Fateful Choices by Ian Kershaw

Posted by on Sep 1, 2007 in Book Notes

Fateful Choices by Ian Kershaw

Fateful Choices (Ian Kershaw, The Penguin Press, 2007)

Fateful ChoicesFateful Choices (Ian Kershaw, The Penguin Press, 2007) examines 10 decisions, taken by leaders of five major countries involved in World War II, that shaped that event. Kershaw’s list includes:

  1. England’s continuation of its fight after France’s defeat in May 1940 despite pressure from some to accept terms from Germany;
  2. Germany’s attack on the Soviet Union;
  3. Japan’s alliance with Italy and Germany and attempt to seize the southeast Asian colonies of the European countries defeated by, or at war with, Germany;
  4. Italy’s entry as ally of Germany to grab a share of the spoils in North Africa and, particularly, in Greece;
  5. America’s extension of help to England (Lend-Lease, etc.);
  6. the USSR’s refusal to acknowledge the threat of invasion by Germany;
  7. America’s willingness to wage undeclared war in the summer of 1941 (embargo of oil to Japan, extension of conscription, declaration with England of war aims in the Atlantic Charter, armed escorts of merchant shipping, etc.);
  8. Japan’s attack on the U.S. at Pearl Harbor;
  9. followed immediately by Germany’s declaration of war on the U.S.; and
  10. Hitler’s decision to exterminate European Jews.

According to Kershaw, these decisions, all made in the 19 months between May 1940 and December 1941, turned what had been several different regional conflicts into a global conflagration, then shaped its course and much of the post-war configuration of the world. Furthermore, each of the ten issues could have been decided differently, leading to very different outcomes for the war and post-war world. The history that did occur was not inevitable.

Kershaw provides a thorough analysis of these choices, the leaders who made them, and the influential circumstances surrounding them in each country. The result is a wealth of information and perspective that deepens the reader’s understanding of what may be the most complex and important event in the 20th century.

There were, of course, many other events and decisions that had great impact but did not make it onto Kershaw’s list of 10: Japan’s invasions of Manchuria (1931) and China (1937), Germany’s repudiations of the Treaty of Versailles through the 1930s and its invasions of Poland (1939) and western Europe (1940), England’s declaration of war on Germany following the latter’s invasion of Poland, and others. But one book can’t do everything, and this book accomplishes very much.

The book review above was originally published in a feature titled “Book Notes”, published in the September, 2007 edition of Amitié, the newsletter of Normandy Allies, Inc. This note was written by Walter Ford Carter, member of the Normandy Allies Board and the team that leads its history-study experience each summer. Walter, the son of Captain Elmer Norval Carter, a US Army battalion surgeon in the 29th Division who was killed in action on June 17 1944, is the author of No Greater Sacrifice, No Greater Love: A Son’s Journey to Normandy.

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