Abstract by Robert H. Courts
Churchill’s literary output was truly astonishing: even while Chancellor of the Exchequer in the 1920s, he managed to produce most of the five volumes in six parts of The World Crisis, a process that was repeated in the 1930s with Marlborough, the first drafts of his History of the English-Speaking Peoples, and again after the Second World War with his war memoirs.
This massive output, always accompanied by Churchill’s other interests and duties (including the journalistic output that was the staple of his financial life), was only made possible by the use of an intensive “historical factory.” This comprised a number of researchers who would help produce the books which were made up of the “three Ds”: dictation, documents and drafts. In other words, passages made up of Churchill’s dictation from his own memories, documents he had written at the time, and drafts prepared by the researchers.
By the time The Second World War was written, the unknown young men who had helped Churchill in the 1930s had given way to distinguished academic and military figures, creating a formidable “syndicate” who helped Churchill produce his definitive work.
The work went through many drafts. Churchill hated working from handwritten pages or even typescript. These would be sent off to the printers to be made up into galley proofs. It was then that additional material was put in, corrections and cuts made, and Churchill put in the necessary phrases that made the work unmistakably his. Some of the chapters would go through this process half-a-dozen times before the final version was approved.
Yet, despite the “many hands” who helped produce the work, it is clear that Churchill kept firm control. He saw the project as a whole, not getting bogged down in detail and making sure that the books contained his own inimitable style, language and phrasing.
It could be argued that Churchill did not actually write much of these books himself. But as his researcher Denis Kelly put it, that is “almost as superficial a question as asking a master chef: did you cook the whole banquet with your own hands?”
Churchill must have been the only recipient of the Nobel Prize for literature who was less than thrilled about getting it; he had hoped for the Peace Prize. By that point, Churchill was clinging to office because he felt a mission to stop the Cold War becoming hot. A man of war for much of his life, Churchill wanted to end his career as a man of peace.
He had not ended the 1940s as such. The advent of the Cold War had not surprised him, and he rejoiced that only the West had the atomic bomb. In 1950, after the Soviets’ first atomic test, Churchill must have pondered that if the Americans based in Britain were to atom-bomb Russia, it would be upon Britain, not America, that Russian bombs would fall in reprisal. For it was about this time that Churchill turned from assuming the inevitability of conflict with the Soviet Union to seeking to avoid it.
When Churchill returned to office in 1951, he continued the atomic programme. The pragmatic realism that governed his strategic thinking told him that the Soviet Union, while bound to take advantage of a weak opponent, would respect and bargain with a well-armed one. When Stalin died in 1953, Churchill hoped his successors might be more approachable, especially if he could meet them face to face. He therefore adopted the language of peaceful coexistence, and his policy came to be known as “detente.”
Churchill wanted a high-level conference as soon as possible. He realised that the H-bomb was not just another new weapon. He wanted to make sure that his Soviet counterparts understood the gravity of the situation. He was disturbed but not panicked by the power of the new weapon, and would have preferred communications with the Soviets to confrontation. At the same time, however, he made sure that Britain did not fall behind in the arms race. The H-bomb was an abhorrent weapon, but if possession of it was the only way to keep the peace in the Cold War, then a peace-loving nation could not afford to be without it.
But Churchill had eventually to abandon hope of a summit meeting with the Soviets, denied as he was support, either in his own Cabinet or in Washington. He did not, however, give up hope of preventing the outbreak of nuclear war. He believed that the men in the Kremlin were realists and made the same distinction between the Soviet regime and the Russian people as he had in 1941.
There was, however, little that Churchill could actually do. His voice was one of the most prestigious of those trying to measure up to the H-bomb’s apocalyptic menace, and he must have contributed to the foundation of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, whose demand for all-round nuclear disarmament was closer to Churchill’s position than either he or they can have realised. He was, with a different vision of how to do it, a nuclear disarmer too.
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