May 24, 2013


THE CHURCHILL CENTRE crammed a cornucopia of activities into October 18th, from our all-day seminar for high school teachers to a benefit dinner with the official biographer and Senator John McCain—all supported through generous grants and our members.


Honorary member and official biographer Sir Martin Gilbert held his audience for over an hour at the Jack Morton Auditorium, The George Washington University. His topic was “The Flying Peril”: Churchill’s interest in air power and policies on strategic bombing from World War I to the nuclear age.

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Churchill was always a strong advocate of aviation. As a cabinet minister in World War I and its aftermath, and as Prime Minister in 1940-45 and 1951-55, he figured decisively in aerial bombing policies for over forty years. Even when out of office, during 1929-39 and 1945-51, Churchill’s pronouncements on aerial bombing were thoughtful and prescient.

Gilbert presented new research on Churchill’s activities in this field, from bombing policies in Iraq and the Middle East in the early 1920s to the moral question of bombing German concentration camps, and the “area bombing” of German cities in World War II. Powerful arguments were ranged for and against bombing the death camps, based on the lives likely to be lost or saved. As Gilbert showed, Churchill had no doubt about the proper course, and tried to implement it.

A dramatic moment was Gilbert’s account of Churchill’s reaction to a 1944 request by the Jewish Agency, that the railway line from Budapest to Birkenau and other death camps should be bombed. “When Churchill was shown this request he did something I’ve not seen on any other document submitted to him for his approval,” Gilbert said. “He wrote on it what he wanted done.

“On the morning of 7 July he wrote to Eden, ‘Is there any reason to raise this matter with the Cabinet? Get anything out of the Air Force you can, and invoke me if necessary.’ I have never seen a minute of Churchill’s giving that sort of immediate authority to carry out a request.

“Ultimately, as we know, the bombing was not done. There is a vast subtext, of which I have written in my book Auschwitz and the Allies. British officials did not know on 9 July that the deportations from Hungary had ceased, so they had to deal with the Prime Minister’s request on the assumption that it still had some validity. I suppose it is a great tragedy that all this had not taken place in 7 July 1943, or 7 October 1942. Alas by 7 July 1944 it was too late to save all but a final 100,000.”

Sir Martin also presented new primary source evidence that drastically revised conventional beliefs about Churchill’s role in the fire-bombing of Dresden (requested by the Soviets, as confirmed forty years later by General Antonov’s deputy to Gilbert) and other cities in 1945. Finally, he discussed Churchill’s policies in the nuclear age, from Hiroshima and into the Cold War.

Our moderator, Juan Williams of National Public Radio and Fox News, provided an excellent summary and penetrating questions, particularly involving the Dresden decision. “Why do you think the controversy over Dresden specifically has never ceased?” he asked Gilbert. “Isn’t it a horrible fact that cannot be erased from the record?”

“Who can say why one out of thousands of historical events creates interest while the others do not,” Sir Martin replied. “The fire-bombing of Tokyo was far more devastating, and yet we never hear Tokyo discussed. To bomb Dresden, at the request of the Soviets, was but one small part in a broad campaign. It was not even ordered by Churchill, who was on his way to Yalta at the time, but by Attlee; yet there is no reason to suppose Churchill would have reacted any differently.”

This fascinating lecture and follow-up by Juan Williams and the audience will be reproduced and available from The Churchill Centre shortly; the lecture will also be published in Churchill Proceedings as usual.


In the Lecture audience, and participating in the discussion, were two dozen high-school teachers from public and private schools in the Washington area, who offered excellent discussions and revealed a great nascent appeal of Churchill to students. “Of all his characteristics I’d have to say it’s his humanity that draws them,” said Virginia teacher Jennifer Crowther. “They relate to him because he was so human—so good at communicating qualities they recognize.”

Prior to the lecture, teachers attended a focused discussion of Churchill and his relations with the United States, the subject of Gilbert’s new book, Churchill and America. The seminar leader was Christopher C. Harmon, Professor of International Relations at the Command and Staff College, Marine Corps University, Quantico, Virginia. The seminar was supported in part by two grants, one from the William E. Benjamin II Fund of the Community Foundation for Palm Beach and Martin Counties, Florida; and the other from a New York foundation.

Teachers spent a half day with Dr. Harmon, mulling over the Churchill legacy and how it is taught and appreciated today. Churchill Centre members present were impressed at the depth of knowledge and thought-provoking questions the teachers raised. “To me it sounded like a discussion at the graduate level in a university,” one said; “it is so encouraging to us that this amount of interest exists at the high school level—something we shall do our best to promote in our 2006 educational programs.”

Although a fire alarm interrupted Sir Martin’s speech at the 50-minute mark, and cost us the best part of an hour, teachers were to hold an interactive discussion with Sir Martin on Churchill’s relevance to the challenges of the 21st century.


by Suzanne Sigman Educational Programs Coordinator

The Churchill Centre deeply thanks The George Washington University for providing our room at the Marvin Center, and the amenities at low or no cost—and for the delicious buffet lunch, which is certain to bring back many of the participants. It would not have been possible to operate this event so well without the generous aid of the University.

The seminar was a very good first effort by The Churchill Centre. With the exception of the fire alarm, the day went smoothly. In retrospect, it might have been better to go right to the teacher Q&A and let the public remain, rather than allow a Q&A with a diminished number of attendees, but these decisions have to be taken on the fly and you do the best you can.

The majority of teachers rated most aspects of the seminar as excellent but there are areas that require evaluation and improvement. The good news is that with the help of Professor Harmon, it will be possible to implement many of the suggestions and aspire to excellence in future events of this kind. It is mostly a matter of preparing the teachers well and balancing the topics with the allotted time and the appropriate format.

What the Centre learned is that teachers have widely diverse backgrounds and varied knowledge of the subject matter. The seminar format requires that each participant has an opportunity to prepare for it, either by closely-related suggested readings or a short lecture of factual material before discussion. Teachers rated highly two of the three readings, mailed to them in advance of the seminar; but we did not include sufficient background reading on the causes of World War II. The seminar format was inspiring to many and Professor Harmon was highly rated. Discussion is good, but facts are necessary.

We might change the furniture: from classroom desks/tables to a more relaxed arrangement for group discussion. We also learned, to our pleasant surprise, the depth to which teachers want us to go. In the future we will emphasize fewer topics and more depth, concrete curriculum materials and ample discussion time.

Attendance exceeded expectations. We would have been happy with twenty, but thirty-three teachers actually enrolled. There were nine no-shows, one owing to family matters, but we know how ad hoc teachers’ schedules are. While our teachers made no financial commitment to the seminar, they still had to arrange for a substitute to cover their classes.

Most teachers turned in useful evaluation papers. The sections on the evaluation included session 1, causes of World War II; session 2, strategic cooperation between Churchill and Roosevelt; session 3, the Gilbert lecture; and session 4, on Churchill’s relevance today. Teachers also sent us evaluations of reading materials, the application process, general overviews, and suggestions for future seminar subjects.

One teacher recommended a different format: inviting teachers to come for a program with up to ten students. This could not constitute a seminar because of the large numbers; but a combination of a Churchill Lecture, panel discussion, and Q&A session could be held. Another teacher spoke highly of this. She specifically approved our inclusion of a political cartoon and questions in the teacher packet, and asked that we provide more materials like that.

Finally, there should be a written bibliography prepared by the seminar leader, especially if he intends to recommend a book.

Although each teacher was presented with a copy of Celia Sandys’ Churchill, we should consider giving teachers other books, especially WSC’s autobiography, My Early Life. Perhaps for each future seminar, a session should be devoted to a review of his life.

Here may be the best anecdote of the day. Last week one of our attendees had just finished teaching about Gallipoli—the attempt to shorten the Great War by forcing the Dardanelles (FH 127)—before his students took the SATs (Scholastic Aptitude Tests). One of the essay questions was along these lines: “Describe how you can be successful in the face of failure.” Two of his students wrote about Churchill and Gallipoli.


by Richard Langworth Co-chairman of Trustees

Not least because of the reputation of the lecturer, and the combination of his talk with a teacher seminar and benefit dinner, this was the most comprehensive and “multi-tasking” Churchill Lecture we have ever conducted. Thanks to Bill and Moira Benjamin and a New York foundation, and a well-supported gala banquet at the Army and Navy Club, the Centre was able to meet and exceed all its expenses. Among our five Churchill Lectures this has happened before only once, with Chris Matthews in 2001. Financially as well as scholastically, it was a model for the future.

Our most significant problem remains student turn-out, and here Suzanne Sigman’s suggestion about teachers bringing ten students each seems worth developing. I discussed the absence of university students with President Trachtenberg of GWU after the dinner Tuesday night, and he reminded me that in Washington especially, students are “jaded.” It takes something very unique and perhaps more controversial, or a celebrity like our always-supportive friend and trustee Chris Matthews, to “stuff the hall.” We did have excellent campus publicity, thanks to Jim Hess of the University, and our display advertisement (see page 26) ran prominently in the student newspaper. But this is perhaps less significant these days than the Iraq war, assorted Washington scandals, and other burning questions.

The Churchill Centre was deeply honored by the presence of Senator John McCain at a dinner for Sir Martin and Lady Gilbert at the Army and Navy Club on the evening following the lecture. We were joined by Centre Trustee Chris Matthews; Joanne Kemp representing Trustee Jack Kemp; and our good friends Senator Bob Packwood and his wife, Congressman Charlie Dent and Deputy Secretary of Commerce David Sampson.


Churchill Centre Benefit Dinner Army and Navy Club, October 18th

It is a true honor to be here tonight to honor one of the world’s great historians and biographer of one of history’s great leaders. I would like to thank The Churchill Centre for all it does to preserve the memory of Sir Winston. In making available his thoughts, words and deeds to new generations, the Centre helps foster the visionary leadership so perfectly embodied by the career of Churchill himself.

Churchill led one of the greatest lives of the 20th century. By the power of his speech and the unyielding courage of his example and convictions, he led his country through the most dangerous experience of its long history. He saw with clarity the challenges and the dangers that faced the world, and he never, never gave in. And due in great part to the courage he inspired in others, neither did his country.

No one understands this better than Sir Martin Gilbert, who has authored no fewer than seventy-five books, including his magisterial official biography. His new book, Churchill and America, which I have on my desk right now, is the story of Sir Winston’s long relationship with our country and its impact on the vital and enduring “special relationship.”

I have long admired Sir Martin’s works and, while I do not have seventy-five titles to my name do have a new book of my own that is coming out this month.* In it I devote a chapter to Churchill, drawing upon his life to illustrate the value of diligence. In showing how he persevered through trial and misfortune to alert his countrymen to approaching dangers, I drew heavily upon both The Churchill Centre’s excellent website and Sir Martin’s exceptional single volume biography, Churchill: A Life.

Despite his prolific Churchill writings Sir Martin has also written histories on both world wars and on Israel, several works on the Holocaust, and a three-volume history of the 20th century, among many others. A glance at his website indicates that, among his “works in progress,” he counts a book on Churchill and the Jews, several historical atlases, an encyclopedia of Jewish history, and a history of the Gallipoli campaign. If only my staff had such energy…

But to see the antecedent for such energy, such flair for history and the English language, one need look no further than Winston Churchill himself. Those qualities were, of course, the foundations of his extraordinary intelligence and his attributes as a statesman. Perhaps it is these shared traits that have forged such a unique and remarkable relationship between two gentlemen, Sir Winston Churchill and Sir Martin Gilbert.

I wish to thank The Churchill Centre for inviting me, along with my friends Chris Matthews (cough!), Joanne Kemp and Senator Bob Packwood—who I must say was the smartest senator I ever had the fortune to work with.


Richard M. Langworth

I have a simple duty this evening. It is to thank Sir Martin Gilbert for the treat that he has given us, for that thought-provoking lecture today, and for being with us tonight. And Martin, I will never bother you with questions about Dresden and Hiroshima again because you covered the subject so thoroughly.

In listening to you today I was reminded of the late Alistair Cooke, who spoke to us at Bretton Woods in 1988, who broadcast these words on August 6th, 1970, the 25th anniversary of the bombing of Japan:

Without raising more dust over the bleached bones of Hiroshima, I should like to contribute a couple of reminders: The first is that the men who had to make the decision were just as humane and tortured at the time as you and I were later. And, secondly, that they had to make the choice of alternatives that I for one would not have wanted to make for all the offers of redemption from all the religions of the world.

What Sir Martin has imparted today is a tiny fraction of what he has produced. My son the computer scientist was able to calculate recently that Sir Martin has written ten million words about Churchill in the official biography alone—not counting all his other works. This is already half of Churchill’s total output! And yet, as he will tell you, he has only scratched the surface of what seems an endless saga.

A critic once said: “You think you’re so smart, Mr. Gilbert. Why, you haven’t told more than ten percent of the story. Martin replied, “Really—that much?”

And Senator McCain, how honored we are to have you with us, and to have heard your thoughtful appreciation. Being from New Hampshire, I was able to vote for you twice, once in the primary, and once following the recommendation of Don Imus, by writing you in on my paper ballot!

I know you would deprecate comparisons with Sir Winston, but there is a characteristic you share with him which is very important. That characteristic is political collegiality. And I feel sure Senator Packwood and Congressman Dent would testify to that.

One of the greatest things about Churchill the politician was the way he maintained his respect for the people across the aisle, no matter how bitterly he disagreed with them. Here is a story about the death of Churchill’s great political nemesis, Aneurin Bevan, Minister of Health in the postwar Labour government.

Churchill and Bevan fought the political wars as hard as any two heavyweight contenders. Bevan called Churchill “the plutocrat exploiter of the working class” and Churchill called Bevan “the minister of disease,” and they hurled these accusations across the floor, but off the floor they were somehow colleagues.

When Bevan died in 1960 Churchill, informed in the smoking room of the House of Commons, launched into a eulogy. “Nye Bevan…a leader of his party, founder of the National Health Service, champion of the working class….” Then suddenly he paused in midstream and said quietly, “Are you sure he’s dead?”

Senator McCain, I believe you share this characteristic. Ronald Reagan once said after visiting Tip O’Neill, “The speaker says that here in Washington we’re all friends after six o’clock.” Collegiality. Churchill had it. Reagan had it. You have it. I hope very much that you will make it contagious, because in these times we could certainly use more of it.

*Character Is Destiny : Inspiring Stories Every Young Person Should Know and Every Adult Should Remember, by John McCain and Mark Salter, Random House, 336 pp., $23.95




The William E. Benjamin II Fund of the Community Foundation for Palm Beach and Martin Counties, Florida; a New York foundation; President Stephen Joel Trachtenberg and The George Washington University.


Sheperdson Abell, Ron Abramson, Ron Alexander, Bill & Moira Benjamin, Greg Berman, Michael Bishop, Stephen & Anne Black, Ambassador Robert & Sylvia Blake, Peter Baumbausch, Paul & Carolyn Brubaker, Craig DeBarnardis, Representative Charlie Dent (Pennsylvania), Donald Ferencz, Bobby & Kate Giaimo, Roxanne Hale, Steven Hayward, Joanne Kemp, David S. Kerr, Thomas Lanctot, Richard & Barbara Langworth, Winston Jerome Lindsley, Bertil Lundqvist, Michael C. Maibach, Dr. John H. Mather, Christopher Matthews, Karin & Jack Mens, Dan Myers, Senator and Mrs. Bob Packwood, Dr. Malcolm Page, Scott Park, Morris Sachs, David Sampson, Johannes Williams, Suzanne Sigman, Professor Chris Sterling, James & Lucille Thomas, Stephen Joel Trachtenberg, Herman Voelkner, William A. Whiteside III, Sarah Williams, Cynthia Wojick, George Wills. 


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