Friday, September 4, 2009

Ian Kershaw, Fateful Decisions & Beyond

I’m reading (among other things) Ian Kershaw’s Fateful Choices, his history of ten key events at the beginning of the Second World War. I finished his chapter about the Japanese and their decision leading to the confrontation with the U.S., which a number (but not enough) of Japanese leaders knew would prove disastrous (and thus the willingness to gamble on Pearl Harbor). I’m now into Mussolini’s decision-making up to Italy's entry into the war. Mussolini was weak actor in a weak country with aspirations of warrior culture and empire that received little support from the reality of his military capability and which lacked popular support. Kershaw asks crucial questions and then attempts to understand the decision-making processes of the actors. An earlier chapter dealt with Hitler’s decision to attack the Soviet Union, and thereby open a two front war. Part of the answer, of course, lies in the fact that Hitler always (from the 1920’s) wanted to move east and confront “Jewish-Bolshevism”. Anyway, it’s quite an interesting book to consider as look back on the 70th anniversary of “the last European war” (John Lukacs). This also ties in with reading Niall Ferguson’s summary of history of thinking (in his Virtual History) about historical causation (determinism v. individual decision-making, in a general sort of divide). Ferguson looks to chaos theory as a way to see stochastic events with in a (somewhat) deterministic framework. Also, reading up on complexity theory, which may prove event more insightful for historical and social science thinking.