Review: Fateful Choices by Ian Kershaw

***THIS IS MORE OF AN ‘I LOVE THIS BOOK BECAUSE IAN KERSHAW IS MY FAVE HISTORIAN AND THIS IS MY FAVE PERIOD OF HISTORY’ POST RATHER THAN A REVIEW SO IS PRETTY BIASED***

The Second World War is a conflict that has shaped all of our lives and will go on to shape lives for generations to come. Looking at ten key interconnected military-political decisions that determined the course and outcome of the war – all of them taken in a period of about eighteen months – could have had the effect of romanticising the war, as much TV history has done. Instead, Kershaw focuses on strategic choices faced by the various actors, and the way these were affected by the tides of war, showing the reader that very little about the war was inevitable, and rather open-ended.

The book is split into ten chapters:

1. Britain’s agreeing to fight on after the defeat of France.

2. Germany’s deciding to wage war on the Soviet Union.

3. Japan’s appropriating the colonies of countries at war with, or already defeated by, Germany, and allying itself with Germany and Italy.

4. Italy’s deciding to invade Greece.

5. America’s providing aid to England.

6. The Soviet Union’s ignoring all signs that Germany was about to invade it.

7. America’s intensifying its assistance to Britain by an “undeclared war” on Germany.

8. Japan’s attacking the U.S.

9. Germany’s declaring war against the U.S.

10. Germany’s putting into operation the Final Solution.

No one could possibly have predicted any of these. One of Kershaw’s greatest triumphs is getting inside each of these decisions and showing how natural and right they came to seem to those who took them; history is not always pre-ordained, it just seems that way.

The Second World War was one of rapid movement, in which sweeping change transformed the strategic situation virtually overnight. For instance, the German advance across the Low Countries in the first half of 1940. The Wehrmacht had swiftly disposed of Poland as the Polish cavalry charged against German tanks. So, the shocking ease with which the Germans overwhelmed the Danes, Norwegians, Belgians, Dutch and French, and significantly demolished the BEF, proved just how superior the Nazi forces were; achieving more in a couple of weeks than the Kaiser managed from 1914-1918. Noone was prepared for the German raz de marée and its complete destabilisation of the old strategic balance.

If there’s one thing that Kershaw can do, it’s expose the contingency in the making of history.

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