Visions Of Victory — The Hopes Of Eight World War II Leaders, by Gerhard L. Weinberg

Gerhard L. Weinberg (Cambridge University Press, 2005, 292 pp., $25 — ISBN 0521852544)

Given the limitations of space available for each of the eight leaders this story has to be broadbrush in some respects, but is narrowly focused in another way. A more appropriate title would be, “Visions of Post Victory.” These were forecasts, plans for the future, based on the conviction by each leader that he would emerge victorious. During the conflicts, these men had to concentrate on winning the war, but the strategy was often influenced by how they hoped the world would be when the fighting ended. Each had his plan for that shape, and they obviously varied widely, even among the allies. Some of these visions seem fantastic now, such as the extermination of Jews worldwide, but they were what drove very real actions at the time. Weinberg assesses how events were impacted by this concern for the future and how those visions changed as conditions changed. They were not abstract musings, but catalysts for military and diplomatic decision.

The book ends with a 23-page chapter on “The Real Postwar World,” showing how the hopes of the eight leaders differed from the actual situation. Of particular interest is what happened to these dreamers and their countries. We would expect those who lost to have disappeared, but it is remarkable how well their countries have done over time. The winners left the scene at different points and varying circumstances. Today, China and the United States may be closest to those aspirations of half a century ago.

Weinberg is the author of numerous publications on the origins and course of World War II. Here, he casts new light on an aspect that has not been covered in this fashion. The result is an original and imaginative study of the history that might have been.