During the years leading up to the most terrible conflict in history, one man stood alone. He warned of the sinister approach of an evil. This darkness would grow, he cautioned, as it rolled in like thunderclouds. The force behind this horror was a ruthless, ambitious man named Adolf Hitler.
And the great man who faced down the Nazi leader was Winston Churchill. His brave and steadfast actions reach across the century to remind us to stand up when faced with the cruelty of bullying on any scale.
But Churchill’s words of warning fell on deaf ears in the first years of the 1930s, as Hitler came to power. His fervent appeals for Britain to move against Hitler were ignored. England was still heartsick at losses it had suffered in World War 1. There was no wish for war among the British people. And their Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain shared this reluctance. But times were changing quickly.
Hitler – Bullying Europe
Germany had been humiliated by defeat in World War 1. The insult to the proud German people was total. Hitler knew this. He sought to harness the discontents and did so with powerful speeches against all those he said were hurting the country – including the Jewish.
So Hitler gained power until his Nazi party ruled over Germany. After this, he started a program to increase “lebensraum” or living space for the German people. In reality, his vision was to create a German empire based on military might. In 1938, Hitler seized an area called the Sudetenland.
Churchill was right – he’d been right all along. Hitler then took over Czechoslovakia after he’d promised not to, followed by a full-scale invasion of Poland in 1939. Neville Chamberlain met with Hitler three without any effort to stop him taking power. In fact, Chamberlain agreed to Hitler’s take-over of the Sudetenland.
This yielding to aggression was known as “appeasement.” Chamberlain only encouraged Hitler’s aggression. It also doomed his country and all of Europe to the horrors of the Nazis.
By 1940 Hitler had invaded Belgium, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, and France – and Churchill’s moment had come at last. Chamberlain stepped down. The stage was set for a battle of the ages as Churchill became prime minister.
Churchill told the British people to “never surrender.” The little island would take a stand. But the struggle against evil was years long and filled with terrors, hardships, and death. These included the power of Hitler’s “blitzkrieg” (lightning-fast attacks) and a bombing campaign on London.
Eventually, Hitler was defeated – mainly because his aggressions were met with resistance from the Allies: Britain, Russia, France, and the United States. Churchill’s leadership made this possible. He drew America into the war by meeting with President Roosevelt – though in the end the U.S. joined after the attack on Pearl Harbor.
What Can WW2 Teach Us Today?
This harrowing moment in history can teach us a lot. Many of us see or experience bullying. The bully seeks to scare people, threatening violence to those who don’t obey. Think of the mean kid who takes lunch money from his peers.
The victim gives in to end the event quickly. But giving in seldom ends bullying – rather, this encourages it. Bullies seek weakness as a way to show their “strength.” Think of Chamberlain agreeing to let Hitler take the Sudetenland. Now think of a bully’s demand to hand over the ball – now. If the bully gets the ball without resistance, he is likely to do the same thing again – but next time demand a bike. The fall of Poland leads to the capture of France.
There are many ways to fight back against a bully. A loud, stern “No!” is a good start. Telling others, including adults, and asking for help can be a good idea – just as Churchill did when he reached out to President Roosevelt.
And helping someone else to confront bullying fulfills the golden rule of doing unto others as you would have them do unto you. Would you wish someone to flank you as you faced the school bully – like the Allies did for England in WW2 against the Nazis?
They say that those who forget history are doomed to repeat it. The lessons learned in WW2 apply to life today. When faced with intimidation and the threat of violence in this world, it is not easy to be Chamberlain or Churchill. But only one man’s lessons ring clear as a bell across the century.