The Man Who Saved Europe How Winston Churchill Stopped the Nazis

Corbis

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.

Why?

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.

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heitgitsche 08/20/2010
1. The other side of the coin
Churchill wanted revenge on the Germans - no matter if Nazis or not. He encouraged the expulsion of about 15 million Germans from their homes of 800 years, the greatest "etnic cleansing" in European history. He was not powerful enough to stop Stalin from expanding and England`s time as a world power was over
verbatim128 08/24/2010
2.
Zitat von sysopSome 70 years ago, Hitler's Wehrmacht was chalking up one victory after the next, but then Winston Churchill confronted the dictator. Their duel decided World War II. The former British prime minister has been viewed as one of the shining lights of the 20th century ever since. Is the reputation justified? http://www.spiegel.de/international/europe/0,1518,712259,00.html
A kind and tactful account of Churchill's confrontation with the dictator. Certainly, the former British prime minister has been rightfully viewed as one of the shining lights of the 20th century. Was Winston Churchill's reputation justified, when considering the total outcome? Ask, if only that were possible, the over 100 million people of the countries bargained away with Stalin, mostly because of Churchill's dreams and fantasies. The people who were enslaved for almost half a century, the same century that made Churchill shine; ask the people who lived and died under communism.
BTraven 08/24/2010
3.
Hard to imagine that Churchill wanted to meet Hitler when he had not been yet the Führer since, at least in my opinion, it shows that he took him seriously while the majority of politician still laughed about him. Perhaps, he was curious to get to know a person of whom was said he would be an excellent speaker, so he, as a distinguished orator who had privileged education, could find out whether Hitler was really as good as it was told. And it offers him the possibility to elicit whether they have more similarities than the one which determined the life of both – their anticommunism. It would be interesting to know whether the history would have been completely different had he met Hitler in Munich. Imagine Hitler had meet the expatriate Stalin in Vienna. Both were quite young at that time therefore the probability that such a meeting, perhaps even a close relationship between both, could have changed the path of history seems to me quite low. Concerning Churchill’s role during WWII I think the author exaggerates his influence. Neither an invasion of England nor a peace treaty had enabled Hitler to withdraw troops form the west in order to deploy them to Russia. Controlling Britain would have been quite difficult for the Wehrmacht. The level of collaboration would have been much lower than in France or Holland, for example. And Britain had broken any peace treaty as soon as fast it saw the change to defeat Hitler. You do not need a war to make Britain to a large aircraft carrier used by GI’s.
BTraven 08/24/2010
4.
Zitat von heitgitscheChurchill wanted revenge on the Germans - no matter if Nazis or not. He encouraged the expulsion of about 15 million Germans from their homes of 800 years, the greatest "etnic cleansing" in European history. He was not powerful enough to stop Stalin from expanding and England`s time as a world power was over
It is quite reasonable that he wanted to take revenge, however, the question is had he really the strength had to do it? I doubt it. Churchill did not want that Soviet Union dominated the Eastern Europe in such a way that Stalin could decide where his country should border its neighbours. Stalin was modest he only took back was he had lost, except the area around Lemberg which was on the western side of the Curzon Line, when he was fighting against the Poles. The area as far as I know was, quite contrary to parts of the country from where the new “settlers” came, not so much affected by the war, so new inhabitants instantly found flats they were denied in their home towns and villages. The same luck had the Poles because almost all the towns they had taken from Germany, there is one exception, Breslau, of course, were intact. In both areas German troops were overrun by the Red Army. Neither Roosevelt nor Churchill had the power to prevent Stalin from starting one of the greatest expulsion in modern age. They would have tried to curb him had they had the means to impress Stalin. They did not have any alternative but to sacrifice the countries again.
travelerdiogenes 09/19/2010
5. Surely this is a joke
Churchill stopped Hitler? How about the 10 million Soviet soldiers who fought and died in the East? And HOW many Brits died fighting the Germans? 400,000 to 495,000 so. About 4%-5% as many. In total, there were over 1300 Soviet divisions fighting the Germans. The British Air Corps fought the Germans off, yes. But how many German units did they have to fight? The Soviets had 350 air divisions fighting the Germans, some of which were completely destroyed. Churchill stopped the Germans? Please.
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