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Taken on its own, Five Days in London is an exciting and informative, though hyperbolic, account of the period when Mr. Lukacs contends that Winston Churchill saved the world from Hitler. During the five days in question--Friday, May 24, 1940 to Tuesday, May 28--Mr. Churchill, named Prime Minister earlier in the month and still being challenged for power within the Conservative Party by Lord Halifax, who favored appeasing Hitler, was trying desperately to save as much of the army from Dunkirk as he could.  With prospects for continuing the fight looking bleak, particularly if the army was lost, and with Churchill still distrusted by many colleagues, Mr. Lukacs contends that it was a near run thing whether Halifax would take power himself and enter into negotiations with Hitler to keep Britain out of the war.  But more than that, he argues that Britain would have eventually been doomed had Hitler been allowed to dominate the continent without British opposition.  In effect then, by beating off the Halifax challenge and keeping England active in the war, Churchill prevented Hitler from consolidating his grip on Europe and preserved the possibility of later Allied victory.

The book is very much a response to those who have contended that Britain and America would have been better off leaving continental Europe to fend for itself while Hitler and Stalin slugged it out in the East and then walked in later to pick up the pieces.  I have to confess that I'm partial to that theory myself.  However, I would gladly concede the broader point that Mr. Lukacs seems to be making, that it would have been destructive to the very soul of the West to bargain with Nazi Germany.  Even the case that we had a moral obligation to confront such evil is rather compelling.  Indeed, were Mr. Lukacs serious about these arguments and willing to apply them generally, I'd be willing to give him the benefit of the doubt as to the vital importance of these five days.  But there's a curious dichotomy in his writings.  As much emphasis as he gives this brief interlude in 1940 and as much credit as he gives Winston Churchill and the British for stopping Hitler, Mr. Lukacs writing elsewhere is almost entirely derisive of the very similar resistance that America mounted to the Soviet Union after the War.  And he's especially hostile--and this is bizarre because Mr. Lukacs is considered a conservative--to the great Republican presidents of the Cold War: Dwight Eisenhower and Ronald Reagan.

The strange contempt for Mr. Reagan is a staple of an earlier book, The End of the Twentieth Century: and the End of the Modern Age.  The criticism of President Eisenhower happens to be available on-line, in Mr. Lukacs's review of Eisenhower and Churchill, by James C. Humes (John Lukacs, Harper's).  In fact, in that review Mr. Lukacs argues that Nazi Germany was powerful even into 1944, and so had to be destroyed, but that the Soviet Union, even in the 1950s, was in retreat and, apparently, need not have been confronted.  Mr. Lukacs even argues that Churchill tried to stop the Cold War in 1953 and 1954, urging Mr. Eisenhower to negotiate a settlement, and that it might have been possible to end the conflict right then.

Obviously we're pretty far out in the realm of speculative history by now.  On the one hand, had Churchill not stood tall in May 1940 we have the specter of Nazism rampant.  On the other, the Soviets wanted nothing more than peace after Stalin died.  It can serve little purpose to quarrel with either or both of these scenarios.  However, we can ask some consistency and, in that regard, it seems fair to ask of Mr. Lukacs why Hitler and Nazi Germany were so evil that even to negotiate with them would have been intolerable while the Soviet Union would have made a suitable partner in peace talks.  Would it have been permissible in his view to leave Eastern Europe under communist rule in order to secure such a peace?  How far would he, who is so willing to anathematize Halifax, have been willing to appease the Soviets?

It's hard to know why Mr. Lukacs even takes these diametrically opposed stands with regard to Nazism and Communism, but one wonders if it's not some kind of Eurochauvanism.  He can plausibly argue that almost all of Europe resisted Hitler to some degree and that Britain played the key role in his eventual defeat.  But Europe still has Communist parties even today.  The Soviets could always find eager collaborators in all the European nations they dominated.  And no one other than America deserves terribly much credit for winning the Cold War.  Perhaps it's just the Hungarian patriot in him coming out and refusing to concede that Europe spent the entire second half of the 20th Century virtually prostrate while the upstart Americans and Russians feuded over the carcass.  Whatever the case may be, Mr. Lukacs is an anti-anti-communist, an ideology which has no comparable form at the other side of the political spectrum--just try to imagine someone styling himself an anti-anti-Nazi.

In light of the author's inconsistency then, and the lack of any objective difference between Nazism and Soviet Communism, I for one am unwilling to suspend disbelief and grant him his thesis that these five days were necessarily pivotal in the history of the West.  It's a very readable and often thrilling book, but the situation it describes was perhaps less dire than Mr. Lukacs would have us believe.  At any rate, he fails to convince that much more hung in the balance than a potentially humiliating moment for England.  Considering that the British ended the war with the Empire in tatters abroad and with Socialism firmly entrenched at home and ended the Century with sovereignty steadily shifting to the Franco-German bureaucrats of the EU, it's hard to see what the point was of preserving British pride for five days in 1940.


Grade: (B)


See also:

John Lukacs (3 books reviewed)
John Lukacs Links:
    -John Lukacs (Wikipedia)
    -BOOK SITE: June 1941 (Yale University Press)
    -BOOKNOTES:  The Hitler of History  by John Lukacs (C-SPAN, March 1, 1998)
    -EXCERPTS: from A Thread of Years
-ESSAY: De Tocqueville’s Message For America : The French aristocrat's observations of American scoiety are as relevant today as they were when first written (John Lukacs, June 1959, American Heritage)
    -ESSAY : It's the End of the Modern Age (JOHN LUKACS, April 26, 2002, Chronicle of Higher Education)
    -ESSAY : It's the End of the Modern Age (JOHN LUKACS, April 26, 2002, Chronicle of Higher Education)
   -ESSAY: A Senseless Salute: The boy soldier salute, made popular by Ronald Reagan and used by President Bush, represents an exaggeration of the president's military role. (JOHN LUKACS, 4/14/03, NY Times)
    -ESSAY: How Certain Foreigners Saw New York (John Lukacs, Autumn 1993, City Journal)
    -ESSAY: HE WENT THERE: THE TALE OF A DISPLACED PIANIST (John Lukacs, December 2017, First Things)
    -AUDIO: Book Examines Relationship Between Hitler and Stalin: (Talk of the Nation, April 27, 2006)
    -INTERVIEW: History in a Democratic Age: A Conversation with John Lukacs (Bruce Coles, January 2003, Humanities)
    -ESSAY: The Price of Defending Hitler : A historian explains why a leading voice of 'Holocaust denial' lost his libel case (John Lukacs, April 24, 2000, Newsweek International)
    -ESSAY: 1945 and All That (John Lukacs, The National Interest)
    -REVIEW: of The Conquerors: Roosevelt, Truman and the Destruction of Hitler's Germany, 1941-1945; Michael Beschloss (John Lukacs, LA Times)
    -REVIEW: of Eisenhower and Churchill, by James C. Humes (John Lukacs, Harper's)
    -REVIEW: of Hitler's Pope: The Secret History of Pius XII, by John Cornwell (John Lukacs, National Review)
    -REVIEW : of COPENHAGEN By Michael Frayn (JOHN LUKACS, The Los Angeles Times)
    -REVIEW: of Bernard Norling. Timeless Problems in History (John Lukacs, American Historical Review)
    -REVIEW: of L. Salvatorelli. Guglielmo Ferrero: Histoire et Politique au XX Siecle (John Lukacs, American Historical Review)
    -REVIEW: of Roy Douglas. The Advent of War, 1939-40  (John Lukacs, American Historical Review)
    -REVIEW: of J. Lee Ready. Forgotten Allies: The Military Contribution of the Colonies, Exiled Governments, and Lesser Powers to the Allied
Victory in World War II. Volume 1, The European Theater; volume 2, The Asian Theater (John Lukacs, American Historical Review)
    -INTERVIEW : "Vegetables Don't Have a History":  A conversation with historian John Lukacs. (Donald A. Yerxa and Karl W. Giberson, Books & Culture, Jul/Aug 2000)
    -ESSAY: The Reactionary Loyalties of John Lukacs (Lee Congdon, Summer 2003, First Principles)
    -ESSAY : Turning-point politics: from salvaging the past to protecting the future (Tom Nairn, 16 January 2002, Open Democracy)
    -ESSAY: Truth, not justice (David Warren, May 26, 2002, Sunday Spectator)
    -ESSAY : Differences, Patterns . . . Barbarity (Milo Clark, June 17, 2002, Swans)
    -ESSAY : Continuing Explorations In Perception And Perspective (Milo Clark, July 15, 2002, Swans)
    -ARCHIVES: "john lukacs" (Find Articles)
    -ARCHIVES : The New York Review of Books: John Lukacs
    -ARCHIVES: "john lukacs" (Mag Portal)
    -REVIEW: of Five Days in London (Richard Grenier,
    -REVIEW: of Five Days in London (Michael McMenamin, Reason)
    -REVIEW: of Five Days in London (Shimshon Arad, Jerusalem Post)
    -REVIEW: of Five Days in London (Geoffrey Wheatcroft, New Statesman)
    -REVIEW: of Five Days in London (Michael H. Shirley, Historian)
    -REVIEW: of Five Days in London (Michael Korda, Harper's)
    -REVIEW: of Five Days in London (David Pryce-Jones, National Review)
    -REVIEW: of John Lukacs. 1945: Year Zero (Melvin Small, American Historical Review)
    -REVIEW: of John Lukacs. The Last European War: September 1939/December 1941 (Gordon Wright, American Historical Review)
    -REVIEW: of John Lukacs. A History of the Cold War (John L. Snell, American Historical Review)
    -REVIEW : of John A. Lukacs. The Great Powers and Eastern Europe (E. C. Helmreich, American Historical Review)
    -REVIEW: of John Lukacs. Decline and Rise of Europe: A Study in Recent History, with Particular Emphasis on the Development of a European Consciousness  (E. C. Helmreich, American Historical Review)
    -REVIEW: of John Lukacs. Outgrowing Democracy: A History of the United States in the Twentieth Century (John Braeman, Journal of American
    -REVIEW: of John Lukacs. Historical Consciousness: Or the Remembered Past (Donald M. Lowe, American Historical Review)
    -REVIEW : of THE HITLER OF HISTORY By John Lukacs (V. R. Berghahn, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of The Hitler of History (Richard Brookhiser, National Review)
    -REVIEW: of The Hitler of History (Walter Sundberg, First Things)
    -REVIEW : of The Hitler of History (DAVID FUTRELLE, Salon)
    -REVIEW : of The Hitler of History (Dennis Skiotis, Book Wire)
    -REVIEW : of The Hitler of History (Sara Coelho and Doree Shafrir, Penn History Review)
    -REVIEW : of The Hitler of History (American Historical Review)
    -REVIEW : of The Hitler of History (Good Reports)
    -REVIEW : of The Hitler of History (Russel Lemmons, Historian)
    -REVIEW: of THE HITLER OF HISTORY (Ian Ousby, The Spectator)
    -REVIEW : of A Thread of Years By John Lukacs (Fareed Zakaria, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of A Thread of Years (John Derbyshire, Washington Post)
    -REVIEW : of A Thread of Years. By John Lukacs (George McKenna, First Things)
    -REVIEW : of A Thread of Years (John Dorfman, Philadelphia Inquirer)
    -REVIEW: of A Thread of Years (Christopher M. Bellitto, America)
    -REVIEW: of At the End of an Age By John Lukacs (John Derbyshire, NY Sun)
    -REVIEW: of At the End of an Age (John J. Reilly)
    -REVIEW: of At the end of an age (Jules Wagman, The St. Louis Post-Dispatch)
    -REVIEW: of AT THE END OF AN AGE By John Lukacs ( Blair Worden, The Spectator)
    -REVIEW: of Churchill: Visionary, Statesman, Historian, by John Lukacs (Geoffrey Best, LA Times)
    -REVIEW: of CONFESSIONS OF AN ORIGINAL SINNER By John Lukacs (David Pryce-Jones, The Spectator)
    -REVIEW: of DEMOCRACY AND POPULISM: Fear and Hatred By John Lukacs (Owen Harries, Washington Post)
    -REVIEW: of DEMOCRACY AND POPULISM: Fear and Hatred By John Lukacs (David Marquand, New Statesman)
    -REVIEW : of At The End Of An Age by John Lukacs (Blair Worden, The Spectator)
    -REVIEW: of June 1941: Hitler and Stalin by John Lukacs (Tim Rutten, LA Times)

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