A column about history, culture, policy, and things in between.
Do you remember??
Eighteen years ago today our City was hit by a blitzkrieg. About 3 AM heavy rain turned to snow, and by daylight nearly ten inches of the heavy wet stuff covered most of Waukesha County. Trees, shrubs and all manner of plant life were devastated by the crushing weight, and though it would melt by the afternoon, the damage was done. We spent a good part of that summer cleaning up from the storm, and the sound of chain saws reverberated throughout our city for weeks.
But sixty-eight years ago today HISTORY'S Blitzkieg was unleashed, as Adolf Hitler's Wermacht invaded France. It is impossible today to grasp the stunning impact of this action which ushered in the greatest conflagration in history, re-wrote the world’s geopolitical landscape, and ultimately left FIFTY MILLION dead. Throughout the 1930’s Europe's intellectual and political elite had coddled Hitler, ignoring Winston Churchill’s insistent and graphic warnings. They watched as he swallowed Austria and Czechoslovakia, and even acquiesced to his invasion of Poland in 1939. As long as Hitler gazed eastward - towards Communist Russia, his actions were tolerated, even encouraged. But on this day his forces lunged westward across the Meuse River, and poured into France.
The French, who for months had been mired in defeatism and denial, awoke to their peril and along with their British Allies, rushed into Belgium to meet the German troops.............. BUT - the Germans weren't there. The Nazi General Staff had revolutionized warfare with the introduction of their mechanized Panzer Divisions, and they used their mobility to swing far south of Belgium. There they penetrated the Ardennes forest, out-flanked the Maginot Line, and cut like a scythe through the countryside of France, achieving the most rapid conquest since the days of Alexander. In six short weeks the Swastika would be hoisted over the Eiffel Tower, plunging La Vielle de Lumiere into the darkness of foreign occupation.
The Allies were stupefied by the pace and depth of the Nazi advance. In command of the lead Panzer units, General Heinz Guederian defied the frantic pleas of his superiors in Berlin, who begged him to wait for the slower moving German infantry. The grim tank commander knew better, and growled, “We move or we fail. Approve the advance or relieve me from command”. Reflecting on those frenetic days of mayhem and death, Churchill would later say, “The Germans were everywhere – and everywhere were victorious”.
The Nazi occupation of France, while reprehensible, would not even approximate the savagery of their Eastern occupations. England, protected by her Channel, would finally turn to the one man she had long scorned. In London the sixty-five year old Winston Churchill’s time had finally come, and he would stand astride the pages of history like the lion he was.
For months he would confront his fascist adversary with the only weapons he had - soaring prose and an indomitable will. His broadcasts originated from an underground London bunker, and were carried to the listening world via the BBC. They stand today as some of the most stirring orations in history, and a profile in political leadership.