The war could have ended this week.
It would have been a different end, with Hitler and Churchill, if not exactly shaking hands, at least agreeing to quit fighting and go their separate ways.
Britain would keep its Empire, Germany would keep its winnings.
This was Hitler’s proposal in his speech to a packed Reichstag in the Kroll Opera House on the night of 19 July 1940. He said that his conscience obliged him to make one final appeal to Great Britain: “If the struggle continues it can only end in annihilation for one of us. Mr. Churchill thinks it will be Germany. I know it will be Britain. I am not the vanquished begging for mercy. I speak as a victor. I can see no reason that should compel us to continue this war.”
American journalist William L. Shirer was present and recorded in his Berlin Diary (1934–1941) that he had “…never seen so many gold-braided generals…their chests heaving crosses and other decorations.”
Hitler used the occasion to promote Luftwaffe Chief Hermann Goering to the unique and exalted rank of Reichsmarshal. Count Ciano, the Italian Foreign Minister, came from Rome especially to attend. ‘The clown of the evening’, Shirer calls him, and remarks how Ciano “…sat in the first row of the diplomatic box, and jumped up constantly like a jack-in-the-box to give the fascist salute, every time Hitler paused for breath.”
An hour later, a BBC German-language broadcast ridiculed and (unofficially) rejected Hitler’s offer. Churchill refrained from responding, quipping that he was not ‘on speaking terms’ with Herr Hitler.
Meanwhile, on the opposite side of the Atlantic, an event occurred that would affect the outcome of the war almost as much as Britain’s decision to continue to fight: Franklin Delano Roosevelt was renominated in Chicago for a third term as president.
The Germans were quick to appreciate the danger. The editor of the Frankfurter Zeitung (as quoted by Shirer) commented, “Roosevelt is the father of English illusions about this war… While he may not intervene with his fleet and army he will intervene with speeches, with intrigue, and with a powerful propaganda which he will put at the disposal of the English.”