I'm sure many of you have heard about the new movie entitled, Darkest Hour, nominated for both Best Picture and Best Actor at this year's Academy Awards. It depicts the account of Winston Churchill's improbable selection as the British Prime Minister at the beginning of World War II. This was a time when the world, including the American people, literally held their breath. The movie provides a deeply moving dramatization of this period in history, and, unfortunately, Darkest Hour failed to tell the most important part of the story. That is what my letter will address today.
Let's go back 78 years to an era when the fate of millions of people in dozens of countries hung in the balance. It is described in a book by John Lukacs that I found fascinating–and deeply disturbing. The title of the book is Five Days in London.1 I think it is a must read for everyone interested in World War II, and it demonstrates how the Lord intervened at an incredibly difficult time to accomplish His purposes. Let me take you into that troubled world three quarters of a century ago.
In May 1940, the political and military situation in Europe was catastrophic. Seven years earlier, Adolf Hitler had gained absolute power in Germany and immediately set about rearming his bellicose nation. On September 1, 1939, he invaded Poland, destroying its inadequate army, and then turned his fury on the nations of Western Europe. Hitler's "Lightning War" rumbled almost unopposed throughout Norway, Denmark, Holland, Luxembourg, and Belgium. The French army, which most military experts believed would hold its own against Germany, was humiliated in only 40 days. Nearly 500,000 British and French troops were trapped in a tiny coastal enclave called Dunkirk, where they faced certain annihilation. Hitler's armored divisions, commanded by Generals Heinz Guderian and Karl von Rundstedt, were only 15 miles away, while Hermann Goering's air force (the Luftwaffe), bombed and strafed the hapless armies below. Arguably, this was one of the most tragic moments in world history.
It is difficult to comprehend the panic that gripped peace loving nations at that time, especially Britain. Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain resigned in disgrace in early May 1940 and was replaced by Winston Churchill. British leaders were staggered by the realization that this German madman, Adolf Hitler, and his henchmen had not only enslaved and dominated most of Europe in less than a year, but that Britain would be next. The Fuhrer was never closer to his ultimate victory than during those five days, May 24-28, 1940.
The loss of the British armies at Dunkirk would have left them naked in response to the anticipated Nazi invasion of England. Foreign Secretary Lord Halifax and other leaders began talking about attempting to bribe or cut a deal with Hitler.2 President Franklin Roosevelt even feared that British leaders would surrender the nation's prized fleet in return for concessions, and, indeed, that was a possibility.3 Appeasement and cowardice were the themes of the day. If the British had surrendered without a fight, which was plausible in those bewildering days, the Nazi reign of terror could conceivably have continued for decades. Millions more Jews, Poles, gypsies, and other "undesirables" would have been gassed or shot, and 1,000 years of British history would have come to an inglorious end.
What was the United States doing at that time? It was blithely sitting on its hands and watching its friends twisting in the wind. An "America First" movement, passionately articulated by Charles Lindbergh and others, lobbied to keep the U.S. out of European conflicts. Indeed, the following year, Congress came within one vote of ending the draft, less than four months before Pearl Harbor. Franklin Roosevelt, who apparently didn't want to provoke Hitler, even refused to grant asylum to a shipload of Jewish refugees, many of whom were sent home to be executed.4
This was one of the most shameful acts in U.S. history, when a powerful president allowed himself to be intimidated by a lawless dictator on the other side of the Atlantic. Isn't it interesting how men and women will compromise their ethics when their self interests are threatened? Still greater dangers were on the horizon. The Imperial Japanese Navy was preparing for a devastating attack on our fleet at Pearl Harbor, and the world was about to be thrown into the bloodiest war in the history of mankind. 50 million people would die in the next 5 years! Here is what influential people were saying about the European situation in the latter part of May 1940:
General Sir Edmund Ironside, Chief of the British Imperial General Staff, confided to a colleague, "This is the end of the British Empire."5
Joseph Kennedy, U.S. Ambassador to Britain and father of the future president, hated Winston Churchill6 and thought England had no chance (or reason) for resisting Germany.7 He was an anti semite8 who believed that national socialism and fascism were bulwarks against communism. He also thought the British Empire was hopelessly antiquated.9 With friends like that, who needs enemies?
King Leopold III of Belgium said, "The cause of the allies is lost."10
David Lloyd George, former Prime Minister and a member of Parliament, admired Hitler and was convinced that Britain had no chance of winning the war.11 He called Hitler "the greatest living German."12
Harold Nicolson, a member of the British government, wrote his wife that they might even be compelled to commit suicide.13
Joseph Stalin, the Russian dictator who would be locked in a four year death struggle with Hitler 12 months later,14 had his foreign secretary congratulate Hitler on his defeat of France.15
What were British "commoners" saying in May 1940? Most had no clear notion of the peril they faced. Here's a partial summary of an informal poll taken at that time by the Housewives Union. "[S]ome of the younger housewives...have got to the stage where they would more or less welcome Hitler here. They say it couldn't be worse, and they'd at least have their husbands back." One worker commented on the finding: "I can see that if the morale goes on the decline so steep as it is at the moment, there won't be much resistance to him, when he does come."16
Many women, in particular, admired Hitler. For some, he had become "a secret and somewhat mystical astrological figure."17 How could they have been so naïve? The greatest butcher of all time was being welcomed by wives and mothers whose sons and husbands would soon be required to risk (or sacrifice) their lives to stop Hitler. Public opinion today, here in America, is sometimes just as ridiculous.
Winston Churchill stood firm during this frightening time, although privately he was also shaken by Britain's circumstances. For once, even his legendary appetite for food and drink were gone.18 Still, he told the French Prime Minister, Paul Reynaud, that England would go on alone, if necessary: "We would rather go down fighting than be enslaved to Germany."19 Unfortunately, Churchill didn't yet have a firm grip on the government. Lord Halifax and the other defeatists wrestled with him for the reins of power. If they had gained control at that critical juncture, the world would look very different today. Instead of offering Churchill's policy of "blood, sweat, toil and tears," they would have wrung their hands and whined, "Can't we all just get along?" Hitler would have chewed them into pathetic little pieces by the end of the year.
Now we come to the misinformation in the movie, Darkest Hour. This portrayal completely ignored any reference to what I am about to write, but it is absolutely factual. This is the predicament in which British and French found themselves in late May of 1940. A half million of their soldiers huddled hopelessly at Dunkirk, waiting for inevitable death or imprisonment. It was at that dire moment that the churches in Britain called for a National Day of Prayer. It had been suggested during April, but, believe it or not, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Cosmo Gordon Lang, had opposed the proposal. He said he didn't want the call to prayer to be misinterpreted, whatever in Heaven's name that meant. However, with the alarming deterioration of the military situation in France, King George VI, Winston Churchill, and many other national leaders decided that it was, indeed, time to pray. On May 23rd, numerous political leaders and newspaper editors joined the king and issued a call for a National Day of Prayer to be held on Sunday, May 26th, 1940.20
On that day, the British people gathered to pray. Church attendance skyrocketed, including a large gathering at Westminster Abbey, during which people pleaded with the Almighty to spare their husbands, sons and fathers at Dunkirk.21 No one could have anticipated what was to happen during the next three momentous days. Just 24 hours after the call for prayer, Adolf Hitler inexplicably ordered his armies to halt, to the surprise and dismay of even his own generals.22
Former Prime Minister, Neville Chamberlain, wrote this in his diary: "May 26. Blackest day of all. This was the National Day of Prayer."23 In reality, it turned out to be one of the critical turning points of the war. At seven o'clock that evening, an order was issued to attempt a desperate evacuation of Dunkirk.24 Every tiny vessel and privately owned craft was sent across the treacherous waters of the English Channel with orders to rescue as many men as possible before the arrival of the Germans.
Hitler's armies remained stationary, not only on the 24th, 25th and 26th, but incredibly, until early June! To this day, no one knows exactly why. The Fuhrer held victory in the palm of his hand, and yet he prevented his combat troops from finishing the job. Some have speculated that Hitler didn't want to risk unnecessary losses in a final battle. Others think Hermann Goering prevailed upon Hitler to let his Luftwaffe get the credit for destroying the British and French armies.25 As for Hitler's own view, he said he wanted to give Churchill "a sporting chance."26 Yeah, sure! The bloody dictator never gave anyone a sporting chance.
There is a more valid explanation. We believe the German armies were halted by the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, who shut the mouths of the lions during Daniel's night of peril. Just as the Lord heard the prayers of the Israelites so long ago, I believe He was listening when hundreds of thousands of believers in the UK were praying for divine intervention.
Don't you think the writers and producers of Darkest Hour should have referenced this call to prayer and the answer that came from above?
For nine perilous days, the Germans were content to shell and bomb Dunkirk from the air and from a distance. Meanwhile, large numbers of allied soldiers were scrambling aboard little boats and yachts. On May 29, 47,000 were rescued; on May 30, 53,000; on May 31, 68,000; on June 1, 64,000. In all, 336,000 men found their way to safety in the British Isles!27 The leaders of the UK were jubilant-and astounded.
General Ironside wrote, "I still cannot understand how it is that the (Germans) have allowed us to get [our troops] off in this way. It is almost fantastic that we have been able to do it in the face of all the bombing and gunning."28 Yes, General, where were you when Christian people were on their faces before Almighty God?
Alexander Cadogen, permanent undersecretary at the foreign office, called the evacuation "marvelous" and "a miracle."29
Churchill summed up the breathtaking developments with these now historic words: "If Germany [had] defeated either [Britain or France] or both, she would give no mercy; we should be reduced to the status of vassals forever. It would be better that the civilization of Western Europe with all of its achievements should come to a tragic but splendid end than that the two great democracies should linger on, stripped of all that made life worth living."30
He added these comments a few days later, "If we fail, then the whole world, including the United States, including all that we have known and care for, will sink into the abyss of a new Dark Age, made more sinister, and perhaps more protracted, by the lights of perverted science."31 But Britain was spared that ignoble end!
The author of Five Days in London, John Lukacs, wrote this: "[Churchill succeeded] because of his resolution and-allow me to say this-because of God's will, of which, like every human being, [Churchill] was but an instrument. He was surely no saint, he was not a religious man, and he had many faults. Yet so it happened."32
Thank God our British cousins and Christians in other countries were spared the nightmare of Nazi tyranny. The Lord heard the prayers of His people during this time of tribulation. Specifically, the outcome of the war hinged at one crucial moment on a National Day of Prayer in the Mother Country.
One of the greatest lies of Satan is that prayer is not effective. Never believe it! The Lord will respond to the deepest longings of your heart, too. He loves your children even more than you do, and He will help guide them past the temptations of a culture in moral decline.
Relating our present situation to the past, we have to ask whether Christian people today have the courage to stand firm when the odds against us seem overwhelming. Or will we be like Lord Halifax and Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain, groveling and appeasing those who are plotting evil? Of course, these fearful men were not the only leaders who compromised under pressure.
The German Lutheran Church was also dancing to Hitler's tune in 1940.33 Jews were disappearing and their synagogues burned. The persecution of innocent women and children led to the murders of 6 million people in the Holocaust. Yet, many church denominations appeared not to notice.
This is what Dr. Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote before the Nazis hanged him naked with piano wire in 1945:34
"The church must confess that she has witnessed the lawless application of brutal force, the physical and spiritual suffering of countless innocent people, oppression, hatred, and murder, and that she has not raised her voice on behalf of the victims and has not found ways to hasten to their aid. She is guilty of the deaths of the weakest and most defenseless brothers of Jesus Christ...The church must confess that she has desired security, peace, and quiet, possessions and honor, to which she has no right...She has not borne witness to the truth of God...By her own silence she has rendered herself guilty because of her unwillingness to suffer for what she knows to be right."35
Although history validates the weaknesses of world leaders and the complicity of many Christians during the Nazi era, we must look carefully at ourselves before we criticize them too harshly. Almost 60 million American babies have been killed by abortionists since 1973,36 to which many of our church leaders remained passive. I agree with Bonhoeffer's final assessment, "By her own silence she has rendered herself guilty because of her unwillingness to suffer for what she knows is right."37
I assure you that Family Talk is willing to suffer for what we know is right. We will stand firm and speak the truth in love, even though it brings ridicule and disdain. Our purpose is not to be popular, but to defend righteousness and biblical truth.
Will you stand with us? Will you help us oppose the killing of babies, the redefinition of marriage, the manipulation of young minds, and the ever increasing wickedness of today's entertainment industry? When we speak with one voice and pray fervently to the one true living God, we will be heard. Let's commit ourselves to this righteous cause, even though evil surrounds us. We are called to be faithful; the outcome belongs to the Lord.
May the God of our fathers help us persevere in these challenging days. As the Apostle Paul wrote, "Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up" (Galatians 6:9).
Thanks for reading this letter. Let us learn from history.
Your friend in Christ,
P.S. The primary lesson to be learned from May 1940 is that concerted national outpourings of prayer were not only effective 78 years ago, but the same God will hear our petitions for our nation today. May I ask you to consider participating in The National Day of Prayer again this year? It will be held on May 3 in Washington, D.C., and in cities and towns across the country. America is in desperate need of a spiritual revival. Let's ask the Lord, in His mercy, to put a shield of protection around this great but troubled nation. For more information, visit the website at nationaldayofprayer.org.
1. John Lukacs. Five Days in London: May 1940. (Yale University Press, New Haven: CT, 1999.)
2. Ibid, p. 64.
3. Ibid, p. 76.
4. Caren Burmeister. "Voyage of the Damned" Remembered. (United Press International, June 4, 1989.)
5. Ibid, p. 18.
6. Ibid., p. 172.
7. Ibid., p. 72.
8. Ibid., p. 56.
9. Ibid., p. 172.
10. Ibid., p. 96.
11. Ibid., p. 128.
13. Ibid., p. 131.
14. Ibid., p. 80.
15. Ibid., p. 170.
16. Ibid., pp. 80-81.
17. Ibid., p. 164.
18. Ibid., p. 129.
19. Ibid., p. 111.
20. Ibid., p. 104.
21. Ibid., p. 40.
22. Ibid., pp. 104-105, p. 133.
23. Ibid., p. 119.
24. Ibid., p. 136.
25. Ibid., p. 140.
26. Ibid., p. 193.
27. Ibid., p. 191.
28. Ibid., p. 192.
29. Ibid., p. 195.
30. Ibid., p. 217.
31. Ibid., p. 218.
32. Wall Builders Thanksgiving Day 1777, Thanksgiving Day 1781, Thanksgiving Day 1782
33. Geffrey B. Kelly, "The Life and Death of a Modern Martyr," Christian History, Issue 32 (Vol. X, No, 4,), pp. 13-14.
34. Paul Galloway, "Nazis Took Pastors Life, But Not Faith," Chicago Tribune, April 7, 1995, p. 11 and Martha Baker, "Fine Novel is Fictional Bio of Hitler Foe," St. Louis Post-Dispatch, March 1, 1998, p. D5.
35. Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Ethics. (New York: MacMillan Publishing Co, 1975), p. 112.
36. National Right to Life Committee. Estimates of more than one million babies aborted in 1999.
37. Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Ethics. (New York: MacMillan Publishing Co, 1975), p. 112.
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