Finest Hour 115, Summer 2002
Abstracts by Chris Hanger
Kaufman, Robert, “The Line In The Sand—What George Bush Learned from Winston Churchill,” Policy Review, Spring 1991: 36-43.
With his decisive response to the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, the first President Bush exhibited principles advocated by Winston Churchill. Like Churchill, he focused the national interest both from a moral and geopolitical standpoint, but also joined with allies, or “coalition partners” as they were called, whose governments were often less democratic than America’s. Bush’s chief aim was to define which country was the ultimate menace, then work toward building partnerships to neutralize that threat.
Three earlier developments illustrate Churchill’s foreign policy: the successive threats of Imperial Germany, Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union and Cold War. In each case, Churchill’s vision has been vindicated.
The late 19th century saw Germany as a menacing power bent on European domination and naval supremacy over England. By 1911, Churchill’s view of Germany had changed from that of a relatively innocuous country into a real threat to European peace. Churchill’s premise was that Britain could not tolerate a bellicose Germany because it would likely destabilize and subjugate British interests. Though Russia was more autocratic, Germany posed the more destabilizing threat to the region.
When Hitler came to power, Churchill believed that events were still within the West’s ability to control. Churchill’s general approach was not whether England needed to confront Germany, but when. He stated that the later the inevitable showdown, the higher the human and economic cost.
When war ultimately came in September 1939, the loss of life and economic power was devastating to Britain. When Germany attacked Russia, Churchill continued to focus on Germany. Though Communism was repugnant to him, Churchill welcomed his Soviet ally. With American entry into the war, Churchill’s desire was to forge an even stronger American alliance in order to counterbalance Soviet expansionism, which he felt was sure to occur in the postwar world.
In contrast to the Nazis, Churchill felt that the Soviets would be cautious, prudent and flexible in the long term. He supported the formation of NATO, the Marshall Plan, GATT, and the IMF to promote both economic and political stability in Western Europe.
The lesson learned by the first President Bush was revealed when he quickly focused on the ultimate menace: Iraq. Though not on a par with Hitler, if left unchecked, Saddam Hussein had the capability and will to wreak havoc on his own people and on his neighbors.
MacGregor, David, “Former Naval Cheapskate: Chancellor of the Exchequer Winston Churchill and the Royal Navy, 1924-1929,” Armed Forces and Society 19:3, Spring 1993: 319-33.
Winston Churchill was a staunch supporter of rearmament during the 1930s. However, during his tenure as Chancellor of the Exchequer, his Naval budget recommendations were parsimonious, and arguably helped cause some of the shortfalls in Naval preparedness in the 1930s.
Upon taking office, he canceled a large shipbuilding plan, scheduled no cruiser construction, and froze the fiveyear budget at £60 million per year. A modest construction proposed in 1926 was reduced or canceled when Labour took office in 1929. As a result, sixteen full-size cruisers envisioned in 1925 were cut to thirteen cruisers of different sizes; then Labour cut the number to nine.
Churchill viewed his role in naval growth to one of deferring but not shelving building projects. However, the Fleet Air Arm and Singapore naval base fared even worse. Naval aircraft requests for eighty new planes in 192430 were cut to sixteen. In 1924, four new aircraft carriers were proposed for 1926-36. Churchill and subsequent governments delayed construction of the “1926” carrier until 1935. Senior naval personnel were not keen on the role of air power in the Navy, so these delays was not entirely WSC’s doing.
Development of the Singapore base was suspended by the 1924 Labour government but resumed under a less ambitious modified plan resulting in further deferrals, delays, and cuts by Churchill. Succeeding governments continued the cuts, which rendered the base barely serviceable by 1939 and unable adequately to defend itself when Japan attacked in 1941.
Churchill’s Army and RAF budgetary reductions were less harsh than those of the larger naval budget. Churchill’s preference for air power seemed grounded in the belief that less expensive airplanes could at some point replace ships and thereby provide a more cost-effective solution to rising overall military expenditures.
Other budgetary adjustments were necessary besides naval expenditures. Accounting sleight-of-hand techniques were also necessary to balance the budget. It became clearer why huge naval costs would be harder to justify when, for example in 1927, budget difficulties required an unpopular cut in unemployment benefits. With no real threat on the horizon, it seemed that naval cuts could be safely made. Churchill held British naval strength superior to both Japan and America.
Churchill’s emphasis as Chancellor was the expansion of social programs, i.e., butter over guns, trusting to future governments to make changes as future needs required. However, given finite fiscal limits during his tenure, naval expenditures were generally replaced by social programs.
Chris Hanger was sadly lost to us last December (FH 113:8), and these are his last two abstracts. This column will henceforth be produced by David Freeman.