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 Part of the philosophy of the left, especially of socialism and communism, is to denigrate the role of individuals and their choices in influencing history and events and to see the human story rather in terms of historic, economic and political forces. I recently watched a debate that was recorded in a documentary film about the causes of the First World War.

Almost all the professors involved in the debate spoke in terms of forces and causes such as nationalism, technology, overpopulation and economic difficulties that they claimed drove the leaders of Europe into the bloodbath from which Europe has not really recovered until this very day. However, there was a woman professor who had written a number of very interesting and incisive books that were most popularly received by the general reading population, though less so by academia, who had an alternative view as to why the war began. In her view, the war was caused by the individual idiosyncrasies of the leaders of the European nations of the time, especially the Kaiser of Germany and the Czar of Russia.
She correctly pointed out that it was their actions that triggered the war and mobilized the immense armies that would take to the killing fields of Europe. These leaders had a choice to make. Their choice was personal and not necessarily driven by academic historical forces of which they were unaware and were not influenced by. In effect, 20 million people were to be killed because of the decisions made by five or six leading European politicians, all of whom badly miscalculated the consequences of their actions.
One of the great excuses is the tendency of political leaders to blame their errors and mistakes not upon themselves but rather upon invisible forces over which they have no control. There is no doubt that there are pressures that influence all major national and international decisions. But eventually these decisions are made by individuals, those who always retain the power of choice as to how to behave and what policies to adopt.
To put it bluntly, Hitler, Mussolini and Hirohito brought us World War II. They were aided and abetted by decisions made by the leaders of the Western powers in the 1930s. But if it were not for the personalities and decisions taken by a very few individuals, the great war could also have been avoided. Hitler wanted the war and apparently no force in the world could stop him.
It is so much more comforting to believe that there are invisible forces that absolve human beings of the responsibility for their decisions. There is a great tendency today in psychology, criminal law, politics and diplomacy to free those who make decisions from any responsibility. It is one of the cruel legacies of the Marxist philosophy that still pervades much of Western society and current political correctness.
Judaism recognizes that the actions of human beings, especially of rulers and people in power, are always influenced by the guidance of Heaven. Yet, as Maimonides points out in his discussion of omniscience and predetermination versus human choice, decisions are ultimately made by human beings who are solely responsible no matter what role Heaven may play in influencing that choice.
Maimonides describes this as being one of the examples of the inability of human beings to reconcile what appears to be illogical and even self-contradictory regarding the behavior of Heaven, so to speak. The ways of God are not our ways and we will not be able to truly appreciate them because that would cross the line between the Creator and the created.
Judaism preaches a faith and value system of individual responsibility. It presupposes that human beings will try to make wise choices and pursue the truth even when it might be uncomfortable. It demands a high standard of honesty and intelligence when approaching a serious problem. This is certainly true regarding public leaders whose personal decisions can affect the lives and welfare of millions of people. Therefore, the Talmud states that the individual is always held accountable for his/her own behavior and actions.
Shabbat shalom

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