June 3, 2015

Finest Hour 112, Autumn 2001

Page 49

Abstracts by Chris Hanger

Riccards, Michael P., “Waging the Last War: Winston Churchill and the Presidential Imagination,” Presidential Studies Quarterly, 16(2), 1986, pp. 213-23.

Winston Churchill’s effect on U.S. presidents has been anything but uniform or clear-cut. His name and tenacity of purpose were frequently invoked by presidents in support of decisions, often compromising and confusing the context of a current situation with very different times.

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To Woodrow Wilson, Churchill’s arguments in support of the League of Nations seemed less an argument for the League than a buttressing of British naval strength. While serving in cabinet posts during and after The Great War, Churchill fought Herbert Hoover’s plan to feed hungry Belgians, believing that to do so would take the burden of feeding off the Germans.

Churchill’s opposition to disarmament during the inter-war years led him to be depicted as an extremist. But with the advent of war in 1939, WSC’s seemingly overblown rhetoric about Hitler began to be more appreciated. His peculiar style of leadership, once considered self-centered and bellicose, was now regarded as inspiring, confident, and infectious.

President Truman’s relationship with Churchill was sometimes strained but overall positive and deferential to Churchill’s reputation as a venerated Allied leader.

President Eisenhower knew Churchill best, if imperfectly. He made frequent use of Churchill’s support to gain support for his initiatives. Cold War events were fraught with pitfalls, and Eisenhower made wise use of Churchill’s opinions and counsel when he thought it possible.

Presidents Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon invoked Churchill and his legacy when facing seemingly similar events. However, this usage often strained the context of Churchill’s statements and views. Kennedy, who deeply admired WSC and his legacy, made frequent, successful use of Churchill’s arguments, especially to blunt Republican criticism that Kennedy was weakening in the face of Communist expansion.

Johnson was less successful in his attempt to place the Vietnam War in a World War II context, an aberration of Churchill’s legacy. However, WSC’s effect on President Nixon was substantial. Nixon gave Churchill’s “Sinews of Peace” speech credit for awakening his appreciation of the Communist threat.

Presidents, like others, fail to appreciate the danger of taking WSC’s response to earlier events out of context.

Danchev, Alex, “Dilly-Dally”, or Having the Last Word: Field Marshal Sir John Dill and Prime Minister Winston Churchill. Journal of Contemporary History, Vol 22 (1987)

Churchill gave Sir John Dill the nickname “Dilly-Dally” during Dill’s tenure at the War Office to denote his view of Dill as “hidebound, devoid of imagination, extravagant of manpower, and slow.”

The perception was that Dill was unable to “stand up to the Prime Minister.” Lord Ismay wrote that this was Dill’s chief defect. There was also a perception that Dill was in ill health, understandably distracted by his wife’s lengthy, terminal illness and eventual death in December 1940, shortly after Churchill appointed Dill Chief of the Imperial General Staff.

Another aspect of the ChurchillDill relationship was the lack of personal affinity between the two. A personal component was essential to Churchill’s reliance and trust in his senior advisers, civilian or military.

Dill’s problems were in contrast with those of Admiral Sir Dudley Pound, who spoke his mind to Churchill directly. Dill preferred to present his points in long memoranda containing carefully crafted arguments. He lacked the verbal acuity which Churchill appreciated. Dill’s successor, General Brooke, rapidly learned this and mastered the technique of argument with Churchill.

But the charge that Dill was unable to confront Churchill does not withstand scrutiny. The beginnings of this inaccuracy started with Churchill himself and, over the course of the War was stated so repetitiously that it took on a life of its own.

Most difficult to understand was Dill’s role as resident liaison in Washington from January 1942 until his death in November 1944. He actually served several functions: personal representative of Churchill in WSC’s capacity as Minister of Defence; and as representative of the collective British chiefs of staff; and as head of the British Joint Staff Mission. However, Dill complained that while he wielded power to make suggestions, and had plenty of influence, he had no power to make decisions.

Dill functioned as something of an amateur ambassador, and did so with spectacular success, as evidenced by the praise heaped on him by President Roosevelt and others. Dill’s death came as a tremendous blow to the Americans. General Marshall went so far as to tell Admiral Pound that he doubted “if he [Pound] or your Cabinet associates fully realize the loss you have suffered.” Dill’s role came to be seen as a guarantor of British commitments, and of special concern, a guarantor of Churchill himself.

Dill’s critical position was his influence on contemporary attitudes and expectations. His unique function as chief military representative of Britain has not yet been fully explored.

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