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S2 Ep9: Revisiting the Second World War

How should we remember the largest and deadliest conflict in human history, now that we are 75 years away from D-Day and 80 years from the beginning of the Second World War? We discuss the most significant aspects and some lesser-known parts of what might better be called "The Second Thirty Years War" with historian Dr. Justin Olmstead of the University of Central Oklahoma.

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About our guest:

Dr. Justin Olmstead is an Associate Professor of History and the Director of History Education at the University of Central Oklahoma. Dr. Olmstead gained his Ph.D. in History from the University of Sheffield in England and is a fellow of the Royal Historical Society and the Society for First World War Studies. He has presented at national and international conferences on leadership and diplomatic and foreign policy. 

Dr. Olmstead’s newest book is The United States' Entry into the First World War: The Role of British and German DiplomacyHis forthcoming book, Britain in the Islamic World: Imperial and Post-Imperial Connections will be published by Palgrave Macmillan in late 2019. Dr. Olmstead also appeared on a previous BrainBox episode focusing on the "long shadow" of the First World War.

Links to additional information about topics discussed in this episode:

Our guest discusses the concept of linking the First and Second World Wars together to understand them as "A Second Thirty Years War." Read an excerpt from historian Ian Kershaw's analysis of the period 1914-45 as "a single entity . . . an epoch of general crisis."

How did the war get its name? Our guest discusses why some Americans initially labeled the conflict "Roosevelt's War," and this history.com discussion explains some other alternative names.


While few statesmen of the era were more virulently anti-Communist than Winston Churchill, he nonetheless made an alliance with the Soviet Union against Nazi Germany. Read an analysis of the "deal with the devil," featuring Churchill's memorable quote relayed by our guest: "If Hitler invaded hell I would make at least a favorable reference to the devil in the House of Commons."

We discuss the concept of "The Greatest Generation" as applied to the men and women who fought the Second World War. One outspoken critic of this term was 60 Minutes commentator and former war correspondent Andy Rooney. Read an interview with Rooney recounting his experiences in the war, including flying in B-17 bombers, recounting his low opinion of General George S. Patton, witnessing the liberation of Paris, and being one of the first reporters to enter a concentration camp.

Our guest describes the "90 Division Gamble" in our discussion of how much credit the United States can take for winning the war. Read a description of the significant manpower challenges faced by American military and industrial planners.


Check out more information at the links below on books and films about the Second World War recommended by our guest:

The Rape of Nanking, by Iris Chang
Flags of Our Fathers, by James Bradley
A War to Be Won, by Williamson Murray
Hitler's Willing Executioners, by Daniel Jonah Goldhagen
Ordinary Men, by Christopher R. Browning
The Nuremberg Interviews, by Leon Goldensohn

Schindler's List
Black Book
Tora! Tora! Tora!
Sophia Scholl: The Final Days