In 1940, Churchill was Man of the Year for the victory in the Battle of Britain -- after the debacle in Norway, for which Churchill had been responsible, the fall of France and the evacuation of Dunkirk.
Hitler might well have been chosen a second time that year, for from April through June, he occupied Denmark, Norway, Luxembourg, Holland, Belgium and France, an accomplishment the Kaiser could not achieve in four years of war from 1914-1918. Stalin matched Hitler, crushing Finland and seizing Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia and a lost slice of Rumania. All had been ceded to him in his devil's pact with Hitler.
In 1941, the Man of the Year was, again, FDR. Understandably Time may have been reluctant to name Admiral Yamamoto or Gen. Tojo or Emperor Hirohito, though Japan was on a triumphant rampage in Asia and across the south Pacific after Pearl Harbor.
Stalin, now our heroic ally, was the choice in 1942; Gen. George Marshall in 1943; Gen. Eisenhower in the year of Normandy, 1944; Harry Truman in 1945. That year Harry became president on FDR's death in April, presided over the May surrender of Nazi Germany, met Stalin at Potsdam in July, and dropped atom bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki to end the war in the Pacific in August.
For decades Time maintained the tradition, but, in recent years, appears to have lost its gravitas in a search for sales, an unwillingness to antagonize, and a casting about to catch the trend of the moment.
Will history really record that Peter Uebberoth, who ran the Los Angeles Olympic Games, where Russia was a no-show, was Man of the Year 1984; or Endangered Earth was Person of the Year in 1988; or Dr. David Ho in 1996; or Andy Grove in 1997; or Jeff Bezos in 1999? In 2001, Time went with Rudy, a safe choice, rather than Osama bin Laden or George Bush, who had rallied the nation and taken down the Taliban.
In 2002 it was "The Whistleblowers"; in 2005, Bill and Melinda Gates and Bono; and last year, "You." Time could not bring itself to name Iran's Ahmadinejad as Man of the Year. Too much heat.
As America is headed into serious times, perhaps Time, too, is getting serious again.