June 9, 2013

Finest Hour 141, Winter 2008-09

Page 4

Despatch Box


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Late one afternoon in Westerham, as long shadows and blustery showers signaled the day’s end, I and a few others enjoyed a sparse, crowd-free Chartwell. To me, Churchill’s spacious study palpably retains his presence, as if he had just stepped out for a minute. As I stood mesmerized, I began to hear suppressed, muffled sobbing and garbled, broken English from a corner of the large room.

A wizened, elderly Frenchman, war medals haphazardly adorning his coat, was holding a young docent’s hands and desperately pleading with her as tears streamed down his cheeks:

“You must know. He saved us. He alone. You have to know that he was the only one. Without him….”

The old man’s words trailed off as he shuffled from the dark room. Moved to tears, I remarked to the docent how special I thought the moment. Her reply was both telling and surprising: “Oh, it happens all the time. All the time.”

Thank you for all you do for The Churchill Centre. I love the magazine.


In his review of Human Smoke (FH 139:20), Warren Kimball says, “The atomic bomb may have prompted Japan to surrender sooner, but how far away was Japan’s surrender without it?”

By all accounts, quite far. Obscure civilians may have made peace feelers, but the military ran Japan. Even after Nagasaki, it took the (unprecedented) personal intervention of the Emperor to accept the surrender. An attempted military coup came close to succeeding. But Hirohito saw the devastation (worse than Hiroshima) wrought by the March fire-bombing of Tokyo. When he saw one bomb accomplish almost the same thing, he “accepted the unacceptable,” even when his advisers could not.

The ferocity of the battle for Okinawa had confirmed that Japan would fight to the end. Allied planners initially expected from 200,000 to 400,000 casualties and millions of Japanese casualties in the invasion of the home islands. Hiroshima and Nagasaki, terrible as they were, prevented far worse consequences. I’ve talked with a lot of the men who would have been part of the invasion force. Not one regretted the dropping of the bombs. Of course, they would have been the ones getting shot at—sadly, in many cases, “with result.”

I may have misconstrued Professor Kimball’s argument, but it has become common to say that the A-bombs were unnecessary because Japan was on the brink of surrender. That argument seems based more on dislike of nuclear weapons than on the situation at the time.

Churchill in 1940 said, “We shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills…we shall never surrender” and, “You can always take one with you.” Why should anyone have expected the Japanese in 1945 to be any less resolute?

1. I am not defending Mr. Baker or his book Human Smoke. Misquoting anyone or inventing quotes with no source citation is an abomination.

2. I have no idea why Churchill did not carry out his threat to bomb German towns.

3. But unless it can be established that Churchill realized the enormity of the moral lapse that carrying out his threat would have meant, I am not persuaded of his innocence.

Editor’s response:

1. Good. There is plenty of legitimate criticism of Churchill, some on our website; no need to invent any.

2. If you have no idea, you need to read more about Churchill: the one leader on any side in World War II to question the morality of bombing civilians. I respectfully recommend Christopher Harmon’s article, “Are We Beasts?” (http://xrl.us/ot2hh), whose title is from WSC’s exclamation as he watched a film showing the bombing of Germany by the RAF. No such exclamation was ever uttered by the Germans.

3. Let me get this straight. Not only must Churchill have never so much as thought of a “moral lapse.” He is also required to “realize the enormity of the thought”—while London is being devastated by Hitler’s flying bombs—without committing the act! I suspect that very few leaders could survive being held to a standard of morality that requires them not even think of, much less commit, an immoral act.

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