“If the Allies had resisted Hitler strongly in his early stages…he would have been forced to recoil, and a chance would have been given to the sane elements in German life.” — Winston S. Churchill, 1948:
World War II was the defining event of our age—the climactic clash between liberty and tyranny. It led to revolutions, the demise of empires, a protracted Cold War, and religious strife still not ended. Yet Churchill maintained that it was all avoidable.
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This book examines Churchill’s argument: his prescriptions to prevent war, not in retrospect but at the time—his formulas, his actions, the degree to which he pursued them. It shows that he was both right and wrong: right that Hitler could have been stopped; wrong that he did all he could to stop him. It is based on what really happened—evidence that has been “hiding in public” for many years, thoroughly referenced in over 200 footnotes to Churchill’s words and those of his contemporaries.
We must bear in mind that Churchill was out of office, that he had no plenary authority. But he did have stature, and the challenges were great: the rise of Hitler; the rearming of Germany; violations of the Versailles Treaty; the push for German hegemony, the remilitarization of the Rhineland, the Anschluss with Austria, the Munich Agreement and the seizure of Czechoslovakia; missed opportunities for useful relationships with Russia and America. Of course these challenges were not to Britain alone—particularly in the cases of the Rhineland and Czechoslovakia.
It is proper to consider the lessons of the past as a guide to similar challenges now and in the future. But as Churchill wrote, “Let no one look down on those honourable, well-meaning men whose actions are chronicled in these pages, without searching his own heart, reviewing his own discharge of public duty, and applying the lessons of the past to his future conduct.” We must avoid applying the fatal decisions of that time to today’s problems—yet that is what the Churchillian critique of the 1930s has been used for, from the 1948 Berlin blockade through the Cold War, the Korean and Vietnam wars, the Suez and Cuban crises, Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, North Korea and Iran.
Contents (more details in subsequent posts)
Chapter 1. Germany Arming: Encountering Hitler, 1930-34
Chapter 2. Germany Armed: “Hitler and His Choice,” 1935-36
Chapter 3. Churchill and the Rhineland: “They had only to act to win,” 1936
Chapter 4. Derelict State: The Austrian Anschluss, 1938
Chapter 5: Churchill and Munich: Lost Opportunities and Mortal Follies, October 1938
Chapter 6. “Favourable Reference to the Devil”: The Russian Enigma, 1938-39
Chapter 7. Lost Best Hope: The America Factor, 1918-41
Chapter 8. Was World War II Preventable? “Embalm, cremate and bury—take no risks!”
Summary: What Churchill Teaches Us Today