Freedom's Greatest Hero
By Jeff Lukens
Winston Spencer Churchill's refusal to cower to Adolf Hitler's
overwhelming power raises him to among the greatest defenders of freedom
in all history. The Normandy invasion and the subsequent freedom of
millions of people in Western Europe occurred primarily because he took
such a bold stand in the critical years before the invasion. More than
70 years later, his story is still an inspiration for freedom-loving
Throughout the 1930s, Churchill warned that Hitler's rise had to be
confronted before it was too late. His warnings went unheeded, leaving
him a political outcast. By 1939, however, Hitler's war machine was
rolling and Churchill's predictions about him were becoming apparent.
Churchill succeeded Neville Chamberlain as Prime Minister on May 10,
1940, the same day Hitler launched his offensive into Western Europe.
Churchill commented that day, “I only hope that it is not too late.”
the dark days that followed, an Allied victory seemed unimaginable.
Holland fell in hours. Belgium fell in days. In two weeks, the Germans
had broken through to the English Channel, splitting the French and
British armies. The fall of France followed in mid-June. Britain then
stood alone against the German onslaught.
some of his compatriots began wondering whether Britain should sue for
peace, Churchill stood firm through this bleak time. He convinced the
British that their only choice was to fight on alone, even if that meant
they were to go down fighting.
series of rousing speeches, Churchill rallied his people's courage and
sense of historic greatness. “We shall not flag or fail,” he said before
Parliament on June 4. “We shall go on till the end. ... We shall defend
our island whatever the cost may be. We shall fight on the beaches, we
shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in
the streets. We shall fight in the hills. We shall never surrender.”
effect was electrifying. Pensive members of Parliament rose in
thundering applause. Their astonishment that the British Empire could
face such imminent danger was transformed into a dogged defiance. In the
days and weeks that followed, Churchill persuaded his countrymen to wave
off danger, take heart in “standing alone” and hold on until the tide of
with victory in France, Hitler waited for a British peace offer. The
British meanwhile prepared their defenses, and what may have been
militarily possible for Hitler in early June was becoming increasingly
improbable with each passing day.
an invasion to succeed, the Luftwaffe would first have to dominate the
air. The Royal Air Force and its airfields were thus the focus of the
initial air raids.
the Battle of Britain began in August, the Germans held almost a 3-to-1
advantage in aircraft. As the air battle raged, the RAF was downing
German aircraft at a rate of nearly 2-to-1. Yet after weeks of
relentless attacks, the Luftwaffe was wearing the RAF down. Then the
Luftwaffe changed its objective and began bombing London and other
cities, trying to cause a civilian panic. While many people were killed
in the Blitz, the change in German plans allowed the RAF to regain its
presence in the skies over southern England.
Churchill urged his fellow citizens to conduct themselves so that, “if
the British Empire and its Commonwealth last for a thousand years, men
will say, ‘This was their finest hour.’” He spent much time among
ordinary people who had lost homes and loved ones in the bombings. Their
stories of courage and adversity often moved him to tears.
Winter was coming and the RAF was still a threat, so Hitler called off
the invasion. Churchill knew that alone Britain could not defeat
Germany. Yet Britain defended itself and dealt Hitler his first setback.
Churchill knew he had to keep his island nation in the fight until the
United States came into the war. With Hitler unrestrained on the
continent, that proved to be just a matter of time.
German army was invading the Soviet Union in the summer of 1941. Had
Britain fallen the year before, the Germans likely would have been
successful against the Soviets as well. We could have seen a Nazi empire
stretching from central Russia to the Atlantic.
had the Soviets prevailed, we may have seen their ‘Iron Curtain’ span
from the Pacific to the Atlantic.
Britain did survive, D-Day occurred, and the continent has seen -- at
least in Western Europe -- freedom ever since. This legacy is largely
due to Winston Churchill. From him we learn the crucial lessons to have
courage to confront a threat before it becomes a catastrophe, and not to
make a false peace with oppressors.
daring and sheer will, he rallied Britain to its finest hour and turned
back tyranny for the free world. While we remember the brave men who
went ashore that fateful morning, at D-Day plus 70 years, we should also
remember the man who made it possible. No one more deserves to be
honored as the world’s greatest defender of freedom than does Winston