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Despatch Box

FAST AIRCRAFT

Further to Gene Lasser (FH 137:5), I believe the two fastest WWII piston-engine fighters were the North American P51, (437 mph at 25,000 ft) and Sydney Camm’s brutal Tempest (435 mph at lower altitudes, able even to mix it with Me262s and V-1s). Both were designed for different roles, at which they excelled, but the 2500hp required to push a Tempest to such speeds at low levels meant it was soon modified to carry up to a ton of bombs and rockets for ground attack, making it one of the first true fighter/attack aircraft. The P51 could also carry a one-ton external payload, but its low-level performance was seriously compromised by its beautiful laminar wings.

De Havilland’s Mosquito, however, was designed as a bomber with a two-ton internal payload. It was so fast that it did not need defensive weapons, and became faster when its original turrets were removed. When fitted with forward cannon and machine guns, it was probably the world’s only bomber/fighter! For comparison, imagine a 400+ mph B25.

The point is, aircraft nomenclature is problematic, even within a broadly agreed group. Sir Winston would have loved the chance to be pedantic, and might have said: “This is the sort of nonsense up with which I will not put!” But call the Mossie the fastest piston-engine bomber and there is not much room for pedantry. Nothing came within a bull’s roar of it.

-Greg Hughes, Emerald, QLD, Australia

COMPARISON TROUBLES

In your editor’s essay (FH 136: 6) you state, “It seems hardly possible to compare Bush, who opted for war at any price, to Chamberlain, who opted for peace at any price.” On the contrary, it is very possible and instructive to compare them. Neither man understood the world in which he led his nation. For example, Chamberlain predicted “peace” after Munich. In early 1940, before Germany invaded Denmark and Norway, he claimed Hitler had “missed the bus.”

Similarly, Bush said we would find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. No such weapons have been found. In May 2003, he told us the mission had been accomplished in Iraq. In October 2004, he told us he had made no mistakes. The last two statements were self-corrected in December 2005. For months thereafter, he told us we were making progress in Iraq; so much progress that he completely changed strategy and after months of refusing to send more troops (even though urged to do so by many supporters) he finally did so. In short, far from being like Winston Churchill, Bush is far more like Neville Chamberlain.

-James Lynch, Livingston, N.J.

Editor’s response: I search in vain for examples of Chamberlain’s “self-corrections.” Chamberlain declared war, which Bush didn’t (to his later detriment?). And Saddam wasn’t Hitler. Situations compare, but not individuals. There are too many variables: which is what I suggested about the attempt to compare Bush and Chamberlain. That silly sign, “Mission Accomplished,” like the slogan-bedecked wallpaper Mr. Bush and his rivals drape behind their speaking rostrums, referred to the removal of Saddam, not the end of the war—but speaks to the foolhardiness, as you suggest, of backing oneself with slogans. We found no ready-made nukes, but the capability was clear, and “WMD” includes biological and chemical weapons, which did exist and were used. But Mr. Bush exaggerated his case—more or less like the Member of Parliament who, on 19 March 1935, asserted prematurely that Britain had lost air superiority. That MP was Mr. Churchill—which doesn’t render Churchill’s larger case less valid, nor suggest any comparison to Bush. Comparisons are cheap, and far too easily indulged.

WINSTON AS RADIC-LIB

Churchill’s century-old “Untrodden Field in Politics,” which you dug up and bravely printed in FH 137: 58-60, is a classic statement of modern (i.e., interventionist) Liberalism and is as apropos to America in 2008 as the day it was written—down to justifying the estate tax. As a flaming left-Churchillian, I say, “Bravo, Winston!”

-MANFRED WEIDHORN, FAIR LAWN, N.J.

Editor’s response: Manfred Weidhorn, author of four fine works on Churchill, is the dean of authorities on WSC’s writings, but we always thought Manny was an equal-opportunity contrarian!

WHITELAW REID

Further to my piece on U.S. Ambassador Whitelaw Reid (FH 137:11), Reid’s gossipy letters contain other nuggets. The following is from Royal Cortissoz, The Life of Whitelaw Reid (2 vols.; New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1921), vol. II, Politics—Diplomacy:

“The ‘enfant terrible’ of the Liberal party, Winston Churchill, received a prodigious amount of attention in the political talk of 1905. Campbell-Bannerman [the new Liberal Prime Minister] who expected to have him in the government, nevertheless spoke to Reid about him with complete frankness, deprecating his lack of judgment and his faculty for vituperation. ‘He told amusing stories,’ Reid wrote to the President [Theodore Roosevelt]  ‘about the extraordinary care with which Winston prepares his speeches, commits them to memory and even (as he was said to have told himself) practices them before the mirror in his room. The most curious point of all, perhaps, was that Winston had told him of his preparation for two or three possible interruptions that the other side might make, and of his having carefully written out the appropriate reply for each possibility.’” (312; see also pp. 314-15, 317-18, 401-02)

-DAUN VAN EE, HISTORICAL SPECIALIST, MANUSCRIPT DIVISION, LIBRARY OF CONGRESS, WASHINGTON, D.C.

BRACKEN ON BRACKEN

Your editor’s essay (FH 137: 6) refers to how Churchill rarely publicly acknowledged the role played by close friends such as the “three terrible B’s”: Bracken, Beaverbrook and Birkenhead. A notable exception was in June 1940, shortly after he became Prime Minister when he named my uncle to the Privy Council. The King demurred, which left Churchill “surprised and not a little disturbed,” but he would not be put off honouring his most faithful follower. As he wrote to the King’s secretary: “Mr Bracken is a Member of Parliament of distinguished standing and exceptional ability. He has sometimes been almost my sole supporter in the years when I have been striving to get this country properly defended, especially from the air. He has suffered, as I have done, every form of official hostility. Had he  joined the ranks of the time-servers and careerists who were assuring the public that our air force was larger than that of Germany, I have no doubt that he would long ago have attained high office.” On 7th June 1940, Bracken was sworn in.BRENDAN BRACKEN, DALKEY, IRELAND

-BRENDAN BRACKEN, DALKEY, IRELAND

Editor’s response: Mr. Bracken and his uncle’s biographer, Charles Lysaght, were guests of our Churchill’s Scotland Tour at Sedbergh School on May 4th. He is quite right, but WSC’s comments to the King were not public.

PROMISED LAND REVIEW

I appreciate the very positive comments Ronald Cohen wrote about my book, Churchill’s Promised Land (FH 137: 49-50), in his review of it and Martin Gilbert’s Churchill and the Jews. However, there were several notable omissions and mistakes that I wish to clear up.

Cohen did not convey accurately my main arguments and overstated my criticism of Churchill, who comes through as a sophisticated and complex statesman focused on Britain’s strategic and imperial interests, and sometimes inevitably on his own political interests. Yet Churchill managed to engage and eventually support the new and unusual cause of Zionism for largely sentimental reasons—civilizational, religious, ideological—and at times for strategic reasons. Over time he became more pro-Zionist—especially as he viewed Zionism aligning with British interests. Ironically, as Churchill learned more about Zionism, the British establishment became more anti-Zionist, which caused him some political problems.

The Churchill in this story is not as knowledgeable and consistent as he is prescient, imaginative and often gutsy. Indeed, by understanding WSC’s view of Zionism, we get a better understanding of his overall worldview.

Cohen wrongly claims that my book is based mainly on secondary instead of primary sources and that I ignore the anti-Jewish riots in Wales in 1911 (they are on page 66). Finally, I think Cohen should have disclosed in his review that he reviewed Sir Martin’s manuscript before publication, as noted in that book.

Overall, as Cohen notes, “Both books are excellent contributions to the subject,” but he fails to explain that Sir Martin’s and mine have different emphases, approaches and arguments, offer different information, and often come to different conclusions. They both illuminate aspects of Winston Churchill and hopefully enrich the academic field of the greatest statesman of recent times.

-DR. MICHAEL MAKOVSKY, FOREIGN POLICY DIRECTOr, BIPARTISAN POLICY CENTER, WASHINGTON

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