domingo, 20 de mayo de 2007

Decisiones que cambian la historia


quienes leen este blog, saben que uno de los temas que me interesa es el de la autonomía de los actores políticos, frente a los argumentos estructuralistas. Esto no quita que, como decía Marx en el 18 Brumario, los hombres hacen la historia, pero no eligen las circunstancias. Pensando en estos temas me pareció muy interesante la reseña de Richard J. Evans al libro Fateful Choices: Ten Decisions That Changed the World, 1940-1941, de Ian Kershaw, aparecida en el último número de The Nation, correspondiente al 4 de junio.

"Perhaps, then, it is not surprising that in his latest book, Kershaw returns to the theme of decision-making, this time on a much broader scale. Here he offers a narrative and analysis of ten decisions, each influencing the ones that followed, starting with Britain's decision to fight on in the spring of 1940 and Hitler's decision to invade the Soviet Union, and moving through Japan's decisions to ally with Germany and Italy and then to strike at Pearl Harbor, the Italian Fascist leader Benito Mussolini's somewhat belated decision to join the war, US President Franklin Delano Roosevelt's decisions to aid the British and then to escalate this into undeclared war against Germany, and Hitler's decisions to declare war on the United States and to attempt the extermination of Europe's Jews.

As one might expect from Kershaw's previous record, he does not delve too deeply into the psychology of the world leaders whose actions in 1940 and 1941 shaped the course of World War II, and thus the parameters of the postwar order. Like Hitler in the two-volume biography, they remain remarkably bland and elusive. Indeed, at times they virtually disappear as individual actors altogether. Thus, for example, Kershaw concludes that "the colossal risks which both Germany and Japan were prepared to undertake were ultimately rooted in the understanding among the power-elites in both countries of the imperative of expansion to acquire empire and overcome their status as perceived 'have-not' nations."

Insofar as he is interested in the leaders as individuals, Kershaw is most fascinated by the constraints under which they operated and the broader factors by which their freedom of action was limited. Thus when Hitler rejected the advice of his military leaders to give priority to North Africa and the Mediterranean after the stunning victories they had achieved over France and the other Western European countries in 1940, he was, to be sure, driven by the ideological priority he had always given to the conquest of the Soviet Union. Yet at the same time, Kershaw argues cogently, "the decision to attack and destroy the Soviet Union...was strategically forced upon him. He had to gain victory in the east before Stalin could build up his defenses and before the Americans entered the war."


They were choices made under preconditions and under external constraints." One cannot help feeling that the personalities of the men who made the choices do not really interest Kershaw very much. In the end, then, this book is less about the fateful choices they made than about the factors that constrained them. That is precisely what lifts it out of the rut of ordinary military history and puts it into a class of its own".

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