Estimated reading time: 6 minutes
Basil Liddell Hart was not only a tremendously impactful figure in the realm of military strategy, but he also made a name for himself as a first-rate historian whose literary contributions are nothing if not priceless.
Perhaps his most celebrated achievement, The German Generals Talk, is a collection of interviews conducted by Hart at the Nuremberg trials where he gets said generals to share their side of the story with him.
Table of contents
Basil Liddell Hart Seeks the Truth
The Second World War might not have lasted an objectively long time, but the countless secrets it gave birth to are still being dug through by historians, many of them destined to remain hidden forever. Back in his day, Captain Basil Liddell Hart made a monumental effort to dig up as much truth as he could, and he put it on paper in his historical book titled The German Generals Talk.
Before talking about the contents of the book, I would like to mention a certain detail. When it was originally published in the United Kingdom, it was under the title The Other Side of the Hill. The German Generals Talk is a condensed version of the account, but it is much more widely available than the original version, which can cost you a pretty penny as a collector’s item.
If you’re completely unfamiliar with the topic I would recommend you first dive into the condensed, more easily-accessible version, and then choose for yourself if you want to dive deeper into the topic. What exact topic are we talking about? The accounts of German generals about the Second World War.
In this book, the materials for which were acquired through interviews during the Nuremberg trials, Basil Liddell Hart sits down one-on-one with one general after the next, and extracts as much as he can from them, with a special focus placed on internal politics, military decisions and the endless power struggles which reigned at the high command level.
The accounts he draws from them bring answers to many questions surrounding the Nazi regime, from the extent of Hitler‘s actual strategic prowess to the leadership’s (ultimately wrong) opinions about the Soviet Union and its allies, and a whole lot more.
Complex Reality through a Simple Language in The German Generals Talk
If you’re familiar with military literature in general, then I think you’ll agree most of it is dry and technical, and for good reason: it was written by military people to begin with. Few of them have a true author’s talent to accompany their invaluable experience and historical insight, and I believe Basil Liddell Hart is part of this exclusive group.
From the very first words when I opened the book, I instantly felt a certain lightness, as if the author instinctively understood most people who would end up reading him wouldn’t be from a military background, and as such would require a different approach.
The language used in the book is largely non-technical, even when it comes to describing with great precision certain military operations and manoeuvres. It is quite easy to visualize all the strategies Hart discusses, of which there are understandably a fair few, since the author himself was a celebrated strategist whose contributions to the terrible art of war did not go unnoticed.
In other words, this is a book dealing with some extremely complicated subjects which, for the most part, aren’t accessible to the general population through other works of literature or documentation. In my opinion, it is a perfect window for a civilian to peer into the military world and get a sense of what it’s all about.
This style of writing carries on from start to finish, and the author develops his proficiency in it to such an extent I at times forgot I was reading a work of non-fiction. This, in my opinion, is the mark of an author who knows and understands his subject like few others could ever hope to.
Respect for the Enemy
To go off on a very brief tangent, the depiction Nazi Germany suffers from today is extremely black-and-white, with most of them being content with simply cover in dirt the whole lot and categorize them all as pure evil. However, this childish perspective is actually harmful, diluting our understanding of the phenomenon, why it came to be, and how we can prevent it from happening again.
The German Generals Talk presents perhaps the most neutral and rational image of Nazi Germany I’ve personally come across in literature. The German generals being interviewed don’t deny their war crimes, nor do they try to justify their rightness in committing them. Instead, they calmly and logically relay their stories with all the nuances pertaining to them.
Please don’t mistake my words for the idea we ought to pardon their great crimes against humanity. On the contrary, they must be remembered as long as humanity exists… but remembered accurately without embellishments.
Through the various accounts assembled together by Hart, an increasingly detailed image starts to form of not only Nazi Germany at its height, but also more importantly, in its precarious beginnings. He does his best to give us a basis from which we can work to understand how so many educated, intelligent and rational people got swept up in such a terrifyingly senseless wave of destruction.
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Additionally, there are many concrete questions to which Hart gets the answer to, some of them taking the reader inside the innermost workings of the Nazi Party, both from a political and military standpoint. He traces their relation to the bigger issues for Germany at the time, and ultimately explains the nearly-innumerable factors which ultimately led to its defeat.
The Final Verdict
The German Generals Talk (or The Other Side of the Hill, as it was originally published) by Basil Liddell Hart is a priceless and timeless piece of military and political history, detailing the short life of one of the most turbulent and secretive governments in human history.
If you’re even remotely interested in the subject of the Second World War, then I believe you absolutely must add this book to your library, and perhaps even consider shelling out a few extra bucks for the original edition; there is virtually nothing like it out there, and there might never be.
Sir Basil Henry Liddell Hart
(October 31, 1895 – January 29th, 1970)
Sir Basil Henry Liddell Hart was a British soldier, military theorist, and historian whose works were heavily influential among those of his kind. Among the many books he has penned are the historically-priceless Why Don’t We Learn From History, The Other Side of the Hill and The Rommel Papers, in addition to which he also wrote two volumes of his own memoirs.