note is Patton’s quest, to rescue his son-in-law from a POW camp while sacrificing at least 25 American lives, of no significant military objective, and the meaningless competition between such so-called leaders driving their soldiers to accomplishments that brought transient honours to themselves. I thought it striking that the work highlighted this aspect while describing true devotion and heroism.
War is never a desirable activity; war and conflict can sometimes show and build character, but more often than not bring out the worst in men. This too is evident in this narrative of the long winter war near the end of this great conflict. It is rare to find modesty under and after such circumstances, and that displayed by Lt. Col. Robert Kris, “Medals do not make heroes any more than court martials make cowards…it is enough to say that they gave a good accounting of themselves,” is perhaps something to learn from. Do what we must do; make no song or lament of it.
Copious footnotes in the narrative add to credibility but do distract from an unbroken reading. I wished for fewer such diversions. And, as with any long work, perhaps this too could use some additional editing. The book is otherwise an easy read and immerses one in that brutal time and place.