Associate 2023-24

Peter Fritzsche



An Allied convoy heads eastward across the Atlantic, bound for Casablanca, in November 1942. 

A Global History considers World War II as a planetary event, and the focus on the year 1942 is a means to encompass the sheer scale of the war. One billion of the planet’s two billion people were mobilized by the war as soldiers, workers, refugees. One hundred million fought in uniform. Nearly seventy million, mostly civilians, lost their lives. The war’s vast machinery was fought out across the continents; it spun off into new conflicts across lines of race, ethnicity, and religion as communities mobilized populations and prejudice in a stark parallel war to the one soldiers fought. In the end, the mightier war machines won the war, so that it was the war that won the war.

Two sets of images guide the narration: the unsettlements of the Road and the adequacy of a Story to make events comprehensible. In other words, Professor Fritzsche pays attention to material conditions and to the way they were understood. The Road: an extensive infrastructure of roads, railroads, sea convoys, and air routes transported men and material. But the road was also the causeway across which the great storm of the war advanced, breaking communities, snatching and enticing laborers, drawing people into cities, forcing them from homes, and stranding them in ghettoes, camps, and prisons. The second image is the Story of the war, which was told and retold in patriotic form as much as it was never really told at all. While the idea of the “good war,” the righteous struggle against evil and empire, had purchase on both sides, it hardly encompassed experience in which terrible things happened and human frailties were exposed. Witnesses reported disillusionment and ruin and waste. Narrative was necessary as collective glue, but it was never adequate. The Road always interrupted the Story.