Monday, 19 February 2018

QotD: Summing up Churchill


"Churchill was the last British Prime Minister to have a serious influence on global events, and his actions during World War II [and across his sixty-year political career] helped to end this influence...
...."Late in life, Churchill became depressed by the fact that he would leave Britain very much worse than he found it. He had been born into the richest and most powerful imperial nation in the world. By the time he died, the wealth had largely gone and the empire was largely going – and with it Britain as a great power. Many factors and many people were responsible for this, and Churchill was one of them.
...."[V]ictory [in WWII] was personified in the being of Churchill himself. The fact that victory came later and at higher cost than it could have without him has always been obscured by the very fact of victory itself...
...."The British people needed Churchill to be great, the embodiment of their desires and beliefs. They needed to believe that it was indeed they, the British people, who were responsible for victory. Within living memory, Britain had been the greatest power on earth, and the British did not believe that this could have appreciably changed by the 1940s. So it seemed natural that they must have won the war, albeit with a little help from others...
...."The fact that Britain was no longer the most powerful nation took decades for its people to adjust to.
...."In the deepest of ironies, it was Hitler who made Churchill a historical figure... He would have ended his political career in 1929, as [a failed] Chancellor of the Exchequer – just as his father had. He would have been a minor figure in British political history, and would be largely forgotten today. It is because of Churchill’s role in World War II, and because he wrote so much of the history himself, that we remember Churchill..."
~ Nigel Knight, concluding his book 'Churchill: The Greatest Briton Unmasked'
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6 comments:

  1. I would be interested to know what the writer is referring to when he talks about "that victory came later and a higher cost"? If he is talking about the deferment of the invasion of Europe until 1944,then this was pushed by Allenbrooke, who was Churchill's main military advisor. There is a strong argument that the necessary pre-conditions for an invasion in 1943 didn't exist.
    The campaign for Tunisia didn't end until May, so there was a lack of time for planning.
    No unified command structure was in place, allied air superiority over the channel and northern France hadn't been achieved.
    The campaign against the German transportation hubs hadn't been undertaken.

    One could argue that the skids were under the Empire well before 1940 when Churchill became PM.

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    1. The writer refers, in the main, to Churchill's ridiculous and single-minded obsession throughout the war with the so-called "soft underbelly of Europe" -- strategically unimportant goals that would only be hard won, everywhere from Italy to Turkey to the Balkans, to Vienna, to North Africa, to Norway -- in pursuit of which resources and energy were drained from the most important strategic goals.
      Churchill's 'peripheral strategy' was a stategic disaster.

      You overlook that Churchill hunself had been around long before 1940, so should be judged by more than just the few months of the Battle of Britain. So it is certainly true that the skids were well under the Empire before 1940 -- partly due to rising nationalism, to the lack of any unifying 'principle of Commonwealth,' and partly because Britain was already almost bankrupt before the war began. Churchill played a role (small or large) in all of those. And yet he could still maintain, during the war, that holding together the empire was his primary war aim.

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    2. Ahh lovely counterfactual debates. If there was no North African campaign then Rommel could well have seized the Caucasus oilfields and freed more troops to attack Moscow and St Petersburg during Barbarossa. If the Balkans had not bogged down Mussolini and brought in German troops then Barbarossa would have launched earlier and possibly taken Moscow before winter came. An Italian campaign could have cut into central Europe and saved more people from Soviet domination. History is what it was. If Churchill had not been the personality he was then likely the British would have negotiated a peace and left the Nazis free to concentrate on the East. That the strategies did not play out perfectly does not mean they were not worth trying.

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  2. The urge to tear down our heroes with hindsight seems to be part of the cultural relativism that is the scourge of Western society today. We have forgotten what heroes are - they are not perfect human beings but rather the often highly flawed individuals who step up when they are most needed. Churchill was the man we needed to lead the Western resistance to Nazism. Chamberlain wasn't up to the job and Hallifax would have delayed the inevitable, perhaps building up Allied strength but also risking the Nazis attaining a position of invincibility.

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    1. There's nothing here about "tearing down heroes with hindsight," simply a clear-eyed view of a major public figure of whom people know more from the mythology of film than they do from history.

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  3. If you find the need to pull down western myth heroes, you find yourself in the failed lineage of socialist experimental thinkers: Rousseau, Marx, Derrida, Satre, Foucault. Why won't socialism conquor the west? Why won't capitalism fail?

    Churchill was a flawed man, and that is his redemption. That is why he is lauded. I think the depression angle emphasized is a distraction. In his many books he so obviously has a bubbling humour, a humanity. It seems that his doing and his words will endure beyond re-interpretation of the ideologues.

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