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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Another Turn of the Tide? World War II and the Writing of Military History in West Germany 1945-2005


The 60th anniversary of May, 8, 1945 made it quite clear: There has been an inreasing public interest in the history of the Second World War in Germany. This is to a large extent due to structural developments in historiography and the social, political, and cultural conditions of the writing of military history.

The conventional approach of war history had little to do with the standards and methods of academic historiography that in turn was hardly interested in war and military. While historiography on World War II was institutionalized in the 1950s it was the 1970s and 80s that saw first changes in perspective that have had a larger impact only since the 1990s. Growing concern with the social and the subjective side of the past, mostly on a regional level led to a fresh look at the war situation. “Military science” expanded on a large scale to include theoretical considerations, methodological approaches and the topics of a “new military history”. At the same time World War II came into the limelight of academic research and teaching. This led to a broadened vision of a “total war” and its consequences that clearly meets while the demand of the public.

It remains to be seen, however, in how far the necessary debate of strategic bombing, flight and expulsion that lends itself to a narrative of German vicitimization can be integrated into the more complex picture of World War II.

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