“I am ready to meet my Maker. Whether my Maker is prepared for the ordeal of meeting me is another matter.” ” –Winston Churchill, at the end of his life.
My choice for the 20th Century’s “Person of the Century” — Winston Leonard Spencer Churchill — went on to his just reward this week (Jan. 24) in 1965. One must presume that for all his sins (which were legion), Churchill’s just reward was a place of honor among the angels. And no doubt, Churchill’s “Maker” even took time from His busy schedule to grant an audience to the man who, more than any other, saved Europe and the world from the century’s original “Evil Empire,” Nazi Germany.
When Churchill became British Prime Minister in May of 1940, most of Europe was — in Churchill’s memorable phrase — “under the grip of the Gestapo and the odious apparatus of Nazi rule.” In a stunning series of diplomatic and military victories, Nazi Germany controlled, or would soon control, Austria, Czechoslovakia, Poland, the Low Countries, Denmark, Norway and France. Italy, the Soviet Union and Japan were German allies. America was isolationist and neutral. England stood alone.
Thus did Churchill face a two-fold task. The first was to quickly build up the British armed forces, which had been badly neglected under the appeasement policies of Churchill’s predecessor, Neville Chamberlain. The second was to rally the British people, which he did through a series of speeches and radio broadcasts heard around the world. Every word of every speech he ever gave, Churchill wrote himself (often while dressed in his bathrobe and smoking a fat cigar). “Had Churchill employed a speechwriter, we would all now be speaking German,” one British historian quipped and there is much truth to that.
As a result of Churchill’s leadership, for nearly two years — until America entered the war after Pearl Harbor and the Soviet Union changed sides after Hitler’s disastrous decision to double cross the Soviets and invade the U.S.S.R. — British forces alone managed to fend off the Nazi juggernaut. Meanwhile, the British people, inspired by Churchill’s defiant spirit and matchless rhetoric, remained undaunted by Hitler’s attempts to invade the island or bomb it into submission. All the while, Churchill pursued a brilliant diplomacy designed to bring England and the United States together in a close working partnership.
We all know the result. The Allies defeated Nazi Germany, thanks in great part to Churchill’s courage and statesmanship.
When Sir Winston Churchill died (he was Knighted in 1953), the entire world — including the people of Germany — mourned his passing, and he became the first commoner since the William Gladstone to be honored with a London state funeral. He is one of my heroes of history.