THE ADVOCATE 509
VOL. 78 PART 4 JULY 2020
Lukacs summarizes the outcome of the Halifax–Churchill battle in
graphic terms: “The fate of Britain—indeed the outcome of the Second
World War—depended on two things. One was the division between
Churchill and Halifax. The other was the destiny of the British army crowding
back into Dunkirk.”27 As to at least the first condition, this is surely correct.
Had Churchill not become prime minister on May 10, 1940, the war
would have been lost. Churchill’s ascendency to this office constitutes the
hinge of fate.
As to the second condition on which Lukacs stated the outcome of WWII
depended, as of May 27, 1940 the prevailing thinking was that only 20,000
to 30,000 troops were likely to be evacuated from France.28 Yet between May
28 and June 3, 335,000 British and French troops were successfully landed
in Britain. On June 4, Churchill addressed the House. He spoke of the “miracle
of deliverance” but, as always the realist, warned “not to assign the
attributes of a victory. Wars are not won by evacuations.” He concluded with
the rallying cry that will forever resonate through the ages:
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.
Britain hearkened to the great man’s leadership, and the virulent evil of
Nazism was ultimately extinguished.
In 2001 Roy Jenkins published an acclaimed biography of Churchill. Jenkins,
as a member of the Labour Party and eventually Lord Chancellor, was
a political opponent of Churchill. Whether for this reason or not, Jenkins
biography is harshly critical of Churchill on numerous occasions, in my
opinion sometimes unfairly so. Jenkins was also a learned Oxford don who
had written many serious political histories of the events of the 18th and
19th centuries, including an acclaimed biography of William Gladstone
(The Grand Old Man), Britain’s famous prime minister of the 18th century.
Jenkins concludes his book by stating that he started his research with
the opinion Gladstone was Britain’s greatest prime minister. After devoting
years to his Churchill research, he changed his mind. He now believed
Gladstone was Britain’s second greatest prime minister.
Jenkins drew this conclusion based on Churchill’s “genius, his tenacity and
his persistent ability, right or wrong, successful or unsuccessful, to be larger
than life, as the greatest human being ever to occupy 10 Downing Street”.