Turning PointIssue: Spring 2000
John Lukacs, Five Days in London: May 1940 (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1999), 236 pp., $19.95.
"History is now, and England", wrote the American expatriate poet T.S. Eliot during the Second World War. This certainly was the case in the summer of 1940. Professor Lukacs' claim that the five days in London between May 24 and 28 saw a turning point in history sounds hyperbolic, but it stands up well to examination. It was then that the British government under the leadership of Winston Churchill decided not to ask a triumphant Adolf Hitler for terms, but to fight on whatever the odds. By that decision they gained the support of the United States, and persuaded Hitler to turn directly on his ultimate objective, the Soviet Union. Britain did not thereby win the war, but it created the conditions that made it virtually certain that Hitler would lose it. As a result, "civilization as we know it" survived for another fifty years. "Perhaps", Professor Lukacs concludes gloomily, surveying the scene at the end of the century, "that is enough."