It has long been argued, most eloquently in Professor John Charmley’s Churchill: The End of Glory, that Churchill’s singleminded obsession with Hitler prevented him from seeing the longterm implications for Britain and the Empire by an alliance with the Soviet Union (cemented after Hitler’s attack on Russia in June 1941).
The following recollection by Churchill’s Private Secretary, the late Anthony Montague Browne, has always seemed to me the most appropriate comment by Churchill on the “peace option.” I first heard it when Sir Anthony addressed a Churchill dinner at the Hotel Savoy in 1985. It later appeared in Sir Anthony’s book, Long Sunset, 1995:
In the autumn of 1955, I dined alone with [Churchill] for seventeen evenings. Those evenings alone with an octogenarian were utterly fascinating. All sorts of curious pieces of information came out….On 1940 I played the Devil’s Advocate. Leaving aside the appalling issue of the extermination camps, which was then not evident, would it have been better if we had joined the New Order, as a substantial part of France was then inclined to do? Would the monstrous tyranny of Stalinism have been brought to an end, for Hitler most certainly would have attacked Russia and, unharrassed in the West, almost certainly would have won? Would the equally monstrous tyranny of the Nazi regime have been mitigated or abbreviated by the influence of Britain, whom Hitler had always respected? Would we have kept our Empire and our financial strength? WSC’s reply was brief:
“You’re only saying that to be provocative. You know very well we couldn’t have made peace on the heels of a terrible defeat. The country wouldn’t have stood for it. And what makes you think that we could have trusted Hitler’s word—particularly as he could have had Russian resources behind him? At best we would have been a German client state, and there’s not much in that.”
Of course, as some thoughtful historians would say, Churchill was far more willing to trust Stalin’s word at Teheran and Yalta than, say, Chamberlain was to trust Hitler’s word at Godesberg and Munich. But that is another story.