The Man Who Saved Europe How Winston Churchill Stopped the Nazis

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Part 2: Britain Defies the Dictator


It was the summer of 1940, and Hitler, who was the Chancellor of the German Reich by then, was closer to winning the war than he would ever be again. The German had overrun Poland, occupied Norway and defeated and humiliated France, a major power. It seemed only a matter of time before Hitler would dominate all of Europe. He was aligned with the Soviets and the Americans were still neutral and biding their time.

Ironically, it was Great Britain, the only country Hitler truly admired and respected, that defied the dictator. Churchill declared that he had only one goal: "Victory -- victory at all costs, victory in spite of all terror, victory however long and hard the road may be."

Great Britain persevered for a good year, from France's capitulation until Hitler's attack on the Soviet Union on June 22, 1941, despite German air raids on London and Coventry, despite German victories in Africa, the Balkans and Scandinavia, and despite the threat of national bankruptcy.

And Churchill deserved the credit for this perseverance.

The prime minister, with his trademark Cuban cigars, polka dot bow tie and conspicuous hats, became the world's most important symbolic figure of resistance against Nazi Germany. Whenever he appeared in public, the crowds would raise their hands and part their index and middle fingers to form the victory symbol, just as he had done.

Hitler berated his rival as a "lunatic," "paralytic" and "world arsonist." Churchill shot back, calling Hitler a "wicked man," the "monstrous product of former wrongs and shame" and said that "Europe will not yield itself to Hitler's gospel of hatred." It soon became clear that the loser in this duel would pay with his life.

The perseverance of the British was of great and probably decisive importance in shaping the course of World War II. How else could the United States have launched an invasion of the European continent if the British Isles hadn't been available to it as a giant aircraft carrier?

And what would have happened if Hitler could have shifted the divisions and bombers to the Eastern front that were tied up in the war against England? It wouldn't have taken Hitler much more to defeat Stalin.

Of course, the Red Army and, with significant casualties, American GIs achieved final victory, but the fact that Churchill had stood his ground in 1940 played an important role in their success.

Britain's 'Finest Hour'

It's been 70 years since Britain experienced its "finest hour," as Churchill called it, but the fascination remains unbroken. There are few wars that can be described without qualification as just wars, and as wars in which the right side prevailed.

Nowadays, hundreds of thousands of visitors stream through the award-winning Churchill Museum and Cabinet War Rooms in London, in the basement of England's Treasury Department Building on St. James's Park, where the cabinet met during the war. They stroll through the Baroque rooms and gardens of Blenheim Palace, one of England's most magnificent palatial complexes, where Churchill was born in 1874. Or they enjoy the view from Churchill's estate, Chartwell, across the meadows of the region known as the Weald of Kent.

Churchill has long been one of the icons of the 20th century, admired by statesmen in all countries and political parties, from former German Chancellors Helmut Kohl and Helmut Schmidt to former US Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush. Bush even borrowed a bust of the prime minister from the British government art collection and placed it in the Oval Office, because he saw Churchill as a visionary with whom he hoped to be compared. The Briton, Bush said, "charged ahead ... wasn't afraid of opinion polls ... and the world is better for it."

A Mythical Component to Churchill's Achievements

But as with all great historic figures who embark on the path to immortality, there is also a mythical component to wartime prime minister's achievements, a component to which Churchill himself repeatedly contributed. During his lifetime, he found it amusing that the history books would judge him kindly -- because he intended to write them himself.

And that's what the author of various historical works did. His six-volume work "The Second World War" became a bestseller and was part of the reason he was awarded the 1953 Nobel Prize in Literature. Readers loved his sparkling style and, of course, the many anecdotes that the sharp-tongued aristocrat told. One concerned his vicious war of words with Lady Nancy Astor, the first female member of parliament, who once hissed: "Winston, if I were your wife I'd put poison in your coffee." Churchill replied: "Nancy, If I were married to you I'd drink it."

Since then, of course, countless historians, journalists and political commentators have studied the battle plans of the day, analyzed decision-making sequences and evaluated secret documents. Surprising as it may be, some documents are still classified today, but the existing material is enough to allow us to form our own opinions about this duel, which brought together two men whose paths, until then, could not have been more different.

Both were moderate students and, like all young men, they believed that they were destined to be great men. Hitler hoped to be a successful artist while Churchill, more than 14 years his senior, did poorly in school and eventually embarked on a military career.

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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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