High School

Churchill & Putin – Seeing History in Current Events

Cross-curricular integration can catalyze world peace.

In 1940 there were two schools of thought on preserving peace in Western Europe (and beyond):

  • History:  be politically prudent; negotiate a traditional, tolerable peace that monarchs and parliaments will maintain for the good of the realm (which should translate to citizen safety)
  • Current Events: realize the rules changed; ensure safety with principle-driven decisions; defend inalienable rights with bravery and sacrifice (by all levels of citizenry and leadership)

But World War I was supposed to be the war to end all wars.  So in 1940 Britain, was all the drama really needed?  Why risk invasion when old-fashioned diplomacy – and a few small islands from the UK’s vast domains – should quiet the current furor of the German fuhrer?  Was Hitler really going to trash tradition and force a new world order? Who could be sure?Winston_Churchill_As_Prime_Minister_1940-1945_H2646A

Winston Churchill could. And as a political dark horse with a bull-in-a-china-shop demeanor, Churchill acted upon the bleak truth that Hitler would not stop. Churchill watched the German panzer divisions mowing down Holland, Belgium, France by the spring of 1940. And Churchill knew that Hitler also would mow down peace negotiations from those nations in his strike zone.

And yet. Though the British Expeditionary Force was limping around the tatters of Western Europe or clinging to the cliffs of Calais, many traditionalists of the British cabinet stalled decisions that could have saved lives in order to continue debating the merits of ambassadorial skills. They argued that using the  not-yet-destroyed military force as a bargaining chip for peace was the only way. After all, who could believe anyone could stop Germany from taking the British navy? And who could dismiss the merits of secreting the Royal Family away to Canada? Who could see a way to stand firm? Churchill could.

And that’s where cross-curricular integration became a critical tool in eventually gaining world peace.

As the new Prime Minister, Churchill did not bombast his naysayers and ‘disappear’ them from 10 Downing Street or key command posts. Instead, he invited them in. Even the ever-so-traditional, just-dismissed-as-ineffective former Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain was invited back by Churchill.  Why?  Because no matter how polarizing these politicians were on solving the problem of Hitler, Churchill knew that the world needed the UK’s leaders to weave together their diverse approaches, varying experiences, historical knowledge, debate skills, and military strategies to present a unified, impregnable, unrelenting, effective front. Only this would stop the current Nazi onslaught. Only this cross-integration of everything they knew, believed and had accomplished would convince new allies – the US – to join in destroying Hitler’s horrific plan.

And so under Churchill’s brash direction in May 1940, a disparate group of desperate politicians, soldiers and citizens combined their integrated skill sets with selflessness, bravery, and ingenuity to teach Hitler his first real lesson:  the Evacuation of Dunkirk and Operation Dynamo. To fight back, the UK first had to recover their fighting forces with a ragtag fleet of any tiny vessel that could float, regular citizens, medics, and an unflagging military. Here are some of the integrated skills used to save 338,226 soldiers:The_British_Army_in_the_UK-_Evacuation_From_Dunkirk,_May-June_1940_H1621

  • navigation – warships, sailboats, rowboats
  • weather prediction
  • aviation – bombing raids, supply drops
  • parachuting reinforcements
  • hydrology and tidal science
  • supply logistics
  • engineering:  floating bridges, amphibious tanks
  • rescue, triage and emergency medicine
  • morale & human resource management
  • mastery of tools used in all of the above
 Churchill acknowledged that wars are not won by evacuation.  But he also made clear:

We shall not flag or fail. We shall go on to the end. We shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air. We shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be. We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing-grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills. We shall never surrender!”

—House of Commons, 4 June 1940, (post-rescue of British & French armies from Dunkirk)

320px-Dunkirk_Evacuation_shipping_routesSee here for videos on Winston Churchill and his official biography. For more insight about May 1940, read Never Surrender by Michael Dobbs, a well-researched, fictionalized history (including a few myths) of three key weeks when Winston Churchill unified his nation, stopped Hitler, and showed the world that evil can and must be stopped in its tracks.

Putin:  What would Churchill do?

Heroes are compelling. But so what? Historical hindsight just explains the winners, right?  Maybe. But it’s the only lesson we have.

For example, what is Putin up to in 2014?  Well, if you’re savvy about history, international relations, or the ups and downs inherent to political freedom in developing, newly-democratic leaning nations, then  perhaps you would have kept tabs on Russia and Putin’s activities over the last decade.  And so you’d be prepared for current events.  Consider concerns over Obama’s and Romney’s different levels of insight.

This is not about Putin being the next Hitler.  It’s about strong characters on the world stage meriting strong evaluation and informed action.  It’s nice to think that if everyone uses contemporary rules of diplomacy,  peace can be maintained or regained. But Hitler wasn’t history’s only game changer (think Julius Caesar, Ivan the Terrible, Genghis Khan, or Napoleon) and he probably will not be the last.

Innovation works when it’s based on informed  thinking. Today’s leaders – and tomorrows –  must be prepared by integrating historical perspective into understanding and responding to current events.

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