As the twentieth century ended, a debate ensued over who had been its greatest man. The Weekly Standard nominee was Churchill. Not only was he Man of the Century, said scholar Harry Jaffa, he was the Man of Many Centuries. To Kissinger he was “the quintessential hero.” A BBC poll of a million people in 2002 found that Britons considered Churchill the “greatest Briton of all time.”
What makes Churchill the Man of the Century? Comes the reply: He was the indispensable man who saved Western civilization. Without Churchill, Britain might have accepted an armistice or sued for peace in 1940. The war in the west would have been over. Hitler, victorious, would have turned on Russia and crushed her, and the world would have been at his feet. By standing alone from June 1940 to June 1941, the British bulldog held on until Hitler committed his fatal blunders—invading the Soviet Union and declaring war on the United States.
Churchill’s claim to be Man of the Century thus rests on a single year: 1940. Assuming power as the German invasion of France began on May 10, he presided over the miraculous evacuation of Dunkirk and the Battle of Britain, as Fighter Command defended the island in one of the more stirring battles of the century. Magnificent it was, and, in that hour, it was the good fortune of Churchill to have been chosen by destiny to give the British lion its roar. Asked what year he would like to live over again, Churchill replied, “1940 every time, every time.” He was the man of destiny who inspired Britain to keep fighting until the New World came to the rescue of the Old.
Less well known is the fact that Churchill entertained the idea of a negotiated peace in the last hours before Dunkirk (May 26, 1940). As John Lukacs recounts the scene in Five Days in London: May 1940: “At this juncture Churchill knew that he could not answer with a categorical no [to peace terms with Germany]. He said that he ‘would be thankful to get out of our present difficulties on such terms, provided we retained the essentials and the elements of our vital strength, even at the cost of some territory’—an extraordinary admission.”
But in the War Cabinet meeting of May 28, 1940, Churchill gave his final rebuke to those who held out hope for a negotiated peace: “The Germans would demand our Fleet . . . our naval bases and much else. We should become a slave state.”
“This was surely right,” Niall Ferguson wrote in 2006. But was it?
Where is the evidence that Hitler intended to demand the British fleet, when he did not demand the French fleet? Where is the evidence he sought to make Britain a “slave state”? In June 1940, at the apex of his power after France’s surrender and the British evacuation, Hitler wanted the British Empire to survive and endure. He wanted to end the war.
Lukacs contends that even had Churchill entertained the idea of a negotiated peace, he resisted the temptation and became the indispensable man who made the decision to fight on. Lukacs’s point seems indisputable. Churchill held on until the Soviet Union was invaded and Hitler declared war on the United States, the decisions that would bring Hitler and his regime down in fiery ruin.
Was Churchill truly the indispensable man in Hitler’s defeat?
F. H. Hinsley, whose 1951 Hitler’s Strategy relies heavily on Hitler’s war directives, documents the case convincingly.
As we have seen, after the British guarantee to Poland, Hitler came to believe that he would have to fight for Danzig. But he did not want war with Britain. Among the reasons Hitler struck his pact with Stalin was to convince the British that the fate of Poland was sealed. But when Chamberlain reaffirmed his war guarantee to Poland on August 24, a stunned Hitler, his diplomatic coup having failed, called off the invasion scheduled for the twenty-fifth.
In the days before September 1, Hitler sought to give Britain a way out of its guarantee by offering a negotiated solution to the Danzig crisis if Warsaw would send a plenipotentiary in twenty-four hours to Berlin. Sir Neville Henderson believed the offer was sincere. Whether it was or not, it showed that Hitler desperately wanted to avoid war with Great Britain.
In his directive of August 31 ordering the invasion of Poland, Hitler instructed his army not to cross any western frontier, his navy not to attack any Allied ships, and his Luftwaffe not to fire on any Allied plane, except in defense of the Fatherland.
Hinsley continues, after Warsaw fell, “Hitler made peace overtures to London and Paris on 6 October. These overtures were rejected on 12 October.” After the fall of France in June 1940, Hitler again took the initiative to end the war.
Alan Clark, defense aide to Margaret Thatcher, believes that only Churchill’s “single-minded determination to keep the war going,” his “obsession” with Hitler, prevented his accepting Germany’s offer to end the war in 1940. “There were several occasions when a rational leader could have got, first reasonable, then excellent terms from Germany.”
After Dunkirk, Ribbentrop wrote that he had wondered if Hitler could make a quick peace with England. “The Fuhrer was enthused with the idea himself,” and proceeded to lay out to Ribbentrop the peace terms he was prepared to offer the British: “It will only be a few points, and the first point is that nothing must be done between England and Germany which would in any way violate the prestige of Great Britain.”
By the mid-1940, writes Hinsley, Hitler was coming to the conclusion that crushing Russia was “the only solution for the problems created by the British refusal to collapse.”
Lukacs agrees. Hitler’s ultimate purpose in invading Russia in 1941, Lukacs writes, was not Lebensraum, or eradicating “Jewish-Bolshevism,” or preempting a Soviet attack. The June 1941 invasion of Russia was a preemptive strike to remove Britain’s last hope of winning the war.
On December 18, Hitler issued the directive for Operation Barbarossa. Thus, writes Hitler biographer Ian Kershaw, “by the late autumn it was clear that [Hitler] had returned to the chosen path from which he had never seriously wandered: attacking the Soviet Union at the earliest opportunity with the strategic aim of attaining final victory in the war by conquering London via Moscow.”
To deprive England of its last hope for victory, Hitler invaded the one nation that more than any other would bring the Reich down. Hitler’s invasion of Russia truly met Bismarck’s definition of preventive war: “Committing suicide—out of fear of death.”
Churchill was thus the indispensable man, both in the destruction of Hitler’s Reich and in the continuation of the war from 1940 to 1945.
THE COSTS OF VICTORY
Asked how he could ally with Stalin, whose crimes he knew so well, Churchill answered “that he had only one single purpose—the destruction of Hitler—and his life was much simplified thereby. If Hitler invaded Hell, he would at least have made a favourable reference to the Devil.”
Yet in his Ahab-like pursuit of Hitler “at all cost,” did Churchill ever reckon the cost of a war to the death—for Britain, the empire, and Europe? For as the war went on for five years after Dunkirk, those costs—financial, strategic, moral—mounted astronomically.
Let us begin with the moral cost of Churchill’s appeasement of the greatest mass murderer of the century.
When Hitler turned on Stalin, his accomplice in the rape of Poland, Churchill welcomed Stalin into the camp of the saints, writes conservative scholar Robert Nisbet, “in words that might have been addressed to a Pericles or George Washington”:
Before the whole world Churchill greeted the Soviets as fellow freedom fighters protecting their own liberties and democracy. Reading it today, one becomes slightly nauseated by Churchill’s words. . . . It was one thing to make the best of things, to accept and even help Stalin in the war against the Nazis. . . . It was something else and hardly necessary, given Stalin’s then desperate straits, to lavish gratitude upon the cruel, terror-minded despot, who, after all, had helped ignite World War II against the West.
George Kennan, then in Moscow, wrote to the State Department that, while “material aid” might be extended to Russia, “I feel strongly that we should do nothing at home to make it appear that we are following the course Churchill seems to have entered upon in extending moral support to the Russian cause in the present Russian-German conflict.”
Indeed, there was no reason to repose any trust in Moscow, for Stalin was now fighting on the side of the Allies only because he had been betrayed by his partner Hitler.
In a January 20, 1940, broadcast, Churchill had hailed the heroism of Finland in resisting Russia’s onslaught in the Winter War and poured out his contempt of Soviet ideology:
The service rendered by Finland to mankind is magnificent. . . . Many illusions about Soviet Russia have been dispelled by these fierce weeks of fighting above the Arctic Circle. Everyone can see how Communism rots the soul of a nation; how it makes it abject and hungry in peace and proves it base and abominable in war.
Now, in his first great act of appeasement, Churchill let Eden persuade him to declare war on Finland.
Churchill embraced Britain’s new and gallant ally. When Stalin brought up Churchill’s role in 1919 as the champion of Allied intervention in Russia, Churchill asked, “Have you forgiven me?” The ex-seminarian replied, “All that is in the past. It is not for me to forgive. It is for God to forgive.” This scene is almost unimaginable.
On his return from that September 1942 trip to Moscow, Churchill appeared captivated, rising in Parliament to tell his countrymen they were truly fortunate to be allied to so great a man:
This great rugged war chief. . . . He is a man of massive outstanding personality, suited to the sombre and stormy times in which his life has been cast; a man of inexhaustible courage and will-power, and a man of direct and even blunt speech. . . . Above all, he is a man with that saving sense of humour. […] Stalin left upon me the impression of a deep, cool wisdom…
To appease his great ally, Churchill would agree to Stalin’s annexation of the Baltic republics, his plunder from the devil’s pact with Hitler, and turn a blind eye to the Katyn massacre. When the Polish government-in-exile asked him to look into the 1940 mass murder of the Polish officer corps in Soviet captivity, fifteen thousand Poles executed in all, Churchill was dismissive: “There is no use prowling round the three year old graves of Smolensk.”
Churchill’s answer suggests he suspected or knew the truth, that Stalin had perpetrated the Katyn massacre. If he thought an investigation would implicate the Nazis in the mass murder of Poland’s officer corps, Churchill would have pursued it.
In early 1944, “Churchill put pressure on the Poles to accept border changes that made Munich look like a simple frontier adjustment.” Churchill’s concessions at Moscow were far worse than Chamberlain’s at Munich. For the Poles were terrified of Stalin’s Russia, while the Sudeten Germans clamored to join Hitler’s Germany. What did Churchill think the fate of the Poles, who had defeated the Red Army in 1920, would be under Stalin? How could he not have known what Stalin had in store for the Poles when Stalin in 1944 had refused U.S. and British planes permission to fly supplies to the dying Home Army?
At Yalta in February 1945, Churchill gave moral legitimacy to Stalin’s control of half of Europe by signing a “Declaration on Liberated Europe.” Writes Nisbet, the one hundred million Europeans east of the Oder
had to watch what democracy and freedom they had known before the war disappear, and then suffer the added humiliation of seeing such words as “free elections,” “sovereignty,” “democracy,” “independence,” and “liberation” deliberately corrupted, debased, made duplicitous, in the Declaration on Liberated Europe, the very title of which, given the ugly reality underneath, was a piece of calculated Soviet effrontery— one, however, that both Churchill and FDR acquiesced in.
Yet Churchill “was so pleased with Yalta, noted a British diplomat, he was ‘drinking buckets of Caucasian champagne which would undermine the health of any ordinary man.’”
To Churchill, the independence and freedom of one hundred million Christian peoples of Eastern Europe were not worth a war with Russia in 1945. Why, then, had they been worth a war with Germany in 1939? To this day, a question remains unanswered. Did Churchill ever give a damn about Poland?
Churchill had to know in 1939, when he was pounding the war drums and calling for partnership with Stalin, that any victory in alliance with Stalin would bring Communism into the heart of Europe and replace Nazi tyranny with Bolshevik tyranny. Was it worth bankrupting and bleeding his country and bringing down the empire for this? Was it worth declaring war to keep 350,000 Danzigers separate from a Germany they wished to rejoin, if the cost was to consign one hundred million people to the mercy of Stalin’s butchers?
Churchill knew of the mass murders on Lenin’s orders, the massacre of the Czar’s family, Stalin’s slave-labor camps, the forced starvation in Ukraine, the Great Purge of the old comrades and Russian officer corps, the show trials, the pact with Hitler, the rape of Finland and the Baltic republics, Katyn. As historian John Lewis Gaddis writes, “[T]he number of deaths resulting from Stalin’s policies before World War II . . . was between 17 and 22 million,” a thousand times the number of deaths attributed to Hitler as of 1939, the year Churchill was clamoring for war on Hitler and an alliance with Stalin.
If Chamberlain was naive about Hitler, how defend Churchill’s naive trust in Stalin, twenty-five years after Lenin’s Revolution and Red Terror?
At Munich, Chamberlain had agreed to the transfer of 3.25 million Sudeten Germans to Berlin, rather than fight a futile war to keep them under a Czech rule they wished to be rid of. At Teheran and Yalta, Churchill signed away one hundred million Christians to Stalin’s terror and agreed to let him annex the Baltic states and 40 percent of Poland, the nation for whose “integrity” Britain had gone to war.
More than “ally himself to Stalin,” Churchill colluded with Stalin in such historic crimes as the forcible return of millions of resisting POWs and Russians, whether “Soviet citizens” or not, from Allied occupied territory to the NKVD. Stalin was especially interested in the Cossacks who had fought Soviet rule in the civil war of 1919–1920 and fled with their families to the West.
On December 15, 1944, Churchill rose in the House of Commons and formally repudiated the Atlantic Charter:
Expulsion is the method which, so far as we have been able to see, will be the most satisfactory and lasting. There will be no mixture of populations to cause endless trouble. . . . A clean sweep will be made. I am not alarmed by these large transferences which are more possible in modern conditions than they ever were before.
As Alfred-Maurice de Zayas observes, at Yalta in February 1945, Churchill and FDR sought to limit the German lands ceded to Poland, but capitulated to Stalin’s demand that the new provisional Polish-German border be set at the Oder and western Neisse rivers. This meant “11 million people—9 million inhabitants of the eastern German provinces and 2 million from Old Poland and the Warta District” would be driven out of their homes.
Two million Germans would die in this largest forced transfer of populations in history, a crime against humanity of historic dimensions in which twenty times as many Germans were driven from their homes between 1944 and 1948 as the 600,000 Palestinians of the war of 1948, and more Germans died than all the Armenians who perished in the Turkish massacres of World War I. The territories of East Prussia, Pomerania, Eastern Brandenburg, Silesia, Danzig, Memel, and the Sudetenland were relentlessly and ruthlessly “cleansed” of Germans, whose families had inhabited them for centuries. While this crime against humanity was being perpetrated, the Allies at Nuremberg, including Stalin’s USSR, were prosecuting the Germans for crimes against humanity.
BOMBING OF CIVILIANS
In his first meeting with Stalin in 1942, Churchill brought up the Royal Air Force bombing of German cities to ingratiate himself with the tyrant by impressing upon him how ruthless Britain intended to be. Writes Martin Gilbert:
Britain looked upon the morale of the German civilian population “as a military target. We sought no mercy and we would show no mercy.” Britain hoped to “shatter” twenty German cities, as several had already been shattered. “If need be, as the war went on, we hoped to shatter almost every dwelling in almost every German city. […] Stalin smiled and said that would not be bad.”
Before leaving for Yalta, Churchill ordered Operation Thunderclap, massive air strikes to de-house German civilians to turn them into refugees to clog the roads over which German soldiers had to move to stop a Red Army offensive. Air Marshal Arthur “Bomber” Harris put Dresden on the target list. On the first night of the raid,
770 Lancasters arrived over Dresden around 10 p.m.:
In two waves three hours apart, 650,000 incendiary bombs rained down on Dresden’s narrow streets and baroque buildings, together with another 1,474 tons of high explosives. . . . The fires burned for seven days.
More than 1,600 acres of the city were devastated (compared to 100 acres burned in the German raid on Coventry) and melting streets burned the shoes off those attempting to flee. Cars untouched by fire burst into flames just from the heat. Thousands sought refuge in cellars where they died, robbed of oxygen by the flames, before the buildings
above them collapsed.
The morning after the Lancasters struck, five hundred B-17s arrived over Dresden in two waves with three hundred fighter escorts to strafe fleeing survivors. Estimates of the dead in the firestorm range from 35,000 to 250,000. The Associated Press reported, “Allied war chiefs have made the long-awaited decision to adopt deliberate terror bombing of German populated centers as a ruthless expedient to hasten Hitler’s doom.”
That Churchill was a great war leader who inspired as he led his people is undeniable. But was he a great statesman?
You ask: What is our policy?” he had roared to the House of Commons on May 13, 1940. I will say, “It is to wage war, by sea, land and air, with all our
might and with all the strength that God can give us. […] That is our policy.”
You ask, What is our aim? I can answer with one word: Victory—victory at all costs, victory in spite of all terror, victory however long and hard the road may be; for without victory there is no survival.
This is the rhetoric of a war chief.
“War,” said the soldier-scholar Clausewitz, “is a continuation of policy by other means.”207 The warrior’s goal is victory. The statesman’s goal is a peace that leaves the nation more secure. Churchill succeeded magnificently as a war leader. He failed as a statesman.
He had been a great man—at the cost of his country’s greatness.
AMERICA INHERITS THE EMPIRE
With the end of the Cold War in 1989 and the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, America was at her apogee. All the great European nations—Britain, France, Germany, Italy—were U.S. allies, as were Turkey, Israel, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt in the Middle East, Australia, South Korea, and Japan in the Far East. In the Reagan era, Russia was converted from the “evil empire” of the early 1980s into a nation where he could walk Red Square arm in arm with Gorbachev with Russians straining to pat him on the back. Four hundred million people in Europe and the USSR had been set free. The Red Army had begun to pack and go home.
With all the territory and security any country could ask for, the first economic, political, cultural, and military power on earth, America ought to have adopted a policy to protect and preserve what she had. For she had everything. Instead, we started out on the familiar road. We were now going to create our own New World Order.
After 9/11, the project took on urgency when George W. Bush, a president disinterested and untutored in foreign policy, was converted to a Wilsonian ideology of democratic fundamentalism: Only by making the whole world democratic can we make America secure.
After seven years of a foreign policy rooted in such “moral clarity,” the world of 1989 had disappeared and America has begun to resemble the Britain of Salisbury and Balfour, a superpower past her prime, with enemies rising everywhere.
Rather than follow the wisdom of conservative men like Kennan, Eisenhower, and Reagan, we began to emulate every folly of imperial Britain in her plunge from power.
There is hardly a blunder of the British Empire we have not replicated.
• As Grey and Churchill seized on von Kluck’s violation of Belgian neutrality to put their precooked plans for a war into effect, the neoconservatives seized on 9/11 to persuade our untutored president that he had a historic mission bring down Saddam Hussein and liberate Iraq.
• As Chamberlain gave a war guarantee to Poland the could not honor, the United States began to hand out NATO war guarantees to six Warsaw Pact nations, the three Baltic republics, and, soon, Ukraine and Georgia. Should a hostile regime come to power in Moscow and reoccupy these nations, we would have to declare war.
• As Britain had a “balance-of-power” policy not to permit any nation to become dominant in Europe, the 2002 National Security Strategy of the United States declares our intention not to permit any nation to rise to a position to challenge U.S. dominance on any continent—an attempt to freeze in place America’s transient moment of global supremacy. But time does not stand still. New powers arise. Old powers fade. Evan Americans cannot stop the march of history.
• As Britain threw over Japan and drove Italy into the arms of Hitler, Bush pushes Russia’s Vladimir Putin into the arms of China by meddling in the politics of Georgia, Ukraine, and Belarus, planting U.S. bases in Central Asia, and hectoring him through the National Endowment for Democracy.
America is as overextended as the British Empire of 1939. We have commitments to fight on behalf of scores of nations that have nothing to do with out vital interests, commitments we could not honor were several to be called in at once. We have declared it U.S. policy to democratize the planet, to hold every nation to out standards of human rights, and to “end tyranny in our time.”
And to show the world he meant business, President Bush had placed in his Oval Office a bust of Winston Churchill.
Reprinted from CHURCHILL, HITLER, AND THE UNNCESSARY WAR: HOW BRITAIN LOST ITS EMPIRE AND THE WEST LOST THE WORLD Copyright © 2008 by Patrick J. Buchanan. Published by Crown Publishers, a division of Random House, Inc.
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