Tag Archives: Winston Churchill

Chills from Prague Winter: a Story of Nazi and Soviet Takeovers

Prague Winter: A Personal Story of Remembrance and War, 1937-1948, is a memoir by Madeleine Albright. She chronicles the atrocities of Hitler’s rise to power in Europe, followed later by the Soviet takeover of her birth country. She reminds readers of the need for constant vigilance against demagogues.

Albright is the daughter of a former Czechoslovak diplomat, serving his country before, during, and after World War II. Albright’s family immigrated to the United States following the takeover of Czechoslovakia by Soviet communists. Albright later was U.S. Secretary of State under President Bill Clinton.

She tells of Hitler’s ascent in Germany and his unexpected rise to power. Hitler “transformed his country from a tottering democracy into a tightly organized dictatorship with a skyrocketing military budget and an aggressive international agenda.”

Konrad Henlein, a Czechoslovakian of German ethnicity, was used by Hitler in his conquest of the country. Henlein, Albright tells us, “was motivated less by Nazi ideology than by the lure of power and fame. His skill as a politician stemmed from his gift for lying with apparent sincerity.”

In paving the way to World War II, Albright quotes Winston Churchill’s assessment of Hitler, explaining why Europe was so desperately duped by him: “ . . . the world lives on hopes that the worst is over, and that we may yet live to see Hitler a gentler figure in a happier age.”

I could not help but be reminded of expressed hope in the early months of Trump’s presidency that he would become “presidential.”

Czechoslovakians of German ethnicity had valid reasons for contention with the Czech government, but their complaints were grossly exaggerated by Hitler to justify his occupation of their region. Similar to today’s “fake news,” Hitler spun the story his way.

I am reminded of Americans with valid complaints about their status—workers who have lost jobs and wages while digital newbies barely out of school become wealthy, or evangelical Christians who are sneered at. Unfortunately, they too often allow themselves to be used by politicians interested only in the advancement of their own fortunes or political agendas.

Yes, Albright’s memoir chilled me. We are never home safe. Democracies have fallen. Constant, sober vigilance is always needed.

“A Republic, if You Can Keep It.”

So spoke Benjamin Franklin in 1787 at the end of the convention to write the U.S. Constitution. He spoke in answer to a questioner who wondered what kind of nation this gathering of politicians had created. A monarchy like most European nations?

Answer: a republic, but only if you can keep it.

Ancient Rome also began as a republic but descended into tyranny. Why? For centuries, historians have studied possible reasons.

Some cite moral decline. Roman citizens became more interested in “bread and circuses” than in serving their republic, as they had in the beginning.

Or perhaps they yielded to the temptation to cede power to a dictator when times are hard. Citizens find it easy to believe a Caesar or a Hitler who promises easy solutions to economic problems or threats from enemies.

A democracy outlasts such threats if enough citizens look beyond the immediate present and choose long term goals, even sacrifice.

When Britain stood on the brink of extinction from the highly efficient German war machine at the beginning of World War II, their leader, Winston Churchill, didn’t promise a quick solution to the danger.

As the Nazis rolled over much of Europe, Churchill called for his people to stand firm while promising them “blood, sweat, toil, and tears.” Citizens rallied and sacrificed for the long term goal of defeating Germany.

John F. Kennedy inspired a generation of young people by calling on them not “to ask what your country can do for you but what you can do for your country.”

The vision of shared sacrifice is a powerful weapon. Not bread and circuses, but a sacrifice that includes all. Even the wealthy.

Waiting for the Good Guys to Win

The biography Clementine: The Life of Mrs. Winston Churchill, by Sonia Purnell, reminds us of Britain’s dark times in early World War II, when the country stood alone against Hitler’s might.

The book lists the number of European countries fallen under Nazi control at that time. France, Poland, Denmark, Norway, Belgium, and Holland had been swept into the Nazi vortex. Now Britain was to be the next victim.

The author recounts a day in September, 1940, when Clementine and Winston visited the operations center for the British air force. They watched as the command sent up squadrons to counter wave after wave of the German Luftwaffe.

At one point, Winston asked, “How many more planes have you?”

The commander replied, “I am putting in my last.”

Yet, this small force somehow—God only know how—repelled the much stronger enemy.

England was never invaded, and the entry of the United States into the war following the bombing of Pearl Harbor slowly changed the tide.

This reminder of a time when the forces of evil should have won and didn’t offers comfort in this time of moral turmoil. Sometimes the good guys do win.

Short as the Watch That Ends the Night

My father introduced me to history. For him, it wasn’t a collection of boring dates. History was people.

He enthralled me with fascinating tales of hillbilly ancestors who fought in the Revolutionary War in lesser known battles like Kings Mountain. He told me stories of Winston Churchill and the Battle of Britain, when England stood firm against the Nazis after they conquered most of Europe.

With that upbringing, of course the stories I write now are rooted in time and place. The space that spoke to me and that I have put into my novels is the gray area that begins with the end of World War II. A schizophrenic time period—not historical fiction, but not contemporary either in its first decades.

I examine the times, asking why my country and the world changed so drastically during that time.

The Cold War with the Soviet Union descended almost immediately following World War II, when the United States accepted the mantle of world leadership.

Americans chose to enter the Vietnamese conflict, and it has haunted us ever since. Eventually, the world saw the miraculous end of the Cold War without a nuclear holocaust.

Spiritual changes were no less profound. The age of city-wide revivals passed into today’s age of the nones, the ones with no religious affiliation.

What did we do to the times and what did the times do to us? That’s what the characters in my novels seek to find out.