In The American Spectator, Yoav J. Tenembaum recounts how Winston Churchill’s ascent to the British Prime Ministership 80 years ago changed the course of history, and set the stage for Nazi Germany’s ultimate defeat. He writes (abridged):
On May 10, 80 years ago, Winston Churchill became prime minister of Britain. Germany had already become the dominant power in continental Europe. Within a month and 12 days, France would surrender to Germany. Britain would be left alone to face the full might of Nazi Germany, by then perceived to be invincible. A combination of circumstances and chance would lead Churchill to be chosen as Neville Chamberlain’s successor, following the latter’s resignation.
In a sense, that day in 1940 was a landmark in British and world history. The previous policy of appeasement had failed; Britain was now headed by a leader who had warned about the consequences and was prepared to deal with its repercussions.
Chamberlain truly believed that appeasing Nazi Germany would secure a lasting and stable peace. The premise of his policy was wrong. …He thought that by abandoning Czechoslovakia, the only parliamentary democracy in Central and Eastern Europe, he would satisfy the territorial and political ambitions of Nazi Germany. He failed to grasp the true nature of Adolf Hitler’s policies and ignored the potential deterrent power of a combined triple alliance of Britain, France, and Czechoslovakia.
Churchill maintained, because Hitler didn’t merely want to redress the supposed wrongs done to Germany after World War I in the Versailles Settlement. Churchill, …feared that Nazi Germany’s ultimate goal was not to alter, but rather to destroy, the prevailing international order. Nazi Germany was thus a threat to be challenged, not an adversary to be pacified.
Churchill demonstrated that an individual can shape history.
After all, Lord Halifax, who had served as Foreign Secretary under Chamberlain, could have become prime minister. Had he assumed power rather than Churchill, the option of a negotiated settlement might have been pursued, leading perhaps to an entirely different historical scenario.