The subject has never been more relevant. During the campaign in the United Kingdom this past spring to decide whether the nation should remain in the European Union or depart after more than forty years as a member, voices on both sides of the “Brexit” debate invoked the spirit and words of Sir Winston Churchill. The theme of this issue, however, was chosen to commemorate an event from the past: the seventieth anniversary of Churchill’s call for “a kind of United States of Europe” made in Zurich on 19 September 1946.
This issue looks not at what people in the English-speaking world make of Churchill’s views on Europe but rather what people in Europe today make of Winston Churchill. Writing from the Netherlands, Felix Klos makes the important point that no one today can say what position Churchill might have taken in the United Kingdom’s recent referendum debate. What Klos does do is analyze the statements Churchill made about European unity— and Britain’s relationship to it—in the context of the times in which they were made.
Without doubt, France was the continental nation with which Churchill was most deeply involved and which he most loved. Antoine Capet charts the long history of this affaire de cœur. Churchill found Italy to be equally “paintacious” and relaxing, but the long years of Fascism made for dark times, as Patrizio Romano Giangreco and Andrew Martin Garvey explain. Werner Vogt shows how Switzerland was another nation for which Churchill developed a deep affection, and the Swiss people also did for him. Read More >
Churchill’s Secret, First broadcast by ITV on 29 February 2016
Review by Robert Courts
Sir Michael Gambon as Churchill in Churchill’s Secret
Churchill’s Secret is an adaptation of Jonathan Smith’s 2015 novel The Churchill Secret, KBO (reviewed FH 168), with an all-star cast, and shot in part on location at Chartwell.
It tells the story of Churchill’s 1953 stroke, suffered whilst entertaining an Italian delegation at 10 Downing Street, his struggle to recover before the Conservative Party conference that year, and the extraordinary conspiracy between the press, politicians, and Churchill’s family to keep his critical condition a secret.
The film is beautifully shot, taking full advantage of a pristine sun-dappled Chartwell in June. Like a soft-focus Downton Abbey, the camera lingers on the rooms of the house, the wooden panelling, and the sun shining in brilliant beams through small windows illuminating dust and the busts on Churchill’s desk. And this superb set is not Chartwell; the external shots are, but the internals are incredibly good representations of the originals. Read More >
Robin Prior, When Britain Saved the West, Yale University Press, 2015, 360 pages, $35 / £20. ISBN 978-0300166620
When I was young, I remember a book by Herbert Agar, Britain Alone, left lying on the stairs by my parents. I was intrigued by the picture of the Tommy on the cover staring in defiance at the clouds of aircraft swarming over the cliffs of Dover. I became dimly aware that this was something that had happened to my country, not so long ago, and that it was a “big deal.” When older, I read the book, which told in ringing tones what is still one of the most stirring stories in all history: the lonely, vital stand of Britain and the Commonwealth between the fall of France and Hitler’s invasion of Russia. This is the story that Robin Prior tells here, and it is told in equally memorable style.
This is an accurate, straightforward, narrative history of a compelling story. It is predominantly a military history, describing the Battle of France, the evacuation of Dunkirk, and of Fighter Command’s immortal stand. We have the detail of squadron tactics and aircraft capabilities. Consequently, there is no mention of Churchill for large sections of the book, as is right given that he is not the primary focus. He is, however, given his rightful place. Read More >
Charles Clarke, Toby James, Tim Bale, and Patrick Diamond, editors, British Conservative Leaders, Biteback Publishing, 2015, 384 pages. ISBN 978-1849549219
This study of the leadership of the British Conservative Party illustrates what happens when political scientists are permitted to forage in pastures historians have long tended to consider their own preserve. The authors use several straightforward criteria to determine the relative effectiveness of leaders of the British Conservative Party from the time of Sir Robert Peel onwards. Charts, tables, and graphs lend a statistical verisimilitude to the overall conclusions and invite the reader to ponder whether there might not be a solid evidentiary basis both for and against commonly held judgments about political success and failure. Most of the Conservative party leaders under consideration became Prime Minister at least once, and in many (but not all) cases this study tends to confirm the generally held verdict as to whether a particular leader was a success or a failure in the position of party leader.
The authors seek to assess the effectiveness of party leaders in terms of electoral success, at both national and constituency level, and attempt to link electoral success with the leader’s ability to craft an attractive and unifying message as Britain emerged into a new democratic age. The exigencies of mass politics and party unity may have left reduced scope for a certain kind of charismatic leadership, though leaders such as Robert Peel and Benjamin Disraeli were able to reconfigure the party message effectively for the masses who were Britain’s new masters by the end of the Victorian Age. Under their skilled leadership, a political philosophy emerged that was visceral, traditional, and at the same time forward-looking. Read More >
Larry Arnn, Churchill’s Trial: Winston Churchill and the Salvation of Free Government, Thomas Nelson Books, 2015, 240 pages, $22.99. ISBN 978-1595555304
Churchill’s Trial by Larry Arnn is a must-have book for anyone who wants to know more about Sir Winston Churchill, the challenges he faced as a leader in public life, and the values he upheld as a statesman. Arnn has achieved much in this volume: he has written a serious, learned book, without being tedious; a thoughtful meditation on leadership, without losing sight of the ugly realities and the difficult choices that confront leaders living in dark, troubled times.
To Arnn, Churchill is a heroic figure, a champion of the cause of freedom, who changed the course of history, despite sometimes having to fight against fearful odds. Hence, understanding what motivated Churchill to take up the challenges before him, to fight the trials of his era, is of great value for us in facing the dangers of our own times.
The international environment in the first half of the twentieth century presented a deadly trial for Churchill and Britain. In Nazi Germany and the Russia of Lenin and Stalin, the liberal world order was menaced by well-armed extremist regimes bent on spreading their tyrannical creeds. Arnn writes: “Nazism is understood to be a movement of the Right. There was also a growing tyranny in Europe, and eventually on other continents, of the Left. Churchill did not think this distinction between Left and Right so important: he said that the two tyrannies differ as the North Pole differs from the South” (xxvi). Read More >
The conventional narrative of the Second World War tends to assume that from the moment he succeeded Chamberlain in May 1940 and rallied the nation with his heroic defiance when Britain stood alone against the Nazi threat, through to the eventual victory of the Allies five years later, Churchill’s ascendancy within Britain was unquestioned.
It is true that he never faced a serious parliamentary challenge nor, even in the darkest days of 1941–42, any plausible rival who might have displaced him, as Lloyd George supplanted Asquith in the middle of the First War. Nevertheless there was a good deal more grumbling, and more unrest in many parts of the country, than is generally remembered in the warm myth of national unity. During the period of electoral truce between the major parties the coalition government lost ten by-elections to a variety of mainly left-leaning Independents: a little-noticed undercurrent of dissent that accurately presaged Labour’s landslide victory in 1945, which so shocked observers who assumed that the electorate would naturally, as in 1918, register its gratitude to the great war leader.
If there was one man who not only anticipated this historic upset but, by his persistent criticism of Churchill’s leadership, contributed to it more than any other, it was the left-wing Labour MP Aneurin “Nye” Bevan. These days Bevan is remembered primarily as the architect of the National Health Service and, on the left, as the socialist hero to whose mantle Labour leaders still lay claim, even when they have long rejected socialism as Bevan understood it. Read More >
“If you want to succeed in politics,” Lloyd George is said to have observed, “you must keep your conscience well under control.
As Churchill approached the twilight of his final Premiership in his eighty-first year, it proved an apt precept. His relationship with the two figures who were eventually to follow him as Prime Minister—Anthony Eden and Harold Macmillan— became increasingly fractious.
In 1955 it was fifty-five years since Churchill had first entered Parliament, and he did not find enticing the prospect of going gently into the political night. Eden and Macmillan, respectively Foreign Secretary and Minister of Defence, both felt that Churchill had overstayed his welcome, and were increasingly seen by the aged Prime Minister as rivals, rather than colleagues.
How different things were in 1938 at the time of Chamberlain’s meeting with Hitler at Munich when Eden and Macmillan were staunch opponents of appeasement. Churchill regarded them both as loyal, even heroic, figures, famously describing Eden as “the one strong figure standing up against long dismal, drawling tides of drift and surrender.”1 On 16 June 1942 Churchill advised King George VI that in the event of his death, “He should entrust the formation of a new government to Mr Anthony Eden.”2 Eden ruefully stated in his memoirs: “The long era as Crown Prince was established, a position not necessarily enviable in politics.”3 The Treasury benches are full of the bleached bones of future Prime Ministers. It would be thirteen years before Eden succeeded Churchill in Number 10. Read More >
When Winston Churchill died in January 1965, President Lyndon Johnson decided not to attend the funeral. Startled by LBJ’s decision, Dwight D. Eisenhower was equally surprised that he, the top Allied commander in Europe during the Second World War, was not named to the official funeral delegation of the United States. No matter, the former American president received a personal invitation from the Churchill family to attend the funeral of his friend, the former British Prime Minister.
Despite different backgrounds, the Prime Minister and Eisenhower had much in common. The General was a good writer. He enjoyed the writer’s art. He once turned down an offer to be a military correspondent that would have paid nearly seven times his army salary. Like Churchill, Eisenhower would write important memoirs of the history of the Second World War. The two had first met at the White House on 22 June 1942, when the Prime Minister also met General Mark W. Clark. “I was immediately impressed by these remarkable but hitherto unknown men,” recalled Churchill.1 The British would have their own reasons to be impressed by the American Commander over the next three years. Eisenhower, as the Prime Minister would affirm, embodied Anglo-American cooperation during the war.
By war’s end, both leaders were heroes. “Humility must always be the portion of any man who receives acclaim earned in blood of his followers and sacrifices of his friends,” Eisenhower told a Guildhall audience on 12 June 1945. “My most cherished hope is that, after Japan joins the Nazi in utter defeat, neither my country nor yours need ever again summon its sons and daughters from their peaceful pursuits to face the tragedies of battle. But—a fact important for both of us to remember—neither London nor Abilene [the general’s hometown]…will sell her birthright for physical safety, her liberty for mere existence,” the Kansas native told the London crowd.2 Read More >
Michael Jago, Rab Butler: The Best Prime Minister We Never Had?London: Biteback, 2015, £25, 464 pages.
In his memoirs The Art of the Possible Rab Butler describes one of his predecessors as Chancellor of the Exchequer and Foreign Secretary, Sir Austen Chamberlain, as “the Uncrowned Prime Minister.” In time, the sobriquet has become one ever attached to Butler himself, three times a possible prime minister, and one reflected in the subtitle of this carefully researched and authoritative new biography.
However, Butler’s supporters, and they were manifold, should not grieve, but, in Wordsworth’s words, “rather find strength in what remains behind.” For Butler, like two other “nearly men,” Joseph Chamberlain (Austen’s father) and Roy Jenkins, left more of an imprint on his times than many who did make it to 10 Downing Street. Butler’s great monument is the 1944 Education Act, the foremost piece of domestic legislation enacted by Churchill’s war-time government, which transformed the possibilities for generations of young people after the Second World War. Read More >
Michael Jago, Clement Attlee: The Inevitable Prime Minister, Biteback, 2014, 400 pages, £25.
Much like Winston Churchill, Clement Attlee is a prime minister about whom many biographies are written. This output attests to his importance in British history for several reasons: as the longest-serving leader of the Labour Party; as the person whose refusal to serve in a coalition government with Neville Chamberlain helped bring Churchill to power; as the Deputy Prime Minister in Churchill’s wartime coalition; and as the head of the postwar Labour government that created a welfare state and nationalized several industries.
The life Michael Jago outlines differs little from previous biographies. He skims through Attlee’s upper-middle-class childhood in the London suburb of Putney, his education at Haileybury and Oxford, and his turn from a legal career to social work in the East End. Jago’s narrative then slows with Attlee’s entry into politics and focuses closely on his ascent to the leadership of the Labour Party in 1935. Jago argues that Attlee’s rise was far from the product of accidental circumstances, as has so often been claimed. Yet while the description of Attlee’s undoubted skills is convincing, it is hard to deny that the decimation of Labour’s parliamentary leadership in the 1931 general election helped clear the way for Attlee’s subsequent selection as party leader four years later. Read More >
Alonzo Hamby, Man of Destiny: FDR and the Making of the American Century, Basic Books, 2015, 512 pages, $35.00.
As with Winston Churchill, Franklin Roosevelt is a historical figure about whom there is no end of biographies regularly produced. Alonzo Hamby is the latest contributor to this genre, and he brings to it a long career as a scholar of Roosevelt’s successor, Harry S. Truman, as well as his previous work as the author of an examination of the New Deal within the comparative context of the response to the Great Depression by the other nations of the West. The perspective Hamby brings is reflected in his main thesis about Roosevelt, whom Hamby sees as the man whose efforts in saving liberal democracy during the Second World War brought about the “American century” and the world in which we still live today.
Hamby divides his study of Roosevelt into three parts, consisting of his life before the presidency, the years of his administration devoted to the domestic policies of the New Deal, and his handling of the international crises of the 1930s and the wars that followed. The division represents the trade-off Hamby faced in compressing such a detailed life into 436 pages of text, with the book’s focus on Roosevelt’s twelve years as president coming at the cost of a detailed examination of the fifty years of his life that preceded them. The other major choice Hamby makes is to focus on Roosevelt’s public career, reducing his private life to the background for most of the book. This is understandable given Hamby’s view of Roosevelt’s relationships with most people as defined by political utility rather than true friendship, but it marginalizes the presence in the book of his wife Eleanor to a far greater degree than it should be, given the outsized role she played in his career.
When he reaches the second section of his book Hamby slows his pace and expands his focus, providing a broad account of the development and implementation of the New Deal. While recognizing Roosevelt’s considerable efforts to ease the toll the Depression had taken upon millions of Americans, Hamby is critical of the New Deal overall, viewing it in the end as a barrier to economic recovery both domestically and in the larger global economy as well. Yet the American voters credited his efforts rather than their results, delivering a resounding endorsement of his policies by reelecting him to a second term in 1936. Roosevelt followed this triumph, though, with a series of ill-judged missteps that solidified the conservative opposition to his policies in Congress, and Hamby argues that it was the deteriorating international situation that provided him with a second chance to define his historical reputation.
The prospects for success were not promising. Roosevelt faced the militaristically aggressive regimes in Europe and Asia as the leader of a nation that was strongly isolationist in its sentiments. Despite this, Roosevelt moved towards opposition to Imperial Japan and Nazi Germany, a move that took on added import with the outbreak of war in September 1939. Here Hamby focuses more upon Roosevelt once again, recounting his many personal efforts to prepare the nation for the prospect for war and provide support for the nations fighting Germany and Japan. Among the measures that Hamby describes is the personal relationship that he began building with Churchill, starting with Roosevelt’s personal note to Churchill soon after his return to the Admiralty. Hamby stresses the similarities between the two men, namely their charismatic leadership, inspirational rhetoric, and determination in confronting the Axis powers. The difference he notes was in terms of their ideologies, with Churchill’s belief in imperialism distinguishing him from Roosevelt’s unalloyed belief in liberal democracy.
The disagreement between the two men on this matter, however, was minor compared to their shared goal of defeating the Third Reich. Hamby credits Roosevelt with making bold gestures given the context of American public opinion, providing aid to Britain within the limits of what was politically possible. With the formal entry of the United States into the war in December 1941, the informal partnership became a formal alliance, one that would survive policy disagreements and Roosevelt’s occasional twitting of the prime minister. Roosevelt hoped to develop a similar personal connection with Joseph Stalin as well, but Hamby is far more critical of the President’s efforts here, seeing him as more accepting of the Soviet leader’s ambitions than Truman would be.
Overall Hamby’s book provides a capable survey of Roosevelt’s public life and political achievements. While there is little that is new within its pages (and an unfortunate perpetuation of the stale misconception about Churchill’s level of alcohol consumption), his command of his material is assured and his judgments clear. Readers seeking an introductory overview of Roosevelt’s career will find this biography fits the bill most satisfactorily, though those who desire a deeper understanding of such subjects as the Roosevelt-Churchill relationship should plan on supplementing it with more specialized works.
Mark Klobas teaches history at Scottsdale College in Arizona.
Brian Hodgkinson, Saviour of the Nation: An Epic Poem of Winston Churchill’s Finest Hour, Shepheard-Walwyn Publishers LTD, 2015, 186 pages, £10.00, US $15.95, CAN $18.95.
Ulysses. Aeneas. Dante. Satan. Winston Churchill. An epic poem focusing on Winston Churchill’s rise to power and defiance of Adolf Hitler attempts to join the ranks of Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey, Virgil’s Aeneid, Dante’s Divine Comedy, and John Milton’s Paradise Lost. Well, why not? Churchill is an apt subject, after all, a historical figure of transcendent importance in twentieth-century history and the defeat of what many consider the most concentrated form of evil known to man. What better hero to choose for a modern epic poem?
Reading Saviour of the Nation is a pleasant experience, providing a kind of History-Channel summary of Churchill’s opposition to Nazi Germany, beginning with a few scattered chapters touching on Hitler’s rise in 1932 and 1933, then rapidly moving to the heart of the tale, Churchill’s ascension to prime minister through to the Japanese attack on Pearl
Richard Hayton and Andrew S. Crines, eds., Conservative Orators from Baldwin to Cameron, Manchester University Press, 2015, x + 264 pages, £75.
In the United States there is a longstanding and very healthy tradition of rhetorical scholarship, which can be traced at least as far back as the founding of the Quarterly Journal of Speech in 1915. Jeffrey Tulis’s book The Rhetorical Presidency (1987) was a landmark, which considered (and was quite critical of) the ways in which modern Presidents had used public speech as a tool of governance. It is only comparatively recently, however, that British historians and political scientists have started to investigate systematically the oratory of UK politicians.
Conservative Orators is a welcome addition to this growing body of work and complements the editors’ earlier volume on Labour speakers. All the chapters are lucid and well-researched and the introduction and conclusion provide helpful context.
Readers of Finest Hour will, of course, be particularly interested in the chapter on Churchill by Kevin Theakston, author of Winston Churchill and the British Constitution (2004). Ideologically Churchill is rather hard to place. Naturally he deserves to be considered a Conservative orator, but of course he also spent about twenty years in the Liberal Party. In Read More >
Churchill and the Generalsis a quick and excellent read for those looking for a concise primer on the unique leadership dynamics embodied by Churchill and the generals whom he led. Although brief, the portraits of the military leaders include engaging details that span their childhood, education, military service, personal quirks, and challenges or triumphs interacting with Churchill.
All of this comes wrapped in an attractive package that includes beautiful illustrations, numerous photos of the subjects, two DVDs containing vintage footage of the Second World War, and an excellent photo timeline from 1939 through the end of the war. Whether well acquainted with the subject or a beginner, you will find Churchill and the Generals to be a must read.
Lepine’s pen portraits start with Churchill himself. Naturally this takes up the largest section of the book as Lepine expertly pilots the reader through Churchill’s life and career. Some of the most engaging portions are descriptions of Churchill’s early life, such as his relations with his parents, his childhood nanny Mrs. Everest, and his interactions with senior military leaders when he was but a junior officer in the British Army. Readers will see taking root the seeds of character that germinated to create the national leader of the Second World War. Read More >
Warren Dockter, Churchill and the Islamic World, I. B. Tauris, 2014, 288 pages, £25.00 / $40.00.
A century ago Western politicians, as this book makes clear, were as clueless about Islamic culture and politics as they are today. But then as now that did not prevent Westerners from making airy pronouncements about the Islamic world or relieve their leaders of the need or temptation to formulate policies towards Islamic societies and initiate actions within them. Even a man such as Winston Churchill, who evinced a consistent interest in Islam and could bring to bear his intense intelligence, simply did not have a deep or objective enough knowledge to appear, in retrospect, well informed.
Finest Hour readers will be aware of the extent of Churchill’s association with the “Islamic world,” and the manner in which it presented itself to a politician of the period. The Ottoman Empire regularly intersected British imperial and foreign policy and influenced public awareness of the fault lines between east and west, Islam and Christianity. Further, the British Empire’s position as a “Muslim power” was never far from the thoughts of statesmen. Churchill experienced fighting on India’s North-West Frontier and was influenced by figures such as Wilfrid Scawen Blunt and T. E. Lawrence. He engaged with Islamic regions during stints at the Air Ministry, Colonial Office, and War Office, and was instrumental in determining the political contours of the Middle East following the Great War. Later came his engagement with political reform in India and the position of the subcontinent’s Muslim population, and the travails of British policy in Palestine.
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The International Churchill Society (ICS), founded in 1968 shortly after Churchill's death, is the world’s preeminent member organisation dedicated to preserving the historic legacy of Sir Winston Churchill.
At a time when leadership is challenged at every turn, that legacy looms larger and remains more relevant than ever.