The percentage of the world’s population people who still remember the events of September, 1939 may be rapidly diminishing, but even for those of us born long after that fateful month, its commemoration can still stir deep pain. We might well imagine that generation for whom the carnage of the First World War was still a relatively fresh memory, hearing Neville Chamberlain’s mournful declaration of war against Germany on the morning of September 3, 1939 with a feeling of deep dread. They well understood that Britain was unprepared for a protracted armed conflict and were aware of the devastation that modern armaments could wreak on the home front. For over a decade they had been schooled in the knowledge of ‘total’ war and it was this awareness which had spurred the evacuation of children from England’s major cities.
It should have come as no surprise. In March of that year, Hitler had completed the occupation of Czechoslovakia, violating, without a second thought, the Munich Agreement he had signed six months earlier and which Chamberlain had so assiduously promoted as a diplomatic safeguard against exactly the kind of armed conflict about to engulf Europe. The Soviet-German Pact of late August 1939, ensuring that Germany would not be confronted with a two front war as it had been in 1914, must have only added to the British peoples’ sense of isolation. As August made way for September, the people of Britain were staring into the dark night of a very long and very costly conflict.
The British Conservative government, which had led the ill-fated effort to stave off the eventuality of war, was now a defeated and discredited party – and it was revealed in the tone in Neville Chamberlain’s voice. The radio recording of that moment captures the sense of a man walking to his grave – which was literally the case: within 14 months he would be dead from cancer. But as his voice shifted into a low register, mumbling the famous words which consigned his country irrevocably to war, his self realization that it was his own failed policies which had driven his country to the brink of a catastrophe, seeped through the microphone, by the airwaves and into millions of British homes. No one listening to that broadcast could have comfortably assumed that the British government was about to prosecute a war with vigor or was led by a leader who represented animated defiance of the Nazi threat.
And in fact, the British government was not at all committed to that cause. Over the next eight months, as Britain and France both stood idly by as Poland was dismembered, the British preparations for war remained lack luster. In May 1940, as France, the Netherlands and Belgium were successively invaded, Britain made a late and half hearted attempt to thwart the German advance to the English Channel , only to find its expeditionary force surrounded and, save for some very good luck and tight planning, almost annihilated at Dunkirk.
Enter Winston Churchill, who was vaulted to power by Conservative bank benchers who refused to serve under Chamberlain. But the same young men who had shepherded him to power were not to be rewarded with ministerial positions. Instead, Churchill retained many of Chamberlain’s appeasers, a number of whom of whom continued to connive against him and plot a return to power of either Chamberlain or his foreign minister, Lord Halifax. It was not to be for another six months, at the height of the Battle of Britain, that Churchill was finally able to rally the government and the population behind him.
Not many today are quite aware what was at stake in the summer 1940 as England stood alone against the might of the Luftwaffe and the prospect of a Nazi invasion. Had Britain fallen in those three months, the United States would have found itself eventually fighting a war on two fronts, with the Atlantic choked by unrestricted German submarine warfare and the Japanese, girding for a fight, having launched their long planned Pearl Harbor attack in December 1940, rather than 1941, seeking to ensure that the U.S. would not have the manpower nor the military hardware to successfully wage all out war.
What then stood between the United States and the likely world domination of fascism?
Yet with such tepid and uninspired leadership, beset by a divided and incompetent parliament, how did that country finally prevail?
The obvious answers are Winston Churchill’s ebullient leadership coupled with the eventual arrival of American manpower and resources which combined ultimately to tip the Second World War in Britain’s favor. But that would ignore one of the truly heroic episodes in the history of Western culture and civilization – and that is the fighting spirit of the British people themselves. The country that had given birth to liberal democracy and had been regarded by the dictators as weak and pliable, proved itself nothing of the sort. Hundreds of thousands of stories of heroism, selflessness and resilience emerged from the War, that have made their way into best selling autobiographies, novels and movies. What they reveal is that the country which originated the very concept of individual freedom had produced a populace willing to fight to the death in defending it. From the dog fights by Spitfire pilots over the English Channel to the immediate restoration of London buildings destroyed by the Luftwaffe, to the bravery of firefighters who risked their lives during intense aerial bombardments, there can be no doubt that the British were at their finest in the defense of their country in the crucial summer of 1940.
One questions then, whether the same qualities the British were able to summon so defiantly in the summer of 1940, would rise to the surface under similar conditions today. There is no certainty in any answer to that question. In my piece England’s Multicultural Revolution, I wrote of what I witnessed on a visit to the United Kingdom in the summer of 2008. There I saw the developing modern “ Battle of Britain” – the struggle to maintain English identity. All over the country traditionalists are besieged by the pressures to conform to the multi-cultural creed. This necessarily implies the subsuming of English traditions and the demonization of traditional values and those who would uphold them.
Perhaps Britain does not represent the bulwark against fascism that it did in the 1940s, but the dangers of societal collapse remains as real as it did back then. The American Freedom Alliance recognizes the vital role Britain plays in holding together Western civilization and has therefore devoted considerable resources to identifying the threats to British society and building alliances to combat them.
That campaign is based on the notion that without British perseverance and commitment to the foundations of western civilization, the freedoms we enjoy in the West – and here in America – will themselves be imperiled.
How we now address these threats will be a test of our commitment to our common values.
But for now, suffice to say the summer of 2009 is beginning to bear an eerie resemblance to that summer 70 years ago when so much that we value and treasure in our own lives, is seen to be hanging in the balance.