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, 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.