February 28, 2015

Finest Hour 157, Winter 2012-13

Page 06

Quotation of the Season


The Lion is Back

NEW YORK, NOVEMBER 20TH— “Then out spake brave Horatius, the Captain of the Gate.” William Manchester’s inscription, quoting Macaulay’s Lays of Ancient Rome, a Churchill favorite, on my second volume of his L a s t L i o n , reminds me that Bill was himself for many of us “Captain of the Gate”; and that his death in 2004 bid fair to deprive us of the finale of the most lyrical Churchill work ever written.

Not quite. Twenty-four years on, Little Brown has published the final volume, subtitled Defender of the Realm 1940-1965 (1232 pages, available from the Centre’s New Book Service).

The first two volumes, Visions of Glory 1874-1932 in 1983 and Alone 1932-1940 in 1988, were perhaps the most celebrated popular biographies of our times. More than twenty years in the writing, Volume 3 was completed by Paul Reid, who offers a faithful portrait, positive but not without criticism, particularly revealing on Churchill’s reasoning in his wartime decisions over the Second Front and related topics of Allied grand strategy.

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Mr. Reid also did something Mr. Manchester never intended: He extended the book beyond 1945, to a period his predecessor told me was superfluous—a mere coda to the epic Churchill of World War II. Paul Reid pondered this, and decided to take the story to its end, with a little (though not a lot) on WSC’s scintillating performance as leader of the opposition (1945-51), his second premiership (1951-55), and his noble, fruitless quest for a permanent peace.

Churchill himself said, “nothing surpasses 1940.” The book begins here, just after he becomes prime minister, his nation and its Commonwealth alone against the overwhelming might of an undefeated Germany. The Churchill conjured up here is a man of indomitable courage, compelling intellect and an irresistible will to action. Reid explains how he organized Britain’s defense, worked “to drag America into the war,” and personified the “never surrender” ethos that helped earn the victory; then how he adapted to the postwar shift of world power to the U.S. and confronted the rising threat of the Soviet Union.

Bill Manchester, a Churchill Centre honorary member and twice speaker at international conferences (1986, 1995) was a hugely successful writer with a unique, inspiring style. His books include his memoir of the Pacific War (and personal favorite) Goodbye Darkness; A World Lit Only by Fire; The Glory and the Dream; The Arms of Krupp; American Caesar; and The Death of a President. His vivid descriptions—MacArthur’s valedictory address at West Point, Churchill during the Fall of France (“Another bloody country gone west”), Lee Oswald with his gun in the schoolbook depository at Dallas—will be quoted as long as English is spoken.

Paul Reid of North Carolina, formerly a longtime feature writer for the Palm Beach Post, was an award-winning journalist but, above all, Bill’s friend. In 1998, in the midst of research for Volume 3, Manchester suffered two strokes that left him with mental faculties but the inability to write. In October 2003, shortly before his death, he asked Paul to complete the volume, saying: “I wanted a writer, not a historian.” It was an informal conversation, Mr. Reid recalls, “sealed with a handshake.” Two months before Bill’s death they signed a formal agreement.

Reid completed the research and transformed more than forty tablets of Manchester’s notes, or “clumps” as he called them, to produce Defender of the Realm. He asked a number of people, of which this writer was one, to vet his manuscript, a process that assured him a variety of opinions and reduced the chance of errors of fact that crept into the previous volumes.

His fans will find much of Bill’s trademark narrative pace and cadence in this last installment of a classic: a mesmerizing journey through what Lady Soames once called “The Saga.”

In a flourish suitable to a great work, Paul Reid leaves us on January 30th, 1965 with the best words Lord Moran ever wrote about his celebrated patient:

“The village stations on the way to Bladon were crowded with his countrymen, and at Bladon in a country churchyard, in the stillness of a winter evening, in the presence of his family and a few friends, Winston Churchill was committed to English earth, which in his finest hour he had held inviolate.”

Bill Manchester would like that.

Alamein +70

WELLS, SOMERSET, OCTOBER 25TH— “Now this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.”

That is what Winston Churchill told the British people after the Eighth Army had won the battle of El Alamein in November 1942. Jonathan Dimbleby, talking about his new book, Destiny in the Desert, said Churchill made the most of this victory in Egypt because Britain had suffered three years with painfully little success against the Germans and Japanese in the Second World War. (It was Dimbleby’s father, Richard, who recited the poem “At Bladon” as Churchill’s casket was lowered into the grave on 30 January 1965. See FH 152 back cover.)

In these islands, Alamein rose to the height of Blenheim and Trafalgar in the pantheon of great military successes, but many historians and Russian dictator Joseph Stalin saw the whole North African campaign as merely a sideshow in the war. Jonathan Dimbleby, whose father reported from the Middle East for the BBC, argues pithily that the North African campaign played a crucial part in securing the Allied victory in 1945.

By persuading the Americans that the Allies should drive the Italians and Germans out of North Africa before invading France, Churchill saved the British Empire and prevented the 1944 D-Day landings from being launched prematurely and disastrously in 1942 or 1943. This was achieved, Dimbleby explained, despite Americans thinking the Empire should be broken up.

Italy’s dictator Benito Mussolini wanted to revive the Roman Empire and regarded the Mediterranean as an Italian lake, so in 1940 he invaded Egypt, an essential pivot of the British Empire because of the Suez Canal, from his colony of Libya. Mussolini said he needed only “a few thousand dead so I can sit at the peace conference as a man who fought” and claim a share of the territorial spoils. However, his generals and soldiers showed less enthusiasm and Hitler sent seasoned German troops under his star general, Rommel, to bolster his failing Italian allies.

Rommel achieved remarkable success with small forces until British General Montgomery sent him into full-scale retreat from Alamein, which is only fifty miles from Cairo. Then the allies were able to invade what Churchill called “the soft underbelly of Europe” and knock Italy out of the war.

Dimbleby said the under-belly was not that soft, but the Italian front took German troops away from the crucial Eastern, and later the Western, front after D-Day.

FH’s opinion: We are not sure the North Africa campaign “saved the British Empire,” which was probably doomed before the war. See “Churchill and the Western Desert Campaign,” FH 128, Autumn 2005.

More Churchillian Drift

THE WEB, OCTOBER 20TH— Browsing boardofwisdom.com and searching for Winston Churchill, we found that this site’s top ten Churchill quotes, and about twenty-five of its top thirty, comprised words he never said. We believe this is something of a record, though not exactly unprecedented. (See “Churchillian Drift,” FH 155: 9.)

We didn’t bother to read the rest, but notified the Board of Wisdom, which thanked us and asked us to go through their 200-odd Churchill postings. Er, no thanks, but we did send corrections to the first thirty. Sigh.

Handling the Nazis

LONDON, OCTOBER 26TH— Churchill wanted Nazi leaders executed or imprisoned without trial instead of going through the Nuremberg war crimes tribunals, according to wartime diaries declassified today. At Yalta, Roosevelt and Stalin talked him out of it. The British agreed to trials despite fears they could set a dangerous example.

The declassified 1940s-50s diary was by ex-MI5 head of counter-espionage Guy Liddell, who backed a plan to “bump off” certain Nazis, while others should receive varying terms of imprisonment, at the discretion of “any military body finding these individuals in their area.” The plan, Liddell wrote, was code named WALLFLOWERS:

“Winston had put this forward at Yalta but Roosevelt felt that the Americans would want a trial. Joe supported Roosevelt on the perfectly frank ground that the Russians liked public trials for propaganda purposes. It seems to me that we are just being dragged down to the level of the travesties of justice that have been taking place in the USSR for the past twenty years.”

A year later Mr. Liddell flew to Nuremberg to witness twenty-one senior Nazis prosecuted, and felt his concerns about a show trial had been confirmed, the Guardian reported. “One cannot escape the feeling that most of the things the twenty-one are accused of having done over a period of fourteen years, the Russians have done over a period of twenty-eight years,” Liddell wrote in his diary, objecting to the “somewhat phoney atmosphere of the whole proceedings.” The accused included Hermann Goering, commander of the Luftwaffe; Admiral Karl Donitz, Hitler’s successor; and Hitler’s architect, Albert Speer.

Nuremberg was described by the British president of the tribunal, Justice Geoffrey Lawrence, as “unique in the history of the jurisprudence of the world and of supreme importance to millions of people.” Liddell was concerned that the court was conducted “by victors who have framed their own charter, their own procedure and their own rules of evidence in order to deal with the vanquished.” (More on the National Archives website http://xrl.us/bnv79q.)

FH’s opinion: Churchill’s view is not new. He remarked to Ismay during the Nuremberg Trials that it was a good thing they had won, lest it be they standing in the dock, and voiced his doubts in Parliament about mass-prosecutions: “We are told that thousands yet remain to be tried, and that vast categories of Germans are classed as potentially guilty because of their association with the Nazi regime. After all, in a country which is handled as Germany was, the ordinary people have very little choice about what to do. I think some consideration should always be given to ordinary people” (12 November 1946).

His well-known opinions have already led shallow thinkers to mistake his characteristic magnanimity as a kind of forgiveness toward the Nazis who were “only following orders”—which any serious student of Churchill would know to be impossible. It would be unfortunate if this new material were added to previous “evidence” that Churchill went squishy over Nazis.

“The Nuremberg trials are over,” he said in his Commons speech, “and the guilty leaders of the Nazi regime have been hanged by the conquerors.” The enemy had been defeated, other challenges were now at hand: what Churchill sought was closure.

India Warnings Recalled

NEW DELHI, OCTOBER 22ND— “It’s disheartening that present-day Indian politicians have made Winston Churchill’s fears about independent India come true,” writes Tarlok Singh. “Today, as Churchill had predicted more than six decades ago, power has gone into the hands of rogues, politicians are fighting among themselves for power, and India is lost in political squabbles. The country’s image in the world is taking a severe beating thanks to the various scams in which several of our politicians are allegedly involved.”

As Manfred Weidhorn wrote many years ago, Churchill was right in the specifics about India but wrong on the broader questions. He did not accept (until much later) that Indians preferred to be governed by their own rascals. Nevertheless it is heartening to read, as before in these pages, that a broader view of Churchill is being taken by Indians willing to look beyond everyday headlines and pat summaries, which relegate Churchill to the role of a stubborn reactionary John Bull.

Those Vanishing National Anthems

LONDON, OCTOBER 23RD— An article by this title in Finest Hour 111 contained all the verses of the British, Australian, Canadian and American national anthems, asking, “Do children even know the words?”

Now Sir Winston’s grandson, the Conservative MP Nicholas Soames, wants learning the words of God Save the Queen to be a compulsory part of the national curriculum. Mr. Soames is joined by a television presenter, Liberal Democrat peer Floella Benjamin, who called for pupils to sing the national anthem at the start of each day—something, as our article recalled, that was de rigueur when we went to school, two or three centuries ago.

Mr. Soames told the Mail Online that learning the words is a vital part of being British, if the government is serious about encouraging a sense of citizenship: “I think it is very important that all schoolchildren in Great Britain are taught the national anthem. I am absolutely amazed that they are not. I think people would be surprised if they knew that people who live in this country do not know the words of the anthem. It is extraordinary that the government bangs on about citizenship and then are completely ambivalent about whether or not people know the national anthem. I think it should be compulsory….As one cannot rely on parents to teach anyone anything these days, it is something schools should do.”

Responding to Mr. Soames’s parliamentary question on the matter, Undersecretary of State for Education and Child Care Liz Truss replied: “It is a matter for individual schools.”

Mr. Soames responded: “I don’t think [that] is good enough. I can see some bolshy left-wing head teacher refusing to teach the national anthem…. we do now live in a very diverse nation and our unwritten constitution and everything that goes with it—the church, the crown, the law—if we are going to teach that which we must if people are going to love the country, they should know the national anthem.”

Mr. Soames then raised the matter personally with Secretary of State for Education Michael Gove. A spokesman for Gove said: “Michael thinks this is a fantastic idea and supports what Nicholas is saying [but] ultimately this is up to local schools to decide.”

Which is exactly what Ms. Truss was saying, which Mr. Soames said was not good enough.

Sleepless in Azerbaijan

MEXICO CITY, NOVEMBER 15TH— Surrounded by flowers and palm trees off Mexico City’s main avenue, the statue of Heydar Aliyev, Azerbaijan’s late leader, looks peaceful enough in Mexico-Azerbaijan Friendship Park, on a corner of the noisy and polluted capital. But rights activists are forcing the city to move it to a less prominent indoor location.

A plaque on the bronze statue describes Aliyev, a former KGB man, as “a shining example of infinite devotion to the homeland and loyalty to the universal ideals of world peace.” He led Azerbaijan to independence from the Soviet Union, but critics call him a strongman who stifled dissent and jailed opponents in 1993-2003, after which his son Ilham succeeded him.

Aliyev seems a little out of place in a city that boasts statues of revered figures like Gandhi, Churchill and Martin Luther King. A Mexican named Isabel Aguilar tweeted: “If they put up a statue of Aliyev…I propose that they put one of Kim Jong-il or Vladimir Putin.”

A special relationship has existed since Mexico was one of the first nations to recognize Azerbaijani independence. But the Azerbaijani government is sleepless over the fact that it paid around $5 million to refurbish Mexico-Azerbaijan Friendship Park, and Mexico City’s removal of the Aliyev statue suggests that they consider asking for the return of their donation.

“It’s well cared for, very peaceful. I like it, but to tell you the truth I don’t know him,” Armando Monroy, a 45-year-old messenger, said after listening to music on one of the iron benches. The statue’s presence “is strange,” he said. “He’s not known like Gandhi.”

We  know little about the sins or virtues of Heydar Aliyev, but we are happy there is no controversy in Mexico City over the statue of Sir Winston.

More Forgeries

MILFORD-ON-SEA, HAMPSHIRE, OCTOBER 28TH— The signatures of Churchill, T.S. Eliot, Tolkien, Wilder, Huxley and Stevenson were forged for profit in eBay scams by Milford resident Allan Formhals, 66, who was found guilty of eight offences of fraud by misrepresentation and two offences of possessing articles for use in fraud. Formhals would purchase large quantities of unsigned books for just a few pounds before selling them on as “signed” by the famous authors.

An investigation revealed he would offer a signed book for sale on eBay before building up a relationship with the buyer and then sell large quantities of books and memorabilia to unsuspecting victims. Formhals was arrested at his home where police found large quantities of books bearing forged signatures. Books with thousands of “practice” signatures were also found, along with a calligraphy pen and ink. Formhals purchased unsigned books for a pittance, releasing them onto the market bearing forged signatures and fake provenance, at vast mark-ups. Police recovered more than 100 forgeries, but believe many more were sold to unsuspecting buyers: “We would ask dealers to be vigilant when trading in books signed by the authors listed above.” Formhals was remanded on bail and will be sentenced on December 21.


FH 155: 6, column 4 first full paragraph: for “underestimate” read “overestimate. ” FH 154: 43: The quotation referred to should be “houses and meat…” (not “red meat…” etc.).

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