In the Aug. 13 New York Review of Books, Christopher Browning [aet. 71], formerly of Pacific Lutheran University in Tacoma and now at UNC Chapel Hill, reviews Europe on Trial, a recent indictment of European fecklessness before, during, and immediately after World War II by István Deák [aet. 79].  --  Deák is a frequent contributor to the NYR and anything but an objective observer of the events he writes about: born in Hungary in 1928, his life was thoroughly disrupted by World War II and its aftermath.  --  Europeans, Deák argues (and Browning agrees), do not see World War II as the "last 'good war.'"  --  It was, rather, a "morass" in which it is hard to say that principles of justice triumphed very often.  --  "World War II provided the opportunity for virtually every state to increase ethnic homogeneity by ridding itself of unwanted minorities."[1]  --  Despite a few minor criticisms, Browning praises Deák's 250-page book as "a sweeping survey of some of the bleakest aspects of a bleak period in European history," one that "dispenses with comforting national myths and unexamined assumptions of national virtue.  World War II was, [Deák] writes, 'one of the greatest tragedies that humans ever brought upon themselves,' in which 'compassion and good will were two qualities in short supply.'"  --  COMMENT:  That seems a fair assessment, but doubt is permitted whether Browning is right, in the final sentence of his review, to endorse Deák's celebration of "the remarkable transformation that has subsequently led to 'a new, unified, and better Europe,'" since a rising populism in virtually every European country criticizes today's Europe as under the thumb of a dictatorial bureaucracy that lacks democratic legitimacy.  --  To many, it appears that Europe is failing again, devoted chiefly to the Euro and globalization-fueled corporate profits that promote social inequality while distorting the social fabrics of European nations beyond recognition, often rending them irreparably....

Samuel Moyn, a former student of Hayden White who is now a professor of "law and history" at Harvard, recently reviewed some of the latest skirmishes in the longstanding struggle to determine the proper role of narrative in history.  --  Among other things, he put Bill Gates, with his half-baked ideas about how "big history" should be taught, in his place:  "Apart from the fact that Gates’s scientism sacrifices the critical perspective that humanists have learned to maintain since their disastrous nineteenth-century dalliance with biology and other natural sciences, the trouble with massive expansions of the time line, even just to the totality of human history, is simple:  it forces historians to become scientists, effectively converting their discipline into what is already somebody else’s job.  --  Gates’s big historians already exist:  they are called physicists."[1] ...

In a stinging indictment of the British defense establishment that takes the guise of a London Review of Books book review of four recent books about the war in Afghanistan, James Meek writes that at some point in the 20th century "[t]he goal of the British military establishment became to ingratiate itself with its U.S. counterpart not for the sake of British interests but for the sake of British military prestige."[1]  --  In addition, British generals engaged in "the delusional exaggeration of British military capabilities."  --  Inevitably, Meek writes, "at some point the desire to impress the Pentagon by using the Pentagon’s own resources as cover for Britain’s relatively low-budget military would conflict with America’s own interests, and end up damaging Britain’s military reputation more in Washington’s eyes than if the MoD hadn’t puffed itself up in the first place."  --  Meek explains that the British Ministry of Defense put troops in Afghanistan as a way to get out of Iraq without alienating their American ally, then "put the preservation of its long-term budget ahead of the preservation of its soldiers in the field."  --  Meek presents the American military as vastly more supple and thoughtful than the British military:  "The colonels and brigadiers aren’t envious of the American military’s budget or its technology so much as the esteem it gives to intellectual analysis, education, and the public discussion of new ideas."  --  As for the nature of the Afghan conflict, a fourth book under review disputes the notion that Afghanistan is a nation faced with an "insurgency."  --  The fighting there has more the character of "a continuing civil war."  --  The politics in Helmland Province are far too "labyrinthine" for foreigners who do not speak the language to figure out.  --  Toward the end of his long review, Meek writes:  "Afghanistan needs help, encouragement, advice, money.  --  It’s just that next time we think about military intervention in a foreign country that hasn’t attacked us, it might be worth running a thought experiment to work out at exactly which moment, in the many internecine conflicts that have afflicted the British Isles, our forebears would have most benefited from the arrival of 3500 troops and eight helicopters, and for which ‘side’ those troops would have fought." ...