wacobay wrote:Thanks for the excellent suggestions on this thread. I'm currently rereading the second volumn of William Manchester's biography of Winston Churchill:Alone. I have been reading ,teaching and thinking about history for about 40 years now and I still think the introduction to this book where Manchester describes Churchill at Chartwell is the best history writing I've ever had the pleasure of reading. Thanks for reading this.
Although Manchester is basically accused of writing hagiography on Churchill. I would say I thought his Goodbye Darkness
about his time in the Pacific War in the Marines, superlative.
Let's face it, Churchill was wrong about virtually everything in peacetime: Ireland, India, the Gold Standard and $4.85 sterling, was a hopeless post war PM who did huge damage to his party. And in the conduct of the war itself a lot of his ideas were either distractions (SOE) or downright disastrous (sending the London Division to Singapore when it was doomed).
He had a child's eye view of war, unusually for a veteran. that we won (see Richard Overy) has as much to do with the nature of a War Cabinet system that could shut down the PM's wilder ideas (whereas the Germans of course had no control on The Leader's obsessions) But his Chief of Staff, Alanbrooke's, diaries make it clear just how hard it was some times-- Alanbrooke loathed Winston.
He was right, and presciently right, once- on Adolph Hitler, and what it would take to beat Germany (from a war of science to the necessity of involving the United States). And in the Spring of 1940 that is what we needed, an obstinate, bullying man with a single idea.
For that he lies besides Pitt, Disraeli, Lloyd George, perhaps Thatcher, certainly Atlee, as our greatest of Prime Ministers. For that the emotions he conjurs up, and the very word 'Churchillian' are justifed.
When the barge went up the Thames carrying his body to Westminster Abbey, the construction cranes, each in turn, dipped at his passing. It was Britain's last day as a great nation in the affairs of the world, but that that is past, is not to say it did not have its glory or its significance.
But let's not let the memory of his great moment, and his superlative ability (really down to 5 speeches) to 'muster the English language and send it into battle in the cause of freedom' (paraphrasing John Kennedy) obscure our memory of his flaws.
Upon his very first entrance into the House of Commons as Britain's new Prime Minister on Monday, May 13, 1940, Winston Churchill only received a lukewarm reception from the assembly, while at his side, outgoing Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain was heartily cheered. Churchill then made this brief statement, which has become one of the finest call-to-arms yet uttered. It came at the beginning of World War II when the armies of Adolf Hitler were roaring across Europe, seemingly unstoppable, conquering country after country for Nazi Germany, and when the survival of Great Britain itself appeared rather uncertain.
Listen to the entire speech
Mister Speaker, on Friday evening last I received His Majesty's commission to form a new Administration. It was the evident wish and will of Parliament and the nation that this should be conceived on the broadest possible basis and that it should include all parties, both those who supported the late Government and also the parties of the Opposition. I have completed the most important part of this task. A War Cabinet has been formed of five Members, representing, with the Liberal Opposition, the unity of the nation. The three party Leaders have agreed to serve, either in the War Cabinet or in high executive office. The three Fighting Services have been filled. It was necessary that this should be done in one single day, on account of the extreme urgency and rigor of events. A number of other key positions were filled yesterday, and I am submitting a further list to His Majesty tonight. I hope to complete the appointment of the principal Ministers during tomorrow. The appointment of the other Ministers usually takes a little longer, but I trust that when Parliament meets again, this part of my task will be completed, and that the administration will be complete in all respects.
Sir, I considered it in the public interest to suggest that the House should be summoned to meet today. Mr. Speaker agreed, and took the necessary steps, in accordance with the powers conferred upon him by the Resolution of the House. At the end of the proceedings today, the Adjournment of the House will be proposed until Tuesday, the 21st of May, with, of course, provision for earlier meeting, if need be. The business to be considered during that week will be notified to Members at the earliest opportunity. I now invite the House, by the Resolution which stands in my name, to record its approval of the steps taken and to declare its confidence in the new Government.
Sir, to form an Administration of this scale and complexity is a serious undertaking in itself, but it must be remembered that we are in the preliminary stage of one of the greatest battles in history, that we are in action at many points in Norway and in Holland, that we have to be prepared in the Mediterranean, that the air battle is continuous and that many preparations have to be made here at home. In this crisis I hope I may be pardoned if I do not address the House at any length today. I hope that any of my friends and colleagues, or former colleagues, who are affected by the political reconstruction, will make all allowances for any lack of ceremony with which it has been necessary to act. I would say to the House, as I said to those who have joined the government: "I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears and sweat."
We have before us an ordeal of the most grievous kind. We have before us many, many long months of struggle and of suffering. You ask, what is our policy? I will say: It is to wage war, by sea, land and air, with all our might and with all the strength that God can give us; to wage war against a monstrous tyranny, never surpassed in the dark and lamentable catalogue of human crime. That is our policy. You ask, what is our aim? I can answer in one word: victory; victory at all costs, victory in spite of all terror, victory, however long and hard the road may be; for without victory, there is no survival. Let that be realized; no survival for the British Empire, no survival for all that the British Empire has stood for, no survival for the urge and impulse of the ages, that mankind will move forward towards its goal. But I take up my task with buoyancy and hope. I feel sure that our cause will not be suffered to fail among men. At this time I feel entitled to claim the aid of all, and I say, "Come then, let us go forward together with our united strength."
Winston Churchill - May 13, 1940