How One Man Made a Difference

How One Man Made a Difference May 19, 2016


by Eric Kampmann

May 20, 1940. The army of the German Reich was sweeping across Northern Europe; four hundred thousand English troops were trapped on the northern coast of France; Neville Chamberlain had just resigned as Prime Minister and Winston Churchill had replaced him.

The English government was torn between fighting on against impossible odds or, perhaps more sensibly, signaling to foreign intermediaries an openness to discuss with Hitler terms of a truce.

Could Churchill, with all the odds stacked against him, make a difference? He himself describes the apparent hopelessness of the situation this way: Europe was sinking into “the abyss of a new dark age, made more sinister and perhaps more protracted by the lights of perverted science.”

If some of the leading figures in the British government had their way, including Lord Halifax and Neville Chamberlain, Britain would have winked at the evil they saw for the false security that their trembling hearts demanded.

Churchill saw the nature of the encroaching evil and he decided only a firm “no” was possible. He said he would prefer to die while trying to save the world from falling into a new dark age. “And I am convinced,” he said, “that every one of you would rise up and tear me down from my place if I were for one moment to contemplate parley or surrender. If this long island story of ours is to end at last, let it end only when each one of us lies choking in his own blood upon the ground.”

Facing these odds, Churchill’s decision and subsequent actions were heroic by any measure. If he had not been present at that critical moment of history; the darkness of Hitler’s malevolent empire would have, in all probability, spread to all corners of the globe.

Boris Johnson has recently written a biography of Churchill and describes these dark days of May 1940 as a crucial moment where one man changed the course of history. Here is how Johnson put it:

I dont know whether it is right to think of history as running on train tracks, but let us think of Hitlers story as one of those huge and unstoppable double-decker expresses that he had commissioned, howling through the night with its cargo of German settlers. Think of that locomotive, whizzing towards final victory. Then think of some kid climbing the parapet of the railway bridge and dropping the crowbar that jams the points and sends the whole enterprise for a gigantic burton-a mangled, hissing heap of metal. Winston Churchill was the crowbar of destiny. If he hadnt been where he was, and put up resistance, that Nazi train would have carried right on. It was something of a miracle-given his previous career-that he was there at all. (The Churchill Factor p.30)

Johnson goes on to speculate about what would have happened if Churchill had not become Prime Minister in May 1940. He calls this ‘counterfactual’ history, but it is an interesting question nevertheless. It might seem fruitless to speculate about the world without Winston Churchill standing athwart history, but this particular case, the timely appearance of one man in a certain moment in human history made all the difference in the world.

I wrote about Winston Churchill being the crowbar of destiny during the early days of World War ll.  His story is epic in scope; one man takes a stand against the powers of darkness and prevails.

While Churchill’s story is momentous, there is another figure who served as an even greater disruptor of the forces of evil. His impact was so staggering that it can only be understood as the greatest battle ever fought.

I am thinking of Jesus Christ who was and is an unlikely warrior king, at least by human standards. He was born in obscurity; he grew up in a small, out of the way village in Galilee and he surrounded himself with followers who were anything but the great men of his time. Here is how Isaiah prophetically describes the one who will come to save many:

“He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him. He was despised and rejected by mankind, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain. Like one from whom people hide their faces he was despised, and we held him in low esteem.” (Isaiah 53:2-4)

The ruling class of Jerusalem dismissed Jesus by saying nothing good ever came out of Nazareth. At Jesus’ hour of greatest crisis, all of his disciples abandoned him. By historical standards, Jesus died a criminal’s death; he was seen by his enemies as just another troublemaker who needed to be silenced because they counted him as a problem that needed to be eliminated quickly to keep their Roman masters at bay.

The truth about Jesus is that he came to put a stake in the ground for reestablishing God’s Kingdom here on earth. His time on earth might be viewed as a beachhead with many skirmishes and battles still to come. It might even be said, when we view the patterns of history through a biblical lens, that Jesus came to enlist soldiers in this ongoing battle of good and evil. And maybe Winston Churchill, that great crowbar of destiny  was enlisted as one of those soldiers who would do his part to hold back the evil forces intent on killing and destroying.

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