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World War II: A Military and Social History

Engross yourself in a comprehensive overview of the single largest event in history with this enthralling course by an Ivy League professor.
World War II: A Military and Social History is rated 4.6 out of 5 by 198.
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Rated 5 out of 5 by from Very good I never was one to watch those History Channel documentaries about war. They seemed a bit gruesome and boring. My mother lived through WWII and would tell me about how it was a “good war” because we were fighting against a horrific dictatorship. I also grew up listening to her singing war time songs like those from the Andrew Sisters and Louie Jordan. So though I have a nostalgic touch point to this time, I never really felt that I wanted to read or watch anything about it. To be honest, this wasn’t my first choice for lectures, but I had already watched all my my 1st choices. I’m so glad I did. The professor was great and I learned so much and was very engaged with the material.
Date published: 2023-08-17
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Disappointing delivery. This course contains a lot of good information but unfortunately I found Dr. Childers delivery very off-putting. I am sure he knows the subject very well but he relies on reading for extended periods from his notes or script which I found distracting. The lectures also contain extended periods of silence that are almost painful to watch while he peruses his notes. Not a terrible course but could have been better
Date published: 2023-06-01
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great information Dr Childers is a wonderful lecturer . Easy going manner that holds your interest consistently. Very informative and very enjoyable course . Every lecture was excellent .
Date published: 2022-11-08
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Thorough Review of WW II The course was a comprehensive covering of WW II. It went over background, events, and consequences of the war. Excellent job! Full of detail information. The one drawback, which turned out to be minor, was that he appeared to be reading each lecture. Did not change the amount, quality, and organization of the information, but was simply a cosmetic annoyance.
Date published: 2022-09-30
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Extremely Well Done My father served in the US Army's efforts against Germany in WW2. As a youngster, I spent many hours on the floor of my local library reading about World War II. One day during high school, my father showed me a photo of his WW2 platoon of about 30 soldiers. They were the second wave across the Bridge at Remagen into Germany. He was one of a handful of survivors. I was too stunned to speak. He'd also been involved in the Battle of the Bulge. My son and I, both Army veterans, would later stand together on the Allied side of the Remagen Bridge remains in respectful silence for both our patriarch and the many who horrifically died there as Germany desperately tried to destroy that bridge. Childers' excellent 1998 course is not only a wonderfully organized story about WW2; it is the story of men (and women) coping with horrendously difficult circumstances and decisions. I highly recommend the course Scope where Childers points out that WW2 defined an epoch of human history from which the world did not begin transition until the 21st century. The two decades since have displayed a lack of coherence in the U.S direction. Such incoherence was perhaps presaged by the intra-war race riots in Detroit and Philadelphia described in Childers' Scope and Lecture 27 (L27): their violence contrasted vividly with the non-violence of the horrific 1942 "relocation" of Japanese-Americans (L27). Also interesting were his comments (L1) on the post-war changes in international finance centers and the post-war massive welfare expansion. In contrast to today's "consumer economy" making so much noise about the cost of gas, a united people adjusted to gas rationing and halted automobile production by Volunteerism and Victory Gardens. Is there a positive lesson here that our schools are unable to glean? Goebbel's (L15) orchestrated control of rioting sadly reminded me of the coordinated sudden stop to street violence by "many unrelated groups" that was seen at the last U.S. election…how such top-down violence coordination occurs today might make an interesting course? Even for those who have read extensively, this course adds. L5 discussed the reasons for the Russo-Finnish War and the sad underestimation of Russian will at its conclusion. L6, the various theories for Hitler's halt 15 miles from Dunkirk that saved the British Army. L11's extensive discussion of the strategic dilemma Japan faced when deciding whether to expand their war to the North against the Soviets or to Southeast Asia. Churchill's convincing FDR to launch Operation Torch into French North Africa (L15) puzzled me until L16 laid out the dangers of a 1943 cross channel offensive operation. Russian General Zhukov's brilliance (L17) on the Eastern front and the tenacity of the Soviets showed the errors of evaluating national will from tiny data points like the Russo-Finnish War. L20 on the Battle of the Bulge and L28's discussion of Remagen were of personal interest. SUMMARY: L1 describes the War's contradictions I remember from childhood: on one hand the ennobling behavior of men fighting for national survival, on the other how "…we have perhaps lost a sense of the grim realities" of the War. We also seem to have forgotten Childers' comments on the survival benefits of working together. Instead, we pay politically unbalanced universities outrageous sums to teach our young how to disrespect their forefathers and concentrate on unipolar political theory harvested from failed nations. We've outsourced our ability to make things ourselves to those who scoff at our arrogance. WW2 by Childers contradicts all this and is a sorely needed wake-up call. Childers repeatedly shows that those in less advantageous positions are watching intently.
Date published: 2022-06-28
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent information presented in an interesting manner.
Date published: 2022-06-17
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Organized and meticulous. I knew somewhat about World War II based on my experience in high school and to a lesser degree college. I was not completely certain on the chronological sequence which led to and resulted in the war. Was familiar with some of the bigger battles but did not really have any idea of the social impact occurring in this country and around the world at the time. I feel the lectures adequately covered this in a non-verbose fashion.
Date published: 2022-06-08
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Childers Merits Revisiting As some reviewers over the years have pointed out, this is a "vintage" course, and Professor Childers belongs to an august vintage "stable" of college lecturers. His other contributions to The Great Courses on European History since the Ancien Régime and Hitler and National Socialism are models of scholarship and genuine engagement. This course is no exception. It is pointless (I might even say petty) to lament, as some have done, that certain aspects of the most savage conflict in human history have not received attention. Professor Childers has given us a broad, but not unduly diluted, treatment and he has delivered it with passion and deep feeling. What he presents and analyzes with great care should be absorbed by every educated adult, young or old. Those who appear to believe that the lack of glitzy production values detracts from this course's merit are very wide of the mark, and those who gripe about his speaking style and occasional hesitations should be aware that these are college-level lectures that are much more authentic because the lecturer is not grafted to a teleprompter, but actually is aided by notes (Imagine that!). Furthermore, the fact that the timeline chosen by Professor Childers is not strictly chronological does not detract in the least from the presentation. Some courses, however well intentioned, are "one and done" experiences. This one is not.
Date published: 2022-05-27
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This course examines one of the greatest conflicts in human history, World War II. Between 1937 and 1945, 55 million people perished. It was a series of interrelated conflicts; no continent was left untouched, no ocean or sea unaffected. World War II taught lessons that none of us can ever study enough. Professor Thomas Childers uses the dual perspective of military and social history to explain both the epic course and epoch-making effects of the "last good war." This is a great introduction to a period of history that remains as addictively interesting as it is important.


Thomas Childers

Facts don't change, but we do, and our perspective on them changes. We learn new things, and as a result of this, it is necessary to reevaluate ... what we have known and how it looks different to us at this particular point.


University of Pennsylvania

Dr. Thomas Childers is Sheldon and Lucy Hackney Professor of History at the University of Pennsylvania, where he has been teaching for over 25 years. He earned his bachelor's and master's degrees from the University of Tennessee and his Ph.D. in History from Harvard University.

Professor Childers has held visiting professorships at Trinity Hall College, Cambridge, Smith College, and Swarthmore College. He is a popular lecturer abroad as well, in London, Oxford, Berlin, and Munich.

Professor Childers has won several teaching awards, including the Ira T. Abrahms Award for Distinguished Teaching and Challenging Teaching in the Arts and Sciences, the Richard S. Dunn Award for Distinguished Teaching in History, and the Senior Class Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching.

Professor Childers is the author and editor of several books on modern German history and the Second World War. He is currently completing a trilogy on the Second World War. The first volume, Wings of Morning: The Story of the Last American Bomber Shot Down over Germany in World War II, was praised by Jonathan Yardley in The Washington Post as "a powerful and unselfconsciously beautiful book."

By This Professor

A History of Hitler's Empire, 2nd Edition
World War II: A Military and Social History
World War II: A Military and Social History


The Origins of the Second World War

01: The Origins of the Second World War

In this opening lecture, Professor Thomas Childers puts the war into context, examining both its historical importance as the single largest event in human history and shaper of subsequent global events; and its origins, with emphasis on the role of the Versailles Treaty, the international system that emerged from the 1920s, and that system's subsequent failure.

33 min
Hitler's Challenge to the International System, 1933-1936

02: Hitler's Challenge to the International System, 1933-1936

A look at the rise of Hitler's Nazi party in Germany and the ideological and geopolitical wellsprings of his foreign policy, including a tracing of his step-by-step revision of the Treaty of Versailles and a look at the rhetorical style with which he presented his policies to both his domestic audience in Germany and the international community abroad.

30 min
The Failure of the International System

03: The Failure of the International System

Why was the threat posed by German foreign policy-especially in the 1930s-not met? This lecture examines the differing dilemmas confronting France, Great Britain, the Soviet Union, and the United States; as well as the major international crises of 1938 and 1939 as Europe moved relentlessly toward war.

32 min
The Coming of War

04: The Coming of War

This lecture focuses on the implications of the Munich Conference, examining the ways in which it influenced Hitler's calculations, Stalin's assessments, and even the German military conspiracy against Hitler. The lecture concludes with an examination of the Polish crisis in the summer of 1939 and the stunning ramifications of the pact between Germany and the Soviet Union.

32 min

05: Blitzkrieg

Blitzkrieg was more than just a revolutionary military strategy; it was an economic and diplomatic one, as well. This lecture examines the reasons why this three-pronged weapon so appealed to Hitler, and then looks at the first use of the Blitzkrieg strategy in the war against Poland in September 1939.

31 min
The German Offensive in the West

06: The German Offensive in the West

The German Blitzkrieg in Western Europe in the spring of 1940 brought an end to the strange period of "phony war" that had prevailed in the west since September of the previous year. This lecture looks at English and French preparations for the anticipated attack and Hitler's daring strategy, as well as the "miracle of Dunkirk" and the sudden and unexpected fall of France.

33 min

07: "Their Finest Hour"-Britain Alone

In the summer of 1940, Germany stood poised for a cross-channel invasion of southern England. Professor Childers offers a close look at the plans for that invasion, Britain's preparations for repelling the Germans, and an analysis of both Churchill's strategic thinking and the naval and air assets his nation possessed.

30 min
The Battle of Britain

08: The Battle of Britain

A successful invasion of England hinged on establishing air superiority over both the English Channel and the planned landing zones in southern England. The colossal air battle that began in July 1940 would rage into October and ultimately be won by the Royal Air Force. This lecture examines that crucial and decisive battle.

30 min
Hitler Moves East

09: Hitler Moves East

The attack on the Soviet Union in June 1941-Operation Barbarossa-was Hitler's greatest military and political gamble. In this wide-ranging lecture, you'll learn the ideological and strategic reasons for this stunning gambit, and see the role Nazi ideology played in the conduct of German troops as they crossed into Russian territory.

30 min
The Germans Before Moscow

10: The Germans Before Moscow

Despite an extraordinarily successful beginning of Operation Barbarossa that exceeded even German expectations, late 1941 saw the offensive dramatically slowed by unsettling logistical and weather problems. A close look at how and why this happened, with special attention to the extraordinary resilience of the Red Army as winter set in and the German offensive ground to a halt.

30 min
The War in Asia

11: The War in Asia

Japan's invasion of China in 1937 was the climax of a two-decade evolution in Japanese foreign and military policy that began after World War I. Professor Childers analyzes Japanese designs on Asia, the strategic dilemmas presented by each strategic option, and the impact of events in Europe on Japanese calculations.

31 min
The Japanese Gamble

12: The Japanese Gamble

After four years of deteriorating relations between Japan and the United States, Japan unleashes a stunningly successful attack on the American fleet at Pearl Harbor. This lecture examines the U.S.-Japan relationship, Japanese planning for the attack, and the ways in which American policy and security lapses contributed to the disasters at both Pearl Harbor and in the Philippines.

31 min
The Height of Japanese Power

13: The Height of Japanese Power

In the wake of Pearl Harbor, the Japanese rolled to an unbroken series of triumphs that established their dominance in Southeast Asia and across the South Pacific, including British Hong Kong, Singapore, Malaya, French Indochina, the Netherlands East Indies, and the American Philippines. This lecture examines this high-water mark of Axis power, concluding with the surprising U.S. victory in the Ba...

31 min
Turning the Tide in the Pacific-Midway and Guadalcanal

14: Turning the Tide in the Pacific-Midway and Guadalcanal

Two extraordinary battles, one at sea and one on land, marked the turning point of the war in the Pacific. The first crushes the Japanese Navy and preserves the American position in Hawaii; the second marks the first defeat for Japanese land forces and sets the tone for the ferocious combat that would characterize Japanese-American combat throughout the South Pacific.

30 min
The War in North Africa

15: The War in North Africa

Though the Mediterranean Theater was merely a sideshow for Hitler, it loomed much larger in the strategic thinking of the Western Allies, though provoking considerable conflict within the Western command structure. A look at Hitler's missed opportunities and Great Britain's success in ultimately establishing among the Allies the primacy of her own strategic objectives.

32 min
War in the Mediterranean-The Invasions of Sicily and Italy

16: War in the Mediterranean-The Invasions of Sicily and Italy

In addition to tracing the course of the campaigns in Sicily and Italy, with particular emphasis on the Anzio landings, the Battle of Monte Cassino, and the liberation of Rome, this lecture analyzes the politics of the war in Italy and the impact of the Italian campaign on the timing of the cross-Channel invasion of France.

30 min
Stalingrad-The Turning Point on the Eastern Front

17: Stalingrad-The Turning Point on the Eastern Front

A look at the German strategy and Soviet responses that marked the epic struggle for Stalingrad, which lasted from August 1942 until March 1943 and marked the turning point of the war on the Eastern front. After this crushing defeat, the Germans would be forced onto the defensive, and the Russians would begin their long agonizing drive to liberate their country.

29 min
Eisenhower and Operation Overlord

18: Eisenhower and Operation Overlord

By early 1944, an Allied invasion of northwestern Europe was no longer in doubt; the only questions were where and when. The preconditions for invasion and the differences within the Allied camp over timing, command structure, and the final plan-along with the Germans' own calculations, problems, and limitations-make for a fascinating lecture.

29 min
D-Day to Paris

19: D-Day to Paris

Defense of northwestern Europe had been left to Erwin Rommel, who argued that the key to a German victory was to defeat the Allies at the beaches-and especially to hold fast during those first 24 hours, "the longest day." This lecture traces the last agonizing stages of planning and launching the D-Day invasion, the course of the battle in Normandy and the bocage beyond, and the liberati...

29 min
Operation Market Garden and the Battle of the Bulge

20: Operation Market Garden and the Battle of the Bulge

This lecture examines the Allied plan to cross the Rhine in Holland, the reasons for its failure, and the daring German Ardennes offensive that became the Battle of the Bulge-Hitler's last gasp in the West that set the stage for the Allied advance into Germany in early 1945.

28 min
Advance Across the Pacific

21: Advance Across the Pacific

The American strategy in the Pacific was a largely political compromise between the courses recommended by Douglas MacArthur and Chester Nimitz. The compromise allowed MacArthur to begin his long march back to the Philippines via the Solomons and New Guinea while Nimitz waged a bloody campaign of "island hopping" through the Gilbert, Marshall, and Mariana Islands.

27 min
Turning Point in the Southwest Pacific-Leyte Gulf and the Philippines

22: Turning Point in the Southwest Pacific-Leyte Gulf and the Philippines

The Battle of Leyte Gulf-marking the first use of kamikaze fighters by the Japanese-was the decisive naval battle in the Pacific after Midway. It broke the back of the Japanese Navy and secured the American landing in the Philippines in December 1944, which raged well into the new year with massive casualties on both sides.

26 min
The Final Drive for Japan-Iwo Jima, Okinawa, and the Fire-Bombing of Tokyo

23: The Final Drive for Japan-Iwo Jima, Okinawa, and the Fire-Bombing of Tokyo

This lecture examines the battles for both Iwo Jima and Okinawa-the two climatic engagements in the final drive for Japan-and follows both the strategic considerations and bloody consequences of these two deadly confrontations. Fully one-third of all marines killed in the Pacific died on Iwo Jima, while one-fifth of all casualties suffered by the Navy in the entire war were sustained in the waters...

32 min
War in the Air

24: War in the Air

World War II introduced a new dimension in warfare: strategic bombing. This lecture traces the evolution of air doctrine, the strategic and moral choices made by the Allies, the course of Anglo-American air operations against Germany (and, to some extent, Japan) and the air war's contribution to the ultimate Allied victory over Germany and Japan.

34 min
Hitler's New Order in Europe

25: Hitler's New Order in Europe

A powerful examination of the evolution of Nazi racial policy from the boycott of Jewish shops at the beginning of the Third Reich in 1933 to the gas chambers of Auschwitz between 1942 and 1945. The lecture includes the ideological origins of Hitler's anti-Semitism, how his ideas were translated from the pages of Mein Kampf to the killing fields and gas chambers of Eastern Europe, and the factors ...

36 min

26: "The Man's Army"

The creation of the U.S. armed forces was itself one of the most astonishing accomplishments of the war. The massive military force ultimately required to win a two-front war fought on land, sea, and in the air simply did not exist in 1939 with the U.S. armed forces. This lecture explores both the development of that fighting force and the day-to-day life within it, analyzing the military as both ...

30 min
Daily Life, Culture, and Society in Wartime

27: Daily Life, Culture, and Society in Wartime

Within only two years, the American economy was forced to become the "Arsenal of Democracy". This lecture examines the role of both Franklin Delano Roosevelt and private entrepreneurs in making that happen, the changing social composition of the work force that resulted, including the massive entry of women into war industries, and the significant social problems that surfaced, especiall...

32 min
The Race for Berlin

28: The Race for Berlin

A look at the final phase of the war in Europe, including the race for Berlin between the Anglo-American troops who had crossed the Rhine and the Russians who were driving through Poland, and Hitler's suicide in his bunker on April 30, 1945. Professor Childers also analyzes the controversy concerning Eisenhower's decision not to rush on to Berlin, "allowing" the Russians to take the city...

31 min
Truman, the Bomb, and the End of the War in the Pacific

29: Truman, the Bomb, and the End of the War in the Pacific

In the summer of 1945, with Germany defeated, the FDR deal and signs of war weariness emerging in the United States, President Truman faced the prospect of a bloody invasion of Japan. This lecture explores the political, military, and moral implications of President Truman's decision to use the new atomic bomb in hopes of forcing an early Japanese surrender. It includes the background of the fireb...

28 min
The Costs of War

30: The Costs of War

In this concluding lecture, Professor Childers evaluates the outcome of the war, its meaning in both a global political and military context, and its historical significance. But its real focal point is on an appraisal of the enormous costs of war at a human level, illustrated by the experiences of a single American family.

25 min