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Despatch Box

Finest Hour 115, Summer 2002

Page 04


If national anthems are of recurring interest (FH 111, 114), consider The Flag, the Poet and the Song by Irwin Molotsky (Penguin). While not a big fan of the American anthem, he presents a readable story of a high point in the War of 1812, the creation and preservation of the flag, the inspiration for creating the anthem, and something about the author, Francis Scott Key, who was a lawyer, and apparently a good one.

In FH 114, correcting Mr. Hitchens, you indicated that Germany was the first country intentionally to bomb a civilian population. Didn’t the Japanese do it to China in the 1930s?


I do like what you said about Peregrine in FH 114: “He had a burning loyalty to the truth.” He started to write a book about his father Jack, including his diary about the Dardanelles. He did a lot of writing about his Uncle Winston to “de-bunk” modern theories. He was very annoyed about Lord Jenkins repeating the illegitimacy canard about his father, started by Ralph Martin. He always said, “I will write truth, not fancy.” He admired his uncle enormously but as you say in a balanced way. I hope somebody we know may carry on his book.


FH 114:6 brings back a pleasant memory. I was a young lieutenant in charge of tank gunnery training when Churchill visited Hohne, which had been Hitler’s tank gunnery center, as it was NATO’s in 1956. A British family named Prendergast invited my wife and me to stay in their spacious quarters, while they left for a brief visit home. The house was spacious with a batman but few amenities. (Americans were enjoying vacation spas like Berchtesgaden, where drinks were 25c and rooms a dollar, but payment had to be in U.S. scrip, not marks.)

The day after the Prendergasts left, we heard that Churchill would be there to take the review of his old regiment. It was a special event for all. After the review we raced to the second floor window which overlooked the main gate. There came Winston, standing in his Jeep. When he paused for a final salute all could see the tears running down his face. Soon tears were running down all our faces.

I was able to return my British friend’s hospitality. When we returned to our base in Landshut I called a captain at U.S. Army HQ, told him how great the Prendergasts had been to us, and asked if we could arrange a holiday for them, if I provided the scrip? It was an egregious request. There was a pause. He said yes. The delighted Prendergasts visited us for several days on their way to their holiday. I wish I could now write a personal note to that American captain—the hero of the story.

Mr. Schulz, a distinguished longtime CC member, ran for a United States Senate seat against the late Barry Goldwater, then also a member: a task that testifies to his Churchillian political zest. For more on Churchill’s visit to Hohne, see “Riddles, Mysteries, Enigmas” in this issue. —Ed.


Anent “Churchill and Hayek” in #114, Churchill’s portrait reportedly hung over Hayek’s desk. At the outbreak of the war, many British economists joined the civil service. According to a 2000 New Yorker article by John Cassidy, Austrian Hayek was snubbed (although he became a British citizen in 1938 and supported the Allied cause). Perhaps he was also excluded because of a mismatch between his theories and the central planning required by the war effort. It’s ironic that the success of central planning led to postwar support for more of the same, and interest in the ideas of John Maynard Keynes, Hayek’s intellectual nemesis.


Further to “The Atlantic takes a Dive” and the Churchill attack article by Christopher Hitchens, Finest Hour 114: 14-15…


You mention that Hitchens resurrected the myth that Churchill abandoned the Lusitania to her fate in the hope that this might lead America into World War I. In my recent book, Lusitania: Saga and Myth, I quote from historians Stephen Roskill and David Stafford, who are at one in rejecting any conspiracy, by Churchill or anyone else. And Patrick Beesly was not, as Hitchens stated, official historian of British Naval Intelligence. He was, like me, a retired businessman who took up writing. His interest in the sinking originated from the loss of a cousin and his family who went down with the ship. Beesly’s Room 40, published 1982, is non-committal on the matter, although he had decided on a “conspiracy,” apparently without any supporting evidence, before he died in 1986.


Let us agree that, with the possible exceptions of Christ and the Buddha, all humans, even Churchill, are made of mortal flesh, hence fallible. Hitchens presents a Jackson Pollock portrait: lots of paint but no clear picture. For instance: 1) The defenses of Greece and Crete, although futile in and of themselves, delayed the German attack on Russia. 2) If Churchill knew about Pearl Harbor ahead of time, then he would also have known of the assault on Singapore and the Malay Peninsula. Hitchens correctly observes that many contemporary commentators attempt to evoke Churchillian rhetoric rather than to develop rhetoric of their own.


As an investigative journalist, Hitchens should do his own research into David Irving’s work and see how well it holds up under close examination. A starting point would be the biographies by Martin Gilbert, Roy Jenkins, and Geoffrey Best. While Hitchens apparently sees these as part of some “Churchill cult,” theirs is serious scholarship; they have sifted the evidence and offered sober judgments, far from uncritical. Hitchens should follow their example, not air worn-out or disproven charges. Or perhaps he should collaborate with David Irving and write “The Trial of Winston Churchill,” putting Churchill in the dock for war crimes. Together, they could imagine how Nazi prosecutors would have built a case against Churchill if Hitler had won. They would both seem well suited to this task.


Hitchens certainly views history through 21st century glasses, but fails to incorporate any context, and if this is the best the “revisionists” can do, they have a long way to go. Still, The Churchill Center might want to castigate more strongly those who regurgitate Churchill’s bons mots in response to September 11th. It is one thing to admire or to be inspired by Churchill. It is quite another when phrases are adopted out of context, for their own purposes, by vapid politicos trying to make up for their deficiencies by cloaking themselves in Churchill’s aura.


At least Churchill’s “lapidary phrases” and “rolling flourishes” served the purpose of inspiration and were often demonstrably spontaneous. Hitchens’s phraseology only demonstrates his ability effectively to use a thesaurus.


Bravo to Finest Hour. We live in an age of gleeful and unwholesome revisionist spirit. Letting chips fall where they may is part of honest historical research; commingling long exposed fallacies with truth is a disservice. Prompt and clear refutation is the best remedy.

Hitchens did us a favor by prompting The Churchill Center to set up a “Rapid Response Team” with only one assignment: refute nonsense. The first fruits of this effort are posted on our website under “Churchill in the News.” —Ed.

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