I'm just a lame American, who reads too much science fiction and not enough history...
My Dad gave me "Memoirs of the Second World War" by Winston Churchill for Christmas... and I finally got around to reading it last week... What an amazing book...
What General Weygand has called the Battle of France is over. I expect that the Battle of Britain is about to begin. Upon this battle depends the survival of Christian civilization. Upon it depends our own British life, and the long continuity of our institutions and our Empire. The whole fury and might of the enemy must very soon be turned on us. Hitler knows that he will have to break us in this island or lose the war. If we can stand up to him, all Europe may be freed and the life of the world may move forward into broad, sunlit uplands.
But if we fail, then the whole world, including the United States, including all that we have known and cared for, will sink into the abyss of a new dark age made more sinister, and perhaps more protracted, by the lights of perverted science. Let us therefore brace ourselves to our duties, and so bear ourselves, that if the British Empire and its Commonwealth last for a thousand years, men will still say, This was their finest hour.
We owe you much Great Britain, we owe you much.
The key strategic decision was to stay in the war. Halifax had been appointed Prime Minister when Chamberlain resigned after the fiasco of Norway in April 1940, would have sought a peace. It was on the table-- Britain would keep its empire, Germany would keep France. Hitler's long term goal was always war with Stalin. An approach was made via the American ambassador to Italy (and Churchill knew of this, and approved it) but came to nothing.
*that* was the decisive moment. For Western Europe to be reconquered by a democratic alliance (ie the Empire and its former colonies, and the USA) there had to be an 'unsinkable aircraft carrier'. ie Great Britain & the British Isles (we briefly toyed with the idea of invading Ireland-- their Prime Minister (taioseach) De Valera was pro Nazi, and her Atlantic ports would have been vital to our convoys, giving extra hundreds of miles of shelter from U Boats, and extra range to maritime air patrols, but we could not afford another long guerilla war in Ireland, plus the political impact of invading a neutral country).
From that aircraft carrier first the 8th Air Force (the contribution of the RAF's Bomber Command to victory has to be in doubt-- the night raids were never more than a (serious) distraction to the Germans, causing devastation but little demonstrable effect on the Nazi war effort) and then the D Day invasion fleet would sortie. And the blockade enforced by the Royal Navy starved Germany of vitally needed war supplies that it could never really replace-- exactly the strategic dilemma of Germany in WW1 -- ie a 2 front war with supply lines cut off.
The war was best summarized by Stalin 'American machines, British airfields, Russian blood'. At no time was the German war machine ever less than 70% focused on Russia, and more normally 80-90%.
The Second World War through most of its length was about the USSR v. Germany. Japan was a sideshow. North Afrika and Italy were sideshows. Much of the strategic bomber was was a sideshow (a useful drain on German military resources)-- the 8th AAF really only started to cripple the Germans when the war was already almost over. American military production, not least for the Soviet Union, was critical. The blockade was important. The U Boat war was crucial, only in that it allowed the build up for D Day. By June 1944 Germany was on the run in the East, they would have lost anyhow. But D Day ensured that Western Europe remained under democratic, not Soviet, control. Eastern Europe we bargained away (there was no appetite for further war with Stalin).
Well if it is any consolation re Canadian, my school had a portrait of him, and teachers who had fought under him -- our French teacher was number 2 in a Royal Naval Submarine in the Med. And gave us a pretty good summary of what people thought of Churchill-- a fearless war leader with a lousy reputation pre and post war for his ruthless personal behaviour, naked political opportunism and being just plain wrong about a lot of things (Home Rule for India and Mohandas K Gandhi for example).
So we have to beware of hagiography, especially by Americans. He was no saint. As First Sea Lord (1914-15), as Chancellor of the Exchequer (1924) and as Prime Minister (1950-54) he was pretty much a disaster. That he has a (deserved) great reputation it is really over his warnings in the late 1930s about the dangers of rising Nazi power, and his role as PM 1940-1942 (he was defeated before the end of WW2, decisively, by Labour in 1945) when Britain and its Empire stood alone.
Once Russia entered the war in June 1941 and the US in December 1941 (neither by their own choice) Britain became a second fiddle player to what was probably the bloodiest and most destructive war in human history (so far).
From the 'what book are you reading' thread
Re: What Book Are You Currently Reading? Part V
Postby Valuethinker » Sun Apr 07, 2013 4:15 pm
Austintatious wrote:Just finished Vol III of William Manchester's biography of Winston Churchill, The Last Lion: Winston Spencer Churchill, Defender of the Realm, 1940-1965. This last volume, dealing with Churchill's WWII years and those until his death in 1965,was completed by American author Paul Reid following Manchester's death in 2004. 1053 pages and definitely a serious commitment but, what a book! And what a man! Given the circumstances of his time, I think Churchill has to be considered the greatest political leader ever. I highly recommend this book, though I now wish I'd been smart enough to read the first two volumes before this one.
Yes, superb book. Actually the first two volumes are even better! Especially the first, (Visions of Glory') which is packed with fascinating (and often funny) insights into upper-class British culture during the later years of the Victorian era.
The thing about Manchester and Churchill is he is engaging in hagiography.
Churchill was a fringe politician for much of his career. Deeply distrusted for his ego, his ambition, his willingness to betray allies in the service of his own sense of destiny. Much disliked in his own party.
He was a failure as First Sea Lord. A disaster as Chancellor of the Exchequer, his actions in pegging sterling to the dollar at $4.85, the pre war rate, leading to the General Strike. A right wing rabble rouser mobilizing what in German one would call 'Freikorps' to crush strikers. On India and Home Rule he was disastrously wrong in the 1930s.
His postwar Prime Ministership from 1950 was a disaster, and in his urge to cling to power, he delayed the Coronation of Her Majesty Elizabeth I by over a year. By that time his mental faculties were slipping badly. Eden assumed power too late, and that may have contributed to the disaster that was Suez in 1956.
His record with Stalin is [detestable --admin LadyGeek] -- the famous diagram showing what percentage the Soviets would have of control over each European country that he negotiated with Stalin. Selling out Poland. Hundreds of thousands of Russians sent back to their death after WW2.
Even in war his record is mixed-- see Max Hastings Finest Hour (different title in the US). His strategic judgement was often awful (Singapore, and a whole division of reinforcements thrown away to spend 4 years in Japanese POW camps, wastefully). He drove the Eisenhower and Marshall nuts with his obsession on a southern flank during WW2, and an invasion of Italy which basically turned into a bloody stalemate. His Aegean campaign of 1943 is a military disaster little talked about now. His intuitive way of making war led the British badly astray.
It's also not widely understood, but Churchill approved an approach to Hitler via the Italians, which would have left Hitler in charge of Europe, and the British Empire intact. That was always Churchill's first concern-- preserving the Empire. That's hardly politically correct, now, to remember that.
We should also praise his interest in science and technology. That led down some strange dead ends, but Britain fought a scientific war, organized around a realization of the importance of technology to victory. Churchill surely can claim some of the credit for that.
What Churchill owes his reputation for, and with some justice, is the period 1940-41, and a handful of speeches. It happened to be the time when Britain, and the world, needed a leader who was stubborn, intransigent, quintessentially British virtues of stolidity and defiance. Who the man on the street, who would fight and win this war, would connect with,follow.
The cartoon after Dunkirk and the fall of France
summarizes the mood of the times. We needed a war leader who would encapsulate that, who would speak of 'blood, and tears, and toil and sweat'. Who would mobilize all the resources of the British people and the British Empire to a single great cause. And in turn, because it's your language too, send the message across the Atlantic, to the world's most powerful industrial nation, that we would hold on, fight on, that we were not for turning, and that therefore your strategy in the coming struggle would have an anchor of ports and airfields-- the unsinkable aircraft carrier. There were still enough Anglophile Americans in the WASP ruling class of America of the time to hear that message, and to be inspired by it.
His other contribution was his relentless focus on getting America into the war. It's not clear if his flattery really influenced FDR (far too shrewd a man, FDR was playing Churchill and the 'special relationship' delusion, not the other way; FDR never trusted him and his desires for the British Empire and so trusted Stalin too much) but he organized the British state to basically give the fruits of British science and overseas assets to the Americans, and that slowly dragged the Americans into the Atlantic war. Britain would be the unsinkable aircraft carrier, from which aircraft would harry Germany, and eventually the fleet would leave to invade Northern France. For that, we had to stay in the war, and persuade the FDR and his advisers that we would remain defiant until they came-- and Churchill did that.
'American machines. British airfields. Russian blood' was Stalin's dictum of the victory over Hitler, and it's as true in historical reflection.
As for Winston, his statue stands on the Mall [edit: I don't have that quite right, it's location], a comfortable rest for pigeons. In the Olympic Opening Ceremony it doffs its bowler hat and waves to the passing helicopter, carrying Commander Bond and Her Majesty to the ceremony. Always telling us that there are second acts in life, and that greatness my yet lie ahead. A testament to how a great virtue can overcome great flaws. 'Cometh the hour, cometh the man'.
And that this dreary rain-soaked little country is capable of great things, of inspiring the world, when it dares to.