The Man Who Saved Europe How Winston Churchill Stopped the Nazis
Part 4: Churchill Advocates a Massive Military Buildup
Hitler had hardly risen to power before Churchill began advocating a massive military buildup in Great Britain. At this point, he even believed that an alliance with the hated Soviet Union was the right thing for Britain.
He had read parts of Hitler's "Mein Kampf," and he despised the dictator's methods, but this wasn't his greatest concern. In 1937, in remarks directed at Hitler, he said: "We cannot say that we admire your treatment of the Jews or of the Protestants and Catholics of Germany But, after all, these matters, as long as they are confined inside Germany, are not our business."
Indeed, Churchill was motivated by the maxims of the traditional British balance-of-power approach, in which the major powers were to balance each other out on land, while "Rule, Britannia!" applied on the high seas.
In a letter to a friend, he wrote that the Britain had never yielded to the strongest power on the continent, not to Philipp II of Spain (in the 16th century), not to the French Sun King Louis XIV (in the 18th century), not to Napoleon (in the 19th century) and not to Kaiser Wilhelm II (in the 20th century). London had always aligned itself with the second-strongest power. The acceptance of German hegemony, Churchill wrote, "would be contrary to the whole of our history."
'Stop It! Stop It! Stop It Now!!!'
It was pure realpolitik, and it was the same logic that prompted Churchill to turn against Stalin once again after World War II.
Churchill can hardly be blamed for feeling committed to a special mission in the regard. It was his ancestor, the Duke of Marlborough, who, as commander-in-chief of the British army, had reined in the troops of the Sun King, and Churchill was writing the Duke's biography in the 1930s.
He now called upon his government to obstruct the Third Reich. "Stop it! Stop it! Stop it now!!!" he said, "Hitler constitutes the greatest danger for the British Empire!"
But his warnings went unheard. His fellow conservatives, supporters of then-Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain, favored appeasement of the Germans, because they feared another world war and believed that the dictator could be kept happy.
The Duke of Marlborough's descendant was on his own.
The duel had not yet begun, and ironically, the chief Nazi sought to curry favor with Churchill, because he feared that the British politician could end up playing an important role. He invited the MP with the illustrious past to Germany twice, but Churchill turned down the invitations. Of course, Churchill received envoys from Berlin and met with Nazi Ambassador Joachim von Ribbentrop, who sought to convince Churchill, who favored war, of the benefits of appeasement.
Ribbentrop, the host, and Churchill stood together in front of an enormous map in the German Embassy in London, while the Nazi explained that the Germans needed space for a greater Germany, or Lebensraum, in the Ukraine and Belarus. He assured Churchill that the Empire would be left untouched, but that the British would have to accept Germany's eastward expansion in return.
Churchill, however, felt that this division of territory was unacceptable, to which Ribbentrop brusquely replied: "In that case, war is inevitable."
The Duel Begins
The gauntlet had been thrown down, and the mood quickly shifted. A furious Hitler publicly berated Churchill as a "warmonger," while Churchill increasingly ignored diplomatic etiquette. By now he was sharply criticizing the persecution of the Jews, and in a newspaper commentary in the summer of 1939, he wrote that the Third Reich represented an unprecedented "cult of malignancy."
When World War II began a few weeks later, it was Hitler, ironically, who paved the way for Churchill's political comeback. The German invasion of Poland shed a new light on Churchill's earlier predictions. He had been right, after all, and the fact that the Nazis were now railing against him, calling him a "filthy liar" and a "bloated pig," only enhanced his popularity.
Yielding to public pressure, Chamberlain appointed him to his cabinet, and in the spring of 1940, Churchill finally succeeded him as prime minister.
On the evening of May 10, Churchill, now 65, was sitting in a limousine on his way to Buckingham Palace, where King George VI would ask him to form a new government. In his memoirs, Churchill writes: "I felt as if I were walking with destiny, and that all my past life had been but a preparation for this hour and for this trial." The duel could begin.
The Nazis behaved as if they welcomed this development. "Clear fronts! We love that," Nazi Propaganda Minister Josef Goebbels noted in his diary. Of course, the diary also contained other entries that testified to his respect for the new British prime minister. Goebbels described Churchill as a "man with great gifts," "completely unpredictable" and "the soul of the English attack."
Curiously enough, the Friday Churchill took office was also a fateful day for Hitler.
- Part 1: How Winston Churchill Stopped the Nazis
- Part 2: Britain Defies the Dictator
- Part 3: Trench Warfare Cooled Churchill's Romance for War
- Part 4: Churchill Advocates a Massive Military Buildup
- Part 5: 'Utter Dejection Was Written on Every Face'
- Part 6: Churchill's Strongest Weapon Was the Word
- Part 7: 'When Will that Creature Churchill Finally Capitulate?'
- Part 8: 'I Shall Drag the United States In'
- Part 9: Churchill's Role in the Explusion of Germans from Easter Europe