Many of the themes developed in this book will be familiar to regular readers of Hitchens’ blog. It is probably best understood as a series of linked essays criticising various aspects of what he has elsewhere called the “Finest Hour Myth”, the popular view of Britain’s role in the Second World War. They touch on, inter alia:
- ·The wrongness of the (supposedly) popular conception that WW2 was an idealistic war begun with the intent of “defeating fascism” or “saving the Jews”.
- The failures and inconsistencies of pre-war British diplomacy and war planning, which led us (in PH’s view) into the wrong war at the wrong time, for foolish grandstanding reasons.
- Our incompetent conduct of the actual war, especially the war at sea (this is ascribed to, among other things, cuts to the navy in the inter-war years implemented by one Winston Churchill). Other incidents cited as evidence for Hitchens’ thesis here are the ill-conceived and largely pointless Norwegian operation, which took a harsh toll on the RN destroyer fleet, the Dunkirk disaster (which likewise cost us many fine ships), the chaotic evacuations of Greece and Crete, and the loss of Singapore – in this connection, Hitchens directs particular scorn at those responsible for uselessly sending into danger Prince of Wales and Repulse. He also questions whether it was wise for us to devote huge resources to maintaining control of the Mediterranean and North Africa during 1940, 1941 and 1942, when the Battle of the Atlantic still hung in the balance, and when our forces in the Far East were crying out for reinforcements.