Stalin's War: A New History of World War II
Sean McMeekin

Stalin's War: A New History of World War II

In the popular mind, World War II endures to this day as the “Good War,” a heroic struggle against evil with a happy ending.  But there have always been nagging questions, not least whether any conceivable postwar world was worth the sacrifice of some 55 million dead.  Why did a war begun on behalf of Poland in 1939 end with her brutal dismemberment?  If freedom truly triumphed over totalitarianism, why did eastern Europe and the Balkans succumb to Communist dictatorship, followed in short order by China, North Korea, and Vietnam?  Why were the earliest freedom fighters against foreign aggression – Chiang Kai-Shek’s nationalists, the Poles, Mihailovic’s Chetniks in Yugoslavia – abandoned by the victorious Allies, while clients of Stalin, Hitler’s key strategic ally from 1939-41, won all?  Why did the “Good War” consign nearly half the human race, from Berlin to Beijing, to the agonies of Communism?

 

The morally perverse outcome of World War II was no accident.  In his new book, Sean McMeekin draws on new research in Russian, British, German, Turkish, and U.S. archives to fundamentally reinterpret the conflict, from beginning to end.  Hitler’s genocidal ambition may have helped unleash armageddon, but as McMeekin shows in Stalin’s War, the war which emerged from the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact of August 1939 was the one Stalin wanted, not Hitler.  So, too, was the Pacific war of 1941-1945 the direct result of Stalin’s non-aggression Pact with Tokyo of April 1941, which had the goal of unleashing the furies of war between Japan and the “Anglo-Saxon powers.”

 

By June 1941, the “imperialist war” between the hostile factions of the capitalist world, as it was styled in Communist propaganda, was going Stalin’s way.  France and the Netherlands, two leading European imperial powers, had been routed.  The British empire had been humiliated and almost fatally weakened, as shown in German victories that spring in Greece, Libya, Crete, and Iraq.  The Soviet arms buildup underway since the launch of the first Five Year Plan in 1928 was nearly complete.  Following Lenin’s program to a tee, Stalin had “exploit[ed] the contradictions and opposition between two imperialist power groups, between two capitalist groups of states, and incite[d] them to attack each other.” “As soon as we are strong enough to overthrow the entire capitalist world,” Lenin had vowed, “we will seize it at once by the throat.”

 

The one thing Stalin had not reckoned on was that, far from bleeding the strength of each warring coalition equally as had the First World War, the Second had been so lopsided that Germany had hardly been weakened at all.  By striking in June 1941, before Russia was ready, Hitler turned the tables on Stalin and very nearly won the war.  By October, the Germans, after destroying five Soviet armies, taking four million prisoners, and conquering vast tracts of strategic territory, crippling Russian mining, agriculture, and war industry, were at the gates of Moscow, and the Soviet government was evacuated.  On the cusp of triumph just four months ago, Communism seemed finished.

 

But Stalin had one last card to play.  Just as his empire was crumbling, Soviet sympathizers and “agents of influence” in the West opened up a critical Lend-Lease lifeline to Russia.  In a story so bizarre that not even Lenin could have imagined it, Communism would be rescued from the brink of defeat by Stalin’s sworn and oft-declared arch-enemy, Anglo-Saxon capitalism. 

Book Details:

  • Author: Sean McMeekin
  • Published Year: 2021
  • Rights Sold
    • US: Basic Books
    • UK: Penguin
    • Turkey: Kronik
    • Lithuania: Briedis
    • Romania: Litera:
    • Germany: Antaios
    • Poland: Znak
    • Spain: Palabra
Sean McMeekin

Sean McMeekin

Sean McMeekin was born in Idaho, raised in Rochester NY, and educated at Stanford and UC Berkeley. He has been fascinated by modern history ever since playing Winston Churchill in a school reenactment of the Yalta Conference at age 15, and Joseph McCarthy in an even more outlandish reenactment of the Army-McCarthy hearings at age 17, which involved camcorders and double agents in the Russian Club. He pursued this interest into several dozen European and American archives, as far east as Moscow, before settling down to teach at Koç University in Turkey, where the weather is bet...
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Book Reviews

  • "Sean McMeekin’s new book fills a massive gap in the historiography of World War II.  Based on exhaustive researches in Russian and other archives, his examination of Stalin’s foreign policy explores fresh avenues and explodes many myths, perhaps the most significant being that of unwittingly exaggerated emphasis on ‘Hitler’s war’.  He shows conclusively that the two tyrants were equally responsible, both for the outbreak of war in 1945 and the appalling slaughter which ensued. "
    Nikolai Tolstoy
  • "Stalin's War is above all about strategy:  the failure of Roosevelt and Churchill to make shrewd choices as World War II played out. McMeekin brilliantly argues that instead of weighting the European and Pacific theaters to favor their own interests -- and weaken the inevitably antagonistic Soviet Union – FDR and Churchill left the most critical parts of Asia unguarded while they ground down the German army, a decision that favored Stalin's interests far more than their own. Roosevelt's "Germany first" strategy and the trillion dollars of Lend Lease aid he poured into Stalin's treasury would underwrite Soviet control of China and East Central Europe after 1945, and hatch a Cold War whose dire effects are with us still. "
    Geoffrey Wawro, author of Sons of Freedom and A Mad Catastrophe, and director of the University of North Texas Military History Center.
  • "Gripping, authoritative,  accessible,  and always bracingly revisionist."
    Simon Sebag Montefiore
  • "Yet another winner for McMeekin, this also serves as a worthy companion to Niall Ferguson’s The Pity of War, which argued that Britain should not have entered World War 1. Brilliant contrarian history."
    Kirkus starred review
  • "Packed with incisive character sketches and illuminating analyses of military and diplomatic maneuvers, this is a skilful and persuasive reframing of the causes, developments, and repercussions of WW11. "
    Publishers Weekly (starred review)
  • "'McMeekin’s approach in Stalin’s War is both original and refreshing, written as it is with a wonderful clarity’"
    Antony Beevor
  • "In the eyes of many Russians today, the Soviet Union’s victory in World War Two still legitimizes Josef Stalin’s bloody dictatorship. In this brilliant and provocative history, Sean McMeekin takes on Stalin’s legend, demonstrating, among other things, that the Western allies, and especially the United States, were far more critical to Stalin’s victory than Soviet propaganda then or later would ever acknowledge. This book will change the way readers understand Stalin’s War."
    Walter Russell Mead, Global View Columnist, Wall Street Journal
  • "Often thought of as 'Hitler's War,' the Second World War is here reexamined with Russian documents that only recently became available....The book pulls no punches in describing the many atrocities, including those against Poles and Germans, that Soviet troops committed....Thoroughly researched."
    Library Journal
  • "The myth-busting historian offers a provocative revisionist take on the Second World War...an accomplished, fearless, and enthusiastic 'myth buster'...McMeekin is a formidable researcher, working in several languages, and he is prepared to pose the big questions and make judgments….The story of the war itself is well told and impressive in its scope, ranging as it does from the domestic politics of small states such as Yugoslavia and Finland to the global context. It reminds us, too, of what Soviet ‘liberation’ actually meant for eastern Europe….McMeekin is right that we have for too long cast the second world war as the good one. His book will, as he must hope, make us re-evaluate the war and its consequences."
    Margaret Macmillan , Financial Times
  • "a superb writer. There isn’t a boring page in the book. His familiarity with the archives of several countries is extraordinary. His breadth of approach, taking in events from Manchuria to Greece, as well as the main fronts, is refreshing. "
    The Times
  • "The volume is impressive even by the standard of histories of the second world war… The book is well researched and very well written. It puts forward new ideas and revives some old ones to challenge current mainstream interpretations of the conflict… a new look at the conflict, which poses new questions and, one should add, provides new and often unexpected answers to the old ones. "
    Guardian
  • " well-written book…the product of massive research involving every detail of the war. Stalin is intimately painted in all his colours."
    Eurasia Review
  • "McMeekin writes well and has the language skills to comb through a huge amount of archival material… There is much interesting detail about allied supplies to Russia, the Warsaw Uprising of August 1944, the Soviet plunder of Germany in 1945, and the war with Japan. "
    Irish Times
  • "This brilliantly inquisitive book."
    National Review
  • "fast-paced and well-written … A gifted writer and a talented polemicist."
    Inside Story
  • "impressively researched and well-written book ."
    Washington Examiner
  • "There are new books every year that promise “a new history” of such a well-studied subject as World War II, but McMeekin actually delivers on that promise…. Sean McMeekin has done a fantastic job telling that war’s story.   "
    Christian Science Monitor
  • "This remarkable book…meticulously researched, elegantly written…Stalin’s War is that rare thing: a book that forces us to think again, and to challenge our narrative of that most well-trodden subject. "
    BBC History Magazine