WHAT WAS AT STAKE AT DUNKIRK. On one of the road trips I took with Nick to look at colleges, we listened to FIVE DAYS IN LONDON by John Lukacs (summary of the book on the Yale University Press site here). The five days were from May 24 to May 28, 1940, during which the members of the British War Cabinet debated in London whether to negotiate with Hitler or to continue the war. The book showed something that I had not known—that while the Dunkirk rescue operation was taking place (from May 26 to June 4), there was substantial support in the cabinet for negotiating a deal in which Britain would make peace with Hitler. I think that I had been unfamiliar with what was at stake because in telling the story of Dunkirk, the emphasis has been on the drama of the rescue rather than the consequences for the world if the rescue had not taken place.
This wikipedia entry on the crisis tells the story of the negotiations in the War Cabinet in great and moving detail. Two of the six members of the War Cabinet were Neville Chamberlain, who had resigned as Prime Minister a couple weeks earlier, and Lord Halifax, both of whom favored negotiating with Hitler. The wikipedia entry says: “Halifax believed that in view of the imminent Fall of France and the encirclement of British forces at Dunkirk the United Kingdom should explore the possibility of a negotiated peace settlement with Adolf Hitler, with the still-neutral Italian leader Benito Mussolini brokering the agreement…If Halifax had resigned, most likely Chamberlain would follow, and then, Churchill would have faced a parliamentary revolt from the Conservative Party in the House of Commons, which could have led to his resignation as Prime Minister and the re-appointment of Chamberlain or possibly to the appointment of Halifax.” And a settlement with Hitler.