February 27, 2022

By Paulo Fernando Vianna da Silva

The goal of this brief article is to reveal the lessons and principles inherent to all leaders, especially Winston Churchill. Beyond the significance of the Second World War in general, lies the important example of one man who, as national leader, succeeded at instilling a victorious spirit in the hearts of his people that led to their victory over Hitler’s Germany.

The main skills of a strategic leader taught in this course are vision, organization, and the ability to influence others. We will try to analyze these features as demonstrated by Churchill. To draw a classical analogy, Churchill during the Second World War exhibited more than just the organization skills of Pompey, a great Roman general, and Crassus, a great Roman administrator. Churchill had, like Julius Caesar, the ability to envision a different world, the ability to communicate this vision to others, and the ability to organize the state in such a way as to make the vision a reality.

The measure of a leader can also taken by engaging in some counter-factual speculation: what would Europe and world today be like if there had been no Churchill? It is terrifying to imagine Western Civilization plunged into the darkness of Nazism. Without Churchill’s defiant stand in 1940, Hitler would probably have been able to move up his attack on Russia in 1941. Without Churchill, there would have been no Lend-Lease from the United States, which was extended to the USSR. Nazi Germany would have conquered Russia and then turned its attention to the remainder of the continent resulting in the creation of a Nazi-led United States of Europe.

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Without Churchill’s leadership, the German army might not have been temporarily halted by Hitler as it appeared to be closing in the for the kill in the spring of 1940. The Germans knew that their conquests had been happening too fast and too easily. The tenacity and resolutions shown by Churchill may well have given Hitler reason to expect a heavy counter attack. Although the pause was only temporary, it provided the British with a vital opportunity.

With the situation collapsing in France, Foreign Secretary Lord Halifax, who had served in the same position in the Chamberlain Government, advised opening negotiations with Germany. He failed to see that even the show of a willingness to consider terms would have destroyed the last vestiges of British morale and led to defeat. From the start, Churchill could see that victory was indeed possible provided assistance was forthcoming from the United States. He was right. If there had been no Churchill, there would have been no D-Day.

By offering blood, toil, tears, and sweat; by promising to fight on the beaches and in the hills; by promising victory at all costs, even the cost of his own life; by promising never to surrender, Churchill demonstrated the ability not only to mobilize his own nation but to instill a small spark of doubt in advancing Germany troops. Ultimate victory was born in the heart and mind of Winston Churchill.

When Churchill won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1953, the committee cited his Memoirs of the Second World War. Despite not having been a good student when at Harrow, he had mastered the English language. He later claimed that, while other students progressed in Greek and Latin studies, he was so “dumb” that the only thing he could learn was the English language. He acknowledged that he had an outstanding teacher in Mr. Somvervell, who showed how him to diagram sentences by color and classify each one according to English rules of grammar.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said: “Hitler showed the evil that could be done using the art of rhetoric. Churchill showed how the rhetoric could help save humanity. It’s already been said that the difference between Hitler’s and Churchill’s speeches was that Hitler made people believe he was capable of anything; Churchill already made people think they were able to do anything” (The Churchill Factor, 2015, Page 117).

Churchill’s speeches can be compared to true fighting weapons, like bombs. By gathering his “forces” through rhetoric, he raised the morale of the troops and solidified the image of a statesman. After he took office as Prime Minister, Churchill delivered, on 13 May 1940, the famous speech that changed history: “Blood, Sweat, Toil, and Tears.” This defined what would be demanded of everyone in the future, unified everyone in the war effort, and identified the only desirable result: “Victory, victory at all costs, victory in spite of all terror.” He gained the trust of Parliament and, with it, the ability to govern through a show of self-denial and stubborn determination.

After the invasion of France, the Netherlands, Belgium and Norway, England fought alone in the war. In the House of Commons, on 18 July 1940, Churchill stated: “even if the British Empire and its Commonwealth last a thousand years, men will still say: This was their finest hour.” By defining the crucial importance of the moment, Churchill made it a turning point not just n the war but in Western civilization. He united the primal struggle for the survival with the Western ideals of freedom and democracy.

The Royal Air Force had its first great test against the powerful Luftwaffe in the summer of 1940 and achieved an unexpected victory while inflicting great casualties on the enemy. Churchill responded by saying that: “Never in the field of human conflict was so much been owed by so many to so few.” He gave all the credit for victory to the airmen and thus motivated the rest of the armed forces for achieving their own victories for which they knew they would receive credit from the Prime Minister.

On 29 October 1941, at his former school, Churchill delivered the speech in which he said “never give in”! [Brazilian] author Ricardo Sondermann has observed that “the emphasis on the term “never” in rhetorical terms provided an element of strength. With it Churchill’s conveyed to the British people his personal conviction that that victory would be possible. Glorious days were coming. He made the British people believe what he wanted them to believe.” (Sondermann, 2018, Page 380).

Less than three weeks after the attack on Pearl Harbor, Churchill was in the United States speaking to Congress and preparing the way for the Europe-first strategy that led to D-Day. Churchill showed that he understood the subtle differences between the British and American systems. Later in the war, Churchill and another exceptional leader, US General Eisenhower, quickly determined that the need to record and preserve the memory of the Holocaust. Following German defeat, Churchill declared to the British people, “this is your victory,” and indeed it was. The victory was for all Western civilization. Through it all, Churchill always managed to strike the right note.

Churchill had a clear vision of his life’s purpose from an early age. Murland Evans, a friend of Churchill’s at Harrow, wrote to Churchill’s son Randolph a letter that the younger Churchill published in the official biography of his father. The letter described in detail a conversation Evans had with Winston when the future prime minister was just sixteen years old. Young Winston asserted that “huge changes will occur in this peaceful world, great revolts, terrible struggles, wars that we cannot imagine, and I tell you that London will be in danger, London will be attacked and I will be very important in its defence.” Questioned by Evans how he could be so sure, Churchill fired back: “ I see beyond you, I see in the future, in some way this country will be subjected to a tremendous invasion, by which means I do not know, but I tell you that I will be in charge of London’s defence and will save London and England from the disaster” (Sandys, 2018, Page 36).

Churchill, despite a difficult relationship with his parents, found in his nanny Mrs. Everest and his wife Clementine all the love and affection he was denied in childhood by his parents. Perhaps for this reason he also felt the need of affirmation from the entire nation. He wanted to hear words of encouragement from the whole country during a difficult time just as he needed to hear such words in his childhood.

Finally, Churchill managed to deal with the circumstances of sudden change. When no one could, he managed to transform the outlook of the British people from frightened to resolved. Despite the adverse circumstances, he imposed his will on the nation. Churchill sought to change the attitude of a near-defeated people in order to preserve the Judeo-Christian tradition of Western Civilization, one that extended back to the ancient Greeks and Hebrews. “Churchill was precisely radical because he was conservative. He knew that the only way to keep things as they are is to take action for them to change, as Edmund Burke says, a state deprived of the means of any alteration or change is deprived of the means to preserve itself. Churchill understood this” (Johnson, 2015, Page 117).

We can summarize the moral and strategic leadership of Churchill in his own words set out in his Memoirs of the Second World War: In War, Resolution; In Defeat, Defiance; In Victory, Magnanimity; In Peace, Good Will.

Paulo Fernando Vianna da Silva is a lawyer at Fernando Martins Advogados. He was a student in the Strategic Leadership course at Brazil’s Army Command School.

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