Gregor Dallas begins his 1945: The War That Never Ended (Yale Univ., $40) on a personal note. On the day he was born, in 1948, a "post-war polio epidemic was . . . at its height in London and that was the day I got it; the result is I have two partially paralysed legs." Ever since, he has been fascinated by the ways in which World War II wound down rather than ended. His subtitle refers not just to the absence in 1945 of a grand peace treaty like the one that ended World War I but also to such phenomena as the prolonged sorting out of collaborators and resisters in many countries after the fighting stopped.

Dallas raises questions not so much to provide ringing answers as to encourage debate. He wonders, for example, if Berliners deserved the rash of bombings that hit them in 1944-45. On the one hand, only 29 percent of them had voted for the Nazis in the elections of July 1932. But the city later made up for this tepidness: When Hitler was named chancellor the following year, "there was a huge celebration in Berlin." Dallas then turns to the Allies' rationale for inflicting the war directly on the civilian population. "Every major European war since 1860, with the exception of the Russo-Turkish, had been initiated in Berlin: against Denmark in 1864, against Austria in 1866, against France in 1870, and against most of the world in 1914 and again in 1939. Yet, until the last war, not a single battle had been fought with a foreign army inside Germany." It was in this spirit that Britain's air chief marshal, Sir Arthur Harris, remarked during the Blitz, "They are sowing the wind and they will reap the whirlwind." And Dallas quotes the American journalist William Shirer, who was stationed in Berlin at the time, on the one-sidedness of the euphoric welcome Hitler got on entering Berlin as the conqueror of France on July 6, 1940: "I wondered if any of them understood what was going on in Europe, if they had an inkling that their joy, that this victorious parade of the goose-steppers, was based on a great tragedy for millions of others whom these troops and the leaders of these people had enslaved."

-- Dennis Drabelle