In a mere nineteen months, from May 1940 to December 1941, the leaders of the world's six major powers made a series of related decisions that decided the course and outcome of World War II, cost the lives of millions, and profoundly shaped the course of human destiny from that point forward. How were these decisions made? What were the options facing these leaders as they saw them? What intelligence, right and wrong, did they have? What was the impact of personality, what that of larger forces? In a brilliant work with haunting contemporary relevance, Ian Kershaw tells the connected stories of these ten fateful decisions from the shifting perspectives of the protagonists, and in so doing rescues them from the sense of inevitability that now envelops them and restores to them a feeling of vivid drama and contingency-the feeling that things could have turned out very differently indeed. Each chapter follows the process of arriving at one decision, from the viewpoint of the leader who made it:
Decision 1: May 1940. The British War Cabinet, driven by Churchill, agrees to fight on after the German blitzkrieg defeat of France, despite loud calls for negotiated settlement. Decision 2: Hitler decides to attack the Soviet Union. Decision 3: Japan decides to seize the "Golden Opportunity" and turn south, going after the colonial empires of the countries that have fallen to Hitler. Decision 4: Mussolini decides to join the war on Hitler's side to grab a share of the spoils. Decision 5: Roosevelt decides to lend a helping hand to England. Decision 6: Stalin decides he knows best and ignores all the clear signals that Germany is going to invade. Decision 7: Roosevelt decides to wage undeclared war. Decision 8: Japan decides to go to war against the United States. Decision 9: Hitler decides to declare war on the USA. Decision 10: Hitler decides to kill the Jews.
Decision relates to subsequent decision, though never simply or necessarily as expected. The clash of personalities, the various weaknesses of the different political systems, the challenge of intelligence, the misdiagnosis of risk and possibility: all play their part. And after nineteen months, though much remained to be decided, the world's fate had been profoundly altered by these ten choices.