Fifty years ago yesterday, Sir Winston Churchill died. It was not unexpected, amongst other things he was 90 years old.
He was many things, really. For most of us (British and American) he was the heroic leader of Britain when she stood alone against the Nazis in 1940. Who can forget
And that was perhaps the moment when the sympathies of America began to align with Great Britain, for indeed this was one of the darkest hours for freedom ever seen.
But there was more to him, He fancied himself as a general, with sometimes disastrous effects, such as at Gallipoli in the Great War. On the other side, he took a boyish delight in leading men, during D-Day the only thing that dissuaded him from observing from one of the invasion ships, was when the King said that if Winnie was going, so was he.
In his so-called wilderness years he warned about the dangers of appeasement (to the point that it has an evil reputation today) and yet Dr. John Charmley has said repeatedly, it is very hard to see what else Chamberlin else could have done. Here is a column from a few years ago that he wrote for BBC History.
‘History will judge us kindly’, Churchill told Roosevelt and Stalin at the Tehran Conference in 1943; when asked how he could be so sure, he responded: ‘because I shall write the history’. And so he did, in the six massive volumes of The Second World War. The first volume, The Gathering Storm, describes his opposition to the appeasement of Hitler during the 1930s, and provides the text for a BBC TV drama of the same name.
There is, in fact, nothing very controversial about the claim that Churchill was alone in his opposition to appeasement; it was one he made himself in 1948, and is generally acknowledged. If you want controversy, it must come in the form of an argument to counter the central thesis of The Gathering Storm, namely that Churchill was right and his critics wrong. This is a difficult task, because The Gathering Storm has been one of the most influential books of our time. It is no exaggeration to claim that it has strongly influenced the behaviour of Western politicians from Harry S. Truman to George W. Bush.
Its central theme – the futility of appeasement and the need to stand up to dictators – is one that has been taken for granted as a self-evident truth in Western society, both during the period of the Cold War and subsequently. The evidence for this supposed truth is Churchill’s view of the 1930s as ‘the years that the locust hath eaten’, during which the Western powers, by their own folly, allowed Germany to re-arm; never again, the message went, must this be allowed to happen. It is a good tale, told by a master story-teller, who did, after all, win the Nobel prize for literature; but would the Booker prize for fiction have been more appropriate?
Continue reading Churchill: The Gathering Storm
Dr. Charmley also contributed to a current column from BBC News called The 10 greatest controversies of Winston Churchill’s career.
While I can understand the criticism, and some of it is likely justified, much of it strikes me as small minds applying today pernicious standards of political correctness, retroactively, just as we’ve talked about before in shallow interpretations if Kipling.
Churchill believed in the Empire and that it was good both for Britain and for the colonies as well. If we look at the world today, with the current removal of the Empire and now the retrenchment of American leadership, I find it difficult to disagree too much.
So yes, he had his faults, some of them great faults, he also had great virtues, and more because of his virtues, he has become an icon of Great Britain, the Commonwealth, and the United States as well, for not only is he one of a handful of honorary American citizens (less than half-a-dozen, I think) he was half American, his mother was Jennie Jerome of New York. I think that cross-pollination bore very good fruit, and continues to do so, as our countries go forward together.