What If … Churchill Had Died?

For years historians have speculated on how history might have changed if certain “near misses” and “What ifs…” had actually occurred.  One that always makes me shudder is this: What if, when he was hit by a cab this week (Dec. 12) in New York City in 1931, Winston Churchill had died?

To set the stage, Churchill was in New York on a paid lecture tour, and having spent the day of December 12 writing, he was to dine that evening with American financier Bernard Baruch. But upon hailing a cab he realized he had forgotten Baruch’s address.  After he and the cabby had driven around 5th Avenue to no avail, Churchill decided to get out and walk. He thought he would recognize the house from the sidewalk.

From the Central Park side of 5th Avenue, Churchill decided to cross the street, but forgetting that Americans drive on the right — not the left like the British — he looked the wrong way to see if the street was clear. Satisfied, he entered the crosswalk, was promptly hit by another cab and was dragged several yards before landing hard on the pavement. Rushed to the hospital, Churchill was diagnosed with two cracked ribs, a head wound that had exposed bone, a mangled right foot and several cuts and bruises. He would also contract pleurisy.

But he would recover and later lead England to victory over Hitler and Nazi Germany.  Had he not — had he died then and there — then whichever British leader was in power in June of 1940 would have gazed across the English Channel to find that Hitler controlled virtually the entire European mainland. Possessing neither Churchill’s rhetorical gifts, nor his indomitable spirit, nor his intuitive understanding that compromise with Hitler was a fool’s game, this leader would almost certainly have negotiated a peace with Hitler that — in the (vain) hope of saving the British Isles — would have solidified Hitler’s death grip on Europe and eventually doomed England.

Such a negotiated peace might even have involved some German say in England’s internal affairs, but it most certainly would have forbidden any future alliance with the United States.  Thus there would be no England to serve as the home base for the U.S. Army in 1944 (meaning no D-Day). With no nearby place to station troops, weapons or war material, America’s ability to fight in Europe would have been so compromised that it would have had very little power to affect the outcome of the war.

In other words, a prostrate England and an impotent U.S. would have been no threat to Hitler, allowing him to fully concentrate on his bitter fight with the Soviet Union.

Germany would have won World War II.