As this summer draws to a close, it is important to remember how perilously close the West came to catastrophe exactly 70 years ago.
While I was visiting London in July, a British friend said, “This summer marks the 70th anniversary of the Battle of Britain, but you wouldn’t know it by reading the press.”
In fact, the new Conservative-Liberal-Democratic coalition government led by Prime Minister David Cameron has been more focused on fiscal woes. Britain’s new Defence minister is saying massive cuts in military spending are on the way.
This is bad news for the United States, as Britain, a stalwart ally, is one of the few European powers that has kept its military well prepared.
Have we learned any lessons from 1940? The ferocious air battle over England between the RAF and the Luftwaffe was a major turning point in the war.
Had it gone the other way and the Germans wiped out the British air force or its airfields, an invasion likely would have followed.
Churchill realized he did not have the ground forces to resist such an invasion. A successful German invasion would have meant not only the end of Britain as a sovereign nation, but the complete domination of Europe by the Nazis.
In the summer of 1940, Britain — indeed Western civilization — was saved for several reasons. Among them: Churchill, the heroic RAF pilots, and the well-equipped British air force, especially its Spitfire fighters.
But such pilots and weaponry did not come out of thin air.
As Lawrence Kadish wrote in the New York Post: “Those assets did not suddenly appear. Men such as Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin, who have either been forgotten or scorned by history, made strategic decisions years earlier that allowed these weapons to be created and then forged into an integrated defense system. Churchill was prepared to use their sword and shield to counter the Nazis.”
Perhaps there are other lessons we are forgetting.
As a fan of the History Channel and the Military Channel, I find many of the World War II documentaries fascinating and informative. Still, I feel they often miss something.
Many of these documentaries gloss over the atrocities of Hitler and the Nazis. There are fleeting references to the Holocaust and other war crimes, but little depth to them. In fact, the powerful cinematography produced by the Nazi propaganda machine at times seems to get a free ride even today.
Surprisingly, during programs, a Time-Life TV commercial occasionally airs offering a DVD — The Nazis: A Warning from History. The ad says the DVDs, which cost $39.99, contain horrific video of Nazi atrocities and tell the real truth about the Nazis, including information that has never been presented on television.
Why isn’t this informative video shown on cable channels today?
One person who might find the movie eye-opening is director Oliver Stone.
In a recent interview, he said his upcoming Showtime documentary series seeks to put Hitler and Soviet dictator Josef Stalin “in context,” and topped it by claiming that America’s focus on the Holocaust is due to “Jewish domination of the media.” In an earlier interview he called Hitler “an easy scapegoat.”
Stone has apologized, but the sentiment from such a Hollywood player is disturbing.
Historian John Lukacs is right in saying that we have not fully grasped the results of World War II. In his newly published The Legacy of the Second World War, he argues that war in Europe was largely unexpected, and was precipitated by one man, Adolf Hitler. Hitler was thwarted, at least initially, by another man, Winston Churchill.
Lukacs says that were it not for Churchill, Britain likely would have negotiated a peace with Nazi Germany. There was strong sentiment in Britain and the British Cabinet to do so.
But Churchill understood history and its lessons. He stood firm, as did his countrymen. For this, America is eternally grateful, and we should all remember their sacrifices.
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