FIFTY years ago this month, a frighteningly small group of Englishmen dealt Adolf Hitler an astonishing blow that set back his plans for conquest and perhaps laid the foundation for the ultimate outcome of World War II. After occupying much of Europe, Hitler was poised to invade Britain. Before his armies could cross the English Channel, the Luftwaffe had to win control of the air.
Against the German planes, the British sent tatterdemalion squadrons of Spitfires and Hurricanes, piloted by young men sometimes just out of school, and in their late teens and early twenties.
Often they were caricatures of the upper-class Englishman, plummy-voiced, affecting languid poses, almost effete. But in thinking they could demolish them, the Germans made a terrible miscalculation.
For the young fighter pilots of the Royal Air Force - ``The Few,'' as Churchill called them - blew the Luftwaffe out of the skies above southern England and won the Battle of Britain. An unconquered Britain became the staging base from which allied armies launched the invasion of Europe and went on to destroy Nazism.
George Bush is no Englishman but in a way he is cast from that same mold that spawned the Battle of Britain fliers. He too comes from the preppy, upper-class. He too fought as a fighter pilot in World War II, albeit in the Pacific.
He too can disguise with good manners and good nature a steely will and determination that causes his adversaries to miscalculate.
Saddam Hussein, the nearest thing to a Hitler of the 1990's, must today be ruing his miscalculation of George Bush's will. When he sent his stormtroopers into little Kuwait, Hussein must have been stunned at the swiftness of the American response in sending a small army to Saudi Arabia, and in mounting an international boycott of Iraq.
Saddam Hussein has learned the hard way that George Bush is no wimp. Now Hussein ponders his options. Does he invade Saudi Arabia, triggering an American military response? Does he strike through Jordan at Israel, uniting millions of Arabs behind him, but inviting terrible retribution from the Israelis?