Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Britain’s Finest Hour

The 7th of September marked an important anniversary for people in the United Kingdom. Having conquered or subdued the entire European continent, and having formed an alliance with Japan that was performing similar activities in Asia, Nazi Germany turned its attention to the last obstacle to complete European domination, the British Empire. It was exactly seventy years ago to the date that Nazi Germany began its relentless air raid across the country, killing scores of British civilians for the next seventy-six straight nights of blitzkrieg or “blitz”. Despite the damage and tragedy inflicted on the nation during these days, Hitler’s planned invasion of Britain, codenamed Operation Sealion, would never come to fruition because he was unable to gain the air superiority over southern England required to secure a successful cross-channel raid. Eventually, after the initial, non-stop bombing of London and other major English cities and ports, Hitler postponed his plans to invade the island of Britain altogether. While trying and devastating, it was a much needed defensive and moral victory in these earlier days of the war and a case study of strategic failure on the part of Germany.

As an avid fan of history, I have always been especially interested in World War II. The events that transpired during those years and their aftermath are still manifested across the world, in both the progress and unresolved problems we see. The forthcoming years of conflict during the Cold War, the impacts of decolonization and independence movements in the developing world, and the rise of multilateral systems and institutions were born out of the ashes of this global conflict and in many places, the affects are still felt today. Growing up in the United States, although I knew that the war began much earlier in Europe and Asia, our mental date of commencement is usually December 7th, 1941 with the bombing of Pearl Harbor. However, after living in Britain for a while now, the war clearly began much earlier than that and it is imbedded in the national psyche of most British people who know that their country was bombed nearly into destruction and at serious risk of invasion and conquest, a threat that we never faced during those war years due to our geographic separation. Carrying the brunt of the conflict while the Soviet Union was still bound by a non-aggression pact with Germany, and America’s support was only in the form of arms dealing and financing through the Lend Lease Act, Britain stood alone with only the support of its Commonwealth allies, whom we often forget contributed significantly to the war effort.

When I walk around London it is extremely difficult to comprehend that this was a city under siege and nearly totally destroyed during those months in 1940 and 1941. Tube stations were used as overnight shelters from the nightly bombing raids and civilians took an active role in the defense of the city by forming sophisticated alert and response systems. The toll would eventually amount to 43,000 civilians killed, half of which were here in London. It is no wonder that the British have a vie of skepticism when approaching their relationship with the rest of Europe, a continent that had succumbed to fascism and proved unreliable in mutual-defense. Old wounds don’t heal quickly, but when put into context, the British hesitance towards greater political integration with the European Union although not necessarily relevant in today’s political climate, has some historic basis, even if only emotional in its justification.

Next week, on the 15th of September, Britain will celebrate Battle of Britain Day and the nation will reflect on those nights of chaos and destruction and their victory in repelling Nazi invasion and surviving to win a global war that would eventually change the course of history. Upon learning of France’s defeat in June 1940 and realizing that Hitler would soon turn his attention to Britain, Churchill had this to say regarding what he knew would be the impending defense of the realm:

"Let us therefore brace ourselves to our duty, and so bear ourselves that, if the British Empire and its Commonwealth lasts for a thousand years, men will still say, 'This was their finest hour.'"
– Winston Churchill, 18 June 1940

And so it proved to be…


  1. This is so well written and informative, Keenan! Awesome commentary and analysis. =) -Mejgan

  2. Thanks Mejgan! Glad you enjoyed it! Give H our best and we look forward to seeing you very soon!