Sir Winston Churchill Winner Essay Research Paper

Sir Winston Churchill, Winner Essay, Research Paper

Sir Winston Churchill the Winner or the Loser?

Indrek Zolk, Tallinn English College, Form 12A

Tallinn 2000


The reason why I chose this topic for my research paper is that I have always been interested in history. Sir Winston Churchill was one of the most remarkable Englishmen of the 20th century. His politics and speeches have influenced the world a lot. Greatly thanks to him Britain did not surrender to the German forces in World War II. Is it that anybody could have led the UK during World War II, or was Churchill “the right man in the right place”, without whom the UK could have been defeated? Can the second period of Churchill’s premiership be compared with the first? These are the questions that I wanted to find answers to. Hence the title “…the Winner or the Loser?”

I would like to thank my supervisor Mr. Vello Kuldna for his advice and guidance. I would also like to thank my father for helping me to translate from Finnish some chapters of an interesting book about Churchill. I would like to thank Mrs. Reet Juttus and Mrs. Tanja Josua for their advice. I am very grateful to all the library workers who helped me to find the necessary books and internet pages. And last but not least I would also like to thank my mother, who provided magnificent scanning, printing and binding facilities at her office.


This research paper gives an overview of the two most important periods of Sir Winston Churchill’s life: his first premiership in 1940-1945 and the second one in 1951-1955. The questions arising are: could anybody have been as successful as he? Could he accomplish the tasks that the society expected him to? In short, was he a winner or a loser?

In the chapter “Brief overview of Churchill’s biography” the reader is introduced to the topic by learning the basic facts about Churchill’s life.

In the chapter “Churchill during WW II” the reader learns about his activities in 1940-45. One can read about how he became Prime Minister, about the Battle of Britain, about Churchill’s efforts to form an alliance with the USA and the Soviet Union. His everlasting optimism and belief in the ultimate victory is vividly depicted. He encouraged the soldiers, and by his speeches he made the Commons as well as the whole nation believe in eventual victory. In 1945, after the war he lost his post as Prime Minister. He went to the opposition.

In 1951, the Conservatives managed to win in general elections, and Sir Winston Churchill became Prime Minister again. In the chapter “Prime Minister 1951-1955″ the reader learns about his activities during the second premiership: about the building-up of British nuclear potential, relationships with the USA, the Soviet Union, his attitude towards the European unity, about Churchill’s health, and the honours he received.


Winston Churchill was born on Nov. 30, 1874, in Blenheim Palace in Oxfordshire, England. He was the elder of the two sons of Lord Randolph Churchill (1849-1895) and Lady Churchill (1854-1921), an American girl whose maiden name was Jennie Jerome.

Winston stood in fear and wonder of his father. Lord Randolph, a leader in the Conservative party, showed little affection for Winston. Winston’s mother charmed everyone with her beauty and wit. As Lord Randolph’s wife, she had many duties. Little time was left for Winston.

At the age of 12, Winston entered Harrow School, a leading English secondary school. There his love of the English language began to grow.

In 1893, at the age of 18, Winston entered the Royal Military College at Sandhurst. In 1895, Churchill was appointed a second lieutenant in the 4th Hussars, a proud cavalry regiment.

During the next five years he was a soldier and war correspondent in several places around the world: Cuba, India, southern Africa. In 1900, Churchill returned to England. He was elected to Parliament.

With enormous energy, Churchill moved through three government positions during the next few years. His appointment to the board of trade was his first cabinet position.

In the spring of 1908, Churchill met Clementine Hozier (1885-1977), the daughter of a retired army officer. Clementine and Churchill were married on September 12, 1908. Years later, Churchill wrote that he “lived happily ever afterwards”. He became a devoted parent to his four children: Diana (1909-1963), Randolph (1911-1968), Sarah (1914-1982), and Mary (1922). Another daughter, Marigold, died in 1921 at the age of 3.

In 1911, Prime Minister Herbert H. Asquith appointed Churchill first lord of the admiralty. Churchill was one of the few people in England who realised that war with Germany would probably come. He reorganised the navy, developed antisubmarine tactics, and modernised the fleet. He also created the navy’s first air service. When Britain entered World War I, on August 4, 1914, the fleet was ready.

In 1915, Churchill urged an attack on the Dardanelles and the Gallipoli Peninsula, both controlled by Turkey. If successful, the attack would have opened a route to the Black Sea. Aid could then have been sent to Russia, Britain’s ally. But the campaign failed disastrously, and Churchill was blamed. He resigned from the admiralty, although he kept his seat in Parliament.

David Lloyd George became Prime Minister in December 1916. He appointed Churchill minister of munitions in July 1917. While in the admiralty, Churchill had promoted the development of the tank. Now he began large-scale tank production.

World War I ended in November 1918. The next January, Churchill became secretary of state for war and for air. As war secretary, he supervised the demobilisation of the British army.

Three days before the 1922 election campaign began, Churchill had to have his appendix removed. He was able to campaign only briefly, and lost the election. In 1924 Churchill returned to Parliament from Epping after he rejoined the Conservative Party. He was later named chancellor of the exchequer under Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin. The Conservatives lost the 1929 election, and Churchill left office. He did not hold a Cabinet position again until 1939. He kept his seat in Parliament throughout this period.

During the years between World Wars I and II, Churchill spent much of his spare time painting and writing. He did not begin painting until in his 40’s, and surprised critics with his talent. He liked to use bold, brilliant colors. Many of Churchill’s paintings have hung in the Royal Academy of Arts.

Painting provided relaxation and pleasure, but Churchill considered writing his chief occupation after politics. In his four-volume World Crisis (1923-1929), he brilliantly recorded the history of World War I. In Marlborough, His Life and Times (1933-1938), he wrote a monumental six-volume study of his ancestor.

In speaking and in writing after 1932, Churchill tried to rouse his nation and the world to the danger of Nazi Germany. The build-up of the German armed forces alarmed him, and he pleaded for a powerful British air force. But he was called a warmonger.

German troops marched into Poland on September 1, 1939. The war that Churchill had so clearly foreseen had begun. Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain at once named Churchill first lord of the admiralty, the same post he had held in World War I.

In April 1940, Germany attacked Denmark and Norway. Britain quickly sent troops to Norway, but they had to retreat because they lacked air support. In the parliamentary debate that followed, Chamberlain’s government fell. On May 10, King George VI asked Churchill to form a new government.

At the age of 66, Churchill became Prime Minister of Great Britain. He wrote later: “I felt as if I were walking with destiny, and that all my past life had been but a preparation for this hour and for this trial.”

The Battle of Britain ensued, and the bombings of British towns started. Still, German invasion could be prevented, mostly thanks to Churchill’s determination and courage of the Royal Air Force airmen.

Churchill realised that the victory could only be achieved in alliance with the USA. In August 1941, Churchill and President Franklin D. Roosevelt drew up the Atlantic Charter, which set forth the common postwar aims of the United States and Britain. Churchill and Roosevelt exchanged more than 1,700 messages and met nine times before Roosevelt’s death in 1945.

The first meeting of Churchill, Stalin, and Roosevelt took place in Teheran, Iran, in November 1943. In February 1945, the Big Three met in Yalta in the Soviet Union. The end of the war in Europe was in sight. The three leaders agreed on plans to occupy defeated Germany.

Germany surrendered on May 7, 1945, almost five years to the day after Churchill became Prime Minister. In July, Churchill met with the US President Truman and Stalin in Potsdam, Germany. But Churchill’s presence at the meeting was cut short. He had lost his post as Prime Minister.

An election had been held in Britain. The Conservatives suffered an overwhelming defeat by the Labour party. The Labour party’s promise of sweeping socialistic reforms appealed to the voters. Clement R. Attlee succeeded Churchill as Prime Minister.

Churchill took his place as leader of the opposition in the House of Commons. He urged Parliament to plan for national defense, and warned the western world against the dangers of communism.

Politics, lecturing, painting, and writing kept Churchill busy. But these activities did not completely satisfy his great energy. He found much to do around Chartwell Manor, his country estate in Kent. He took pride in his cattle and his race horses. In 1946, the first volume of Churchill’s Second World War was published. The sixth and last volume of these memoirs appeared in 1953.

The Conservatives returned to power in 1951. Churchill, now almost 77 years old, again became Prime Minister. As usual, he concentrated most of his energy on foreign affairs. He worked especially hard to encourage British-American unity. He visited Washington in 1952, 1953, and 1954.

In April 1953, Churchill was knighted by Queen Elizabeth. The queen made him a knight of the Order of the Garter, Britain’s highest order of knighthood. Later in 1953, Sir Winston won the Nobel Prize for literature.

In April 1955, Churchill resigned. He went back to his painting and writing. He worked on his four-volume History of the English-Speaking Peoples (1956-1958). He still took his seat in Commons.

In 1963, Congress made Churchill an honorary U.S. citizen. The action reflected the American people’s affection for the man who had done so much for the cause of freedom. Churchill’s remarkable career ended in 1964. He did not run in the general election that year.

Churchill suffered a stroke on January 15, 1965. He died nine days later, at the age of 90. He was buried in St. Martin’s Churchyard in Oxfordshire, near his birthplace, Blenheim Palace.[1]


Churchill Becomes Prime Minister

German troops marched into Poland on September 1, 1939. The Second World War had begun. On September 3, Great Britain and France declared war on Germany. Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain at once named Churchill First Lord of the Admiralty, the same post he had held in World War I. The British fleet was notified with a simple message: “Winston is back.”

Consistent with his previous behaviour, Churchill was a very active leader. He wrote voluminous memos to everyone, giving, instructions and opinions, or asking for their comments. He often ended with “pray inform me” or “pray send me.” These minutes quickly became known throughout the Admiralty as the “First Lord’s Prayers.”

He involved himself in almost every issue production of dummy ships for naval harbours, the neutrality of Eire, the return of the Duke of Windsor. His colleagues were often overwhelmed by his energies. Although some saw him as too impulsive or too much a flagwaver, the public saw him as the only person who could rouse the nation to fight. He was clearly the backbone of the government.[5]

In early April the Allied Supreme War Council was agreeing to mine the harbours of Norway while Hitler was issuing order for the Germany invasion of the Scandanavian country. Everyone was aware of the importance of Swedish ore to the German war effort and the Norweigan port of Narvik was the port through which most of it was shipped.

Churchill wanted to attack German supply lines by floating mines on the Rhine but the French feared German retaliation. Churchill went to Paris to convince his reluctant allies but was unsuccessful. Unfortunately his trip to Paris also delayed action in Norway and despite Chamberlain’s quip that Hitler had “missed the bus” German paratroopers were dropped on major centres in Denmark and Norway.

Ever optimistic, Churchill felt that Hitler had committed a “grave strategic error” because his forces could now be isolated by British naval forces. His colleagues supported action in Norway if only to keep Italy neutral but there was a sharp division as to what ports should be the targets. There was considerable pressure to target Trondheim, much to the south of Narvik. There was also some hope that the Germans could be caught in a pincer movement from landings at several other ports. All of this planning was to no avail because heavy snow and bitter cold weather impeded all British efforts.

On 7 May a Parliamentary debate on the war effort began. Speaker after speaker, on both sides of the House, castigated the Government for its failures and its lack of will. Admiral Sir Roger Keyes, bedecked in full uniform including all medals, entered the House to a resounding applause. But the most devastating blow came when Leo Amery quoted Oliver Cromwell’s words to the Long Parliament: “You have sat too long for any good you have been doing. Depart, I say, and let us have done with you. In the name of God, go!”

His supporters did everything they could to protect Churchill from the attacks and when he accepted responsibility for Norway, Lloyd George said that Churchill “must not allow himself to be converted into an air-raid shelter to keep the splinters from hitting his colleagues.”

Despite a three-line Whip the Government received a majority of only 81 out of a possible 213. As his opponents sang “Rule Britannia” or shouted “Go! Go!” a downtrodden Neville Chamberlain left the House. When Labour refused to serve in a National Coalition headed by Chamberlain the fate of the Government was sealed.

General Ironside recorded Chamberlain’s views in his diary. “Neville Chamberlain is not a war Prime Minister. He is a pacifist at heart. He has a firm belief that God has chosen him as an instrument to prevent this threatened war. He can never get this out of his mind. He is not against Winston, but he believes that chances may still arrive for averting war, and he thinks that Winston might be so strong in a Cabinet that he would be prevented from acting.”

On 10 May, as the German Blitzkrieg was being unleashed against Holland, Belgium, Luxembourg and France, King George VI summoned Churchill to Buckingham Palace to ask him to form a government. To many it was inevitable given the circumstances.

Churchill did not go to bed until 3:00 a.m. and as he later wrote: “…although impatient for the morning, I slept soundly and had not need for cheering dream. Facts are better than dreams.” The facts as he saw them would lead to ultimate victory and, as he was to tell the British people, his policy would be “victory at all costs, victory in spite of all terror, victory, however long and hard the road may be; for without victory, there is no survival.” had “nothing to offer but blood, toil, and sweat.”

His greatest burden was supervising the withdrawal of Allied forces from the beaches of Dunkirk, but when General Alexander finally left on June 2 more than 335,000 men had been carried “out of the jaws of death and shame, to their native land and to the tasks which lie immediately ahead.”

On June 4, Churchill told Commons that even though all of Europe might fall, “…we shall not flag or fail. We shall go on to the end… we shall fight in the seas and oceans… we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing-grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender…”.

On 14 June Paris fell and as Hitler prepared to go to Compiegne to accept the French surrender Churchill sent out his most famous call to arms: “Let us therefore brace ourselves to our duty and so bear ourselves that if the British Empire and its Commonwealth lasts for a thousand years men will still say, ‘This was their finest hour’.”

On June 22, France surrendered to Germany.

The British had considerable concerns about the relationship of France to its German conquerors, most particularly the role of the French fleet. The French were presented with several alternatives, all of which denied their ships to Germany’s service. Some forces came over willingly to Britain and others were demilitarized, but at Oran, the Royal Navy was required to put the French fleet out of action by force. The attack on Britain’s erstwhile ally brought Churchill much personal sadness and anguish but he later learned that the action had convinced President Roosevelt that Britain and the Commonwealth could and would fight on.[6]

The Battle of Britain

Britain now stood alone. A German invasion seemed certain. The initial threat to Britain would come from the air. On 10 July the Luftwaffe made its first large-scale bombing raid. On 16 July Hitler issued an order for “a landing operation against England”, codenamed “Sea Lion.” Churchill was also in an aggressive, offensive mood and many who met with him were reinforced in their commitment to victory. Critical to that success was aid from the United States, and Churchill made it clear that Britain was prepared “to shoot the wad” in paying for this assistance.

On 14 August Churchill received a message from Roosevelt offering destroyers and aircraft in return for naval and air bases on British soil in North America, and a promise to send the British fleet to other parts of the Empire if the “waters around Britain became untenable.” Churchill readily accepted because no matter what his other problems were, he fervently believed that with the United States’ assistance he would ultimately win.

The Germans had to defeat the Royal Air Force (RAF) before they could invade across the English Channel. On 20 August Churchill recognized the contributions of the young men in the RAF who were daily challenging the German airforce with his comment, “Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few.”

Greater challenges were still to come. On 24 August Germany began daylight bombing of central London and on the night of 7 September over two hundred German bombers attacked London. The next day Churchill visited the damaged streets and, according to Ismay, received responses like, “it was good of you to come, Winnie. We thought you’d come. We can take it. Give it ‘em back.” He broadcast to the nation, speaking defiantly of “a people who will not flinch or weary of the struggle hard and protracted though it will be.”[6]

While the battle raged, Churchill turned up everywhere. He defied air-raid alarms and went into the streets as the bombs fell. He toured RAF headquarters, inspected coastal defenses, and visited victims of the air raids. Everywhere he went he held up two fingers in a “V for victory” salute. To the people of all the Allied nations, this simple gesture became an inspiring symbol of faith in eventual victory.[1]

Although Hitler cancelled Operation Sea Lion, the invasion of Britain, and the Battle of Britain was all but won by mid-September, the threat to ultimate British victory in the war was made more ominous by the pact signed by Germany, Italy and Japan on 27 September. This in no way diminished Churchill’s defiance. He reminded people, never maltreat the enemy by halves.

On 9 October Churchill accepted the leadership of the Conservative Party.

The bombing continued. Among the more notable events: on 10 October St. Paul’s Cathedral was hit; on 15 October the Germans gave priority to night bombing; on 14 November Coventry was heavily bombed. In reprisal the British conducted their own bombing raids on numerous targets, including Berlin.

Churchill gave much thought to Germany and Germans exclusive of Hitler and Nazism. He commented to friends that “a Hun alive is a war in prospect” but, looking ahead to the end of the war, he knew that the mistakes of the previous war must not be repeated and that “Germany must remain in the European family.” [6]

US-British Alliance

While confident of ultimate victory, Churchill believed it would come only with the United States as an ally. One impediment was the US Ambassador to Britain, Joseph P. Kennedy, whose Irish-American biases left him with little sympathy for Britain and whose reports to Roosevelt showed no confidence in British victory. But the President had other eyes and ears: Harry Hopkins, Wendell Willkie and Kennedy’s replacement as Ambassador, John Winant were staunch supporters of the British cause.

The initial stages in the US-British alliance would involve the provision of essential supplies to Britain. Their importance was recognized by Churchill who declared that submarines were a greater menace to Britain’s survival than bombers. On 17 December 1940 Roosevelt announced the policy of Lend-Lease and on 29 December the President called on America to become the “arsenal of democracy.”

Churchill sent Roosevelt a telegram of thanks in response to the President’s “arsenal of victory” promise, but he also expressed Britain’s concern about her ability to pay for armaments.

In early January 1941, Harry Hopkins arrived in Britain. He was the first of several envoys who were making personal assessments of the situation on behalf of President Roosevelt. He would be followed shortly by Wendell Willkie and Averell Harriman. As Hopkins and Churchill talked of ways that America could help, the Lend-Lease Bill was making its way through the American Congress.

In early February, Churchill broadcast to the British people that support was being promised and told the American people: “Give us the tools and we will finish the job.”

Australian Prime Minister Robert Menzies visited and noted that “Churchill’s course is set. There is not defeat, in his heart.” This course, which was “to extirpate Hitlerism from Europe,” had yet to face many perils: Rommel had brought new life to German forces in Africa; Turkey and Bulgaria sided with Germany; the Blitz continued; Germany invaded Yugoslavia and Greece; Operation “Barbarossa” began on the Eastern Front, there was growing evidence of Japanese aggression in the Far East; and shipping losses in the Battle of the Atlantic, “the blackest cloud which we had to face,” continued.

Churchill wrote Roosevelt that he had to be ready for a possible invasion in September. The President’s encouraging response promised increased production, particularly of tanks, and a widening commitment of the American navy in the North Atlantic.

On July 12 Britain and the Soviet Union agreed not to make a separate peace with Germany. Despite his earlier praise for the valiant Finns, Churchill now criticized them for attacking Britain’s new ally.

On July 18 Churchill received Stalin’s first request for a second front. He replied that Britain’s commitments in the Middle East and in the Battle of the Atlantic strained their resources. He also reminded the Soviet leader that Britain had been fighting alone for more than a year.

On August 4, 1941 Churchill boarded the battleship Prince of Wales to meet President Roosevelt in Placentia Bay, Newfoundland. This conference had originated in Harry Hopkins’ trip to London in January. Roosevelt pretended to be on a fishing trip off the New England coast but he was actually steaming north aboard the cruiser Augusta.

It was important to both men that they take the measure of the other. It was also important that the world realize that an alliance of the two countries with a common culture was emerging. Churchill hoped that this realisation might forestall a German invasion.

The commitment Churchill received from Roosevelt was that “the United States will wage war but not declare it.” On August 14 the President of the United States and the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom signed The Atlantic Charter. While committing themselves to “the final destruction of the Nazi tyranny” they also stated their belief that “all the nations of the world, for realistic as well as spiritual reasons, must come to the abandonment of the use of force.”[7]

Churchill wrote later of the Atlantic Charter that it was “astonishing” to see a neutral like the United States make such a common pledge with Britain, then fighting a total war.

He made many arguments to Americans. There were moral appeals, already mentioned. Doubtless he felt Roosevelt had answered him with the “Four Freedoms” speech in January, 1941. Churchill appealed to a mutual sense of danger, as when he argued with Americans that German hegemony could reach well beyond the European continent, whereas survival of the Royal Navy would mean continued safety for America’s Atlantic seaboard. He warned that without Britain and her navy, the Germans would begin to act aggressively against South American republics, which would undermine the Monroe Doctrine and threaten American interests to the South. He tugged upon the strings of sentiment, as when, in appeals to Americans, he would refer to the heritage of his mother, Jennie Jerome of New York.[13]

The United States entered the war after Japan attacked Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. Later that month, Churchill and Roosevelt conferred in Washington, D.C. On December 26, Churchill addressed the United States Congress. He stirred all Americans with his faith “…that in the days to come the British and American Peoples will… walk together side by side in majesty, in justice, and in peace.”[1]

There were two notable progenitors which would significantly contribute to eventual German defeat: on September 12 the first snow fell on the Eastern Front and on September 26 the Western Desert Force was renamed the British Eighth Army.

The war raged on the Eastern Front as the Germans began their offensive towards the Don River and the Red Army counterattacked in the Ukraine and at Leningrad. The German hold on France tightened as pre-war leaders Daladier, Reynaud and Blum were arrested by Petain. Although Churchill had regular meetings with King George VI, on 28 October His Majesty and the Queen bestowed a signal honour on the Prime Minister by coming to lunch with him at No. 10 Downing Street.

Events began to focus Churchill’s attention on the Far East. In October, Tojo became Premier of Japan. In early December, Canada was asked to send forces to Hong Kong and the battleships “Repulse” and “Prince of Wales” were sent to Singapore. On the evening of 7 December 1941 Churchill was at Chequers with Averell Harriman and American Ambassador Winant when the radio announced “something about the Japanese attacking the Americans.” According to Winant, Churchill jumped to his feet, announcing “we shall declare war on Japan.” Winant replied: “Good God, you can’t declare war on a radio announcement.” Churchill immediately telephoned Roosevelt and assured him that Britain’s declaration of war would follow close behind that of the United States.

That night, confident that with the United States now in the war victory was inevitable, Churchill enjoyed “the sleep of the saved and thankful.”

To Eden, who was in Moscow, encouraging Russia’s resistance to the Germans, he telegraphed: “We have never recognized the 1941 frontiers of Russia except de facto. They were acquired by acts of aggression in shameful collusion with Hitler. The transfer of the peoples of the Baltic states to Soviet Russia against their will would be contrary to all the principles for which we are fighting this war and would dishonour our cause.” Recognition of the subjugation of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania would, in Churchill’s view, be a violation of the Atlantic Charter.

Roosevelt had suggested a meeting for mid-January but Churchill was anxious to meet quickly in order to establish at least two priorities: the importance of the naval situation and primacy of Europe in the American war effort. The meetings of the British and American military and political leaders established the defeat of Germany as the key to victory in the war.

On Christmas Eve, from the balcony of the White House, Churchill talked of feeling at home while so far from his native land:

“Whether it be the ties of blood on my mother’s side, or the friendships I have developed here over many years of active life, or the commanding sentiment of comradeship in the common cause of great peoples who speak the same language, who kneel at the same altars, and, to a very large extent, pursue the same ideals, I cannot feel myself a stranger here…”

The day after Christmas he told a joint meeting of the Senate and the House of Representatives: “I cannot help reflecting that if my father had been American and my mother British, instead of the other way round, I might have got here on my own.” [7]

On New Year’s Day 1942 Churchill and Roosevelt signed the United Nations Charter.

At a meeting of the War Cabinet Churchill reported that Roosevelt had said to trust him to the bitter end. The next day he told the King that he was confident of ultimate victory.

Dramatic events were taking place on the Eastern Front as the Russians forced Germany to give up the siege of Sevastopol. Hitler attributed this German failure to the severe cold. As desperate as he was for Russian support, Churchill refused to acknowledge Soviet claims on Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.

Relations between Churchill and Roosevelt always remained friendly even though differences arose between them. Churchill gloried in the British Empire, but Roosevelt was suspicious of British colonial policies. Churchill distrusted the Soviet Union, but Roosevelt did not.

At the end of January 1942 the news seemed dark on all fronts. Rommel had become “a kind of magician or bogeyman” to troops in Africa; British forces were being pushed back at Singapore; Churchill faced a no-confidence vote in the Commons. He won the vote with only one dissenter in the Commons and Rommel’s advance was stopped at Libya, but Singapore fell in what Churchill called the greatest military defeat in the history of the British Empire.

Losing patience with the pace of war in North Africa, Churchill ordered General Auchinleck to engage the enemy, but Rommel was the first to take the initiative with an attack on 26 May. Churchill pressed the importance of not losing Malta as a supply base, and sent the following message to Auchinleck: “Your decision to fight it out to the end is most cordially endorsed. We shall sustain you whatever the result. Retreat would be fatal. This is a business not only of armour but of willpower.”

While the battles raged in Africa there was also considerable action elsewhere. The Japanese Navy was stopped at the Battle of Midway. In Europe the Allies sent 1,000 bombers against Cologne. As the Germans waged campaigns against partisans throughout the Eastern Front, news reached Warsaw that gas was being used on Jews in Auschwitz.

Churchill decided that plans for operations had to be finalised so he set out to visit Roosevelt in America. Before leaving he advised the King to appoint Anthony Eden Prime Minister should anything happen on this trip. The British and American leaders met first at Roosevelt’s home at Hyde Park, New York. On returning to Washington, Churchill was informed that Tobruk had fallen. This was one of the heaviest blows he received during the war, comparable to the loss of Singapore.

The course of affairs at home, which Churchill called “a beautiful row,” involved a debate on a vote of censure in the House of Commons. Churchill later wrote that had he led a party government he might have suffered the fate of Chamberlain in May 1940, but the National Coalition Government was strong enough to survive “a long succession of misfortune and defeats in Malaya, Singapore and Burma; Auchinleck’s lost battle in the Desert, Tobruk, unexplained, and, it seemed, inexplicable; the rapid retreat of the Desert Army and the loss of all our conquests in Libya and Cyrenaica.”

In this case Churchill’s Government was supported by 475 votes to 25. Parallels were drawn between Churchill and Pitt who experienced similar dark days in 1799, but, sustained by the House of Commons, emerged victorious.[8]

In August 1942, Churchill journeyed to Moscow to meet with Soviet Premier Joseph Stalin. The Soviet Union had entered the war in June 1941, after being invaded by Germany. Almost immediately, Stalin had demanded that the British open a second figting front in western Europe to relieve the strain on the Soviet Union. Churchill explained to Stalin that it would be disastrous to open a second front in 1942 because the Allies were unprepared.[8]

As Churchill’s Government defeated a No Confidence motion in the House of Commons, the Eighth Army finally stopped Rommel’s advance in Egypt. Churchill’s fear that the fate of Singapore would befall Cairo was not to be realised.

On 19 July a high level American delegation including General Marshall, Admiral King and Harry Hopkins arrived at Chequers to discuss “Operation Sledgehammer”, the invasion of the Cherbourg Peninsula. Although Churchill also favoured “Operation Jupiter”, the invasion of Norway, the British proposed “Operation Gymnast”, the invasion of French North Africa.

The British view prevailed and the Americans agreed to an attack against North Africa, renamed “Operation Torch”. Roosevelt expressed the view that “the past week represented a turning point in the whole war and that now we are on our way shoulder to shoulder.”

They would also require the shoulder of the Russian bear and Churchill determined to visit Stalin in his own den to gain support for his invasion sequence of Africa, then Italy, then France. On the way to Moscow, he visited Egypt to investigate personally the need for a command change in the Middle East.

While it appeared that Stalingrad would be lost, convoys were getting through and Russia would survive. Berlin was being bombed and the Germans were having difficulty supplying Rommel. Churchill was meeting every Tuesday with Eisenhower to discuss “Torch.” By the end of September Churchill said: “The tide of destiny is moving steadily in our favour, though our voyage will be long and hard.”

This period saw the turning of “the Hinge of Fate.” As the Russians stopped the Germans at Stalingrad, the British opened an offensive at El Alamein. As Rommel’s forces were in full retreat in East Africa, the Allies landed in the West, under “Operation Torch.”

After Alexander advised Churchill to “Ring out the bells” to celebrate victory in Egypt, Churchill told a Lord Mayor’s luncheon at Mansion House: “This is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.”

On the German side, Hitler was determined to stand firm and ordered no retreat in both Russia and Africa. British cities were still not completely safe. On 31 October waves of German bombers blasted the cathedral city of Canterbury in the biggest daylight raid since the Battle of Britain.

In a broadcast to the Italian people, Churchill told them to oust their leaders or face shattering Allied air blows.[8]

On 12 January 1943 he left for Casablanca where the leaders of Britain and the United States planned the invasion of the European continent. Churchill thought that it was essential for them to alleviate the pressure on the Soviets in 1943 with an attack on Sicily and then a cross-Channel invasion. The allies also had to reassure each other of mutual support. The British feared that the Americans might give priority to the Pacific front and the Americans were concerned that Britain would pull out of the war after the defeat of Germany. French unity was also important and General de Gaulle was invited to meet with and hopefully accept the authority of General Giraud in North Africa.

The Conference had been kept secret until the press conference on 24 January. The press, wrote Churchill, could hardly believe their eyes and then their ears when they heard that the Conference had been meeting for two weeks. Roosevelt and Churchill had agreed to continue convoys to Russia, send support to American forces in China, begin plans for a June landing in Sicily, and build up American forces in Britain. They also announced that unconditional surrender was the only term which the Allies would accept to end the war.

Stalin still distrusted his allies. He demanded a second front and accused them of treachery. This was an indication of the postwar problems that would have to be faced concerning Russia. Churchill told the Editor of The Times that he favoured confederations with smaller states after the war. “I do not want to be left alone in Europe with the Bear.”

At the same time Churchill learned that ‘the Germans had developed rockets capable of hitting London and it appeared that Operation Sledgehammer, the invasion of Europe in 1943, was not going to happen. The good news was that the Allies were advancing in North Africa.

His attention was drawn to the Pacific Theatre by a fear that the Americans were going to give it more attention, despite their professed “Germany first” policy. He had no illusions about the challenges in the Pacific: “Going into swampy jungles to fight the Japanese is like going into the water to fight a shark.”

On 12 May the Trident Conference began at the White House. Churchill suggested sending the victorious armies from Africa against Sicily and then Italy and the armies in India against the Japanese forces in Malaya and Sumatra.

While in Washington Churchill received a message from General Alexander: “Sir, it is my duty to report that the Tunisian campaign is over. All enemy resistance has ceased. We are masters of the North African shores.”

On 19 May Churchill spoke for the second time to the U.S. Congress. He warned that only a lack of will or a dispute among the Allies would provide hope to the Axis and that much blood must still be shed before victory.

Two momentous decisions came from Trident: the date of the cross-Channel invasion was set for 1 May 1944 and the US agreed to share more information on the development of an atomic bomb.

Churchill flew to Algiers via Newfoundland and Gibraltar for a meeting with Eisenhower, Marshall, Montgomery, Brooke and Alexander which reached final agreement on an invasion of Sicily. He also mediated a reconciliation between the French Generals Giraud and de Gaulle.

Notwithstanding their troubles in Italy and the fact that the Allies had won the Battle of the Atlantic, the Germans opened an offensive on the Eastern Front; but it was stopped by mid-July after the great tank battle at Kursk. Churchill’s attention was also on the Balkans and the “hardy and hunted guerrillas” of Tito as he prepared to leave for Quebec and a meeting with the American President.

Travelling under the code-name Colonel Warden, Churchill boarded “Queen Mary” on the Clyde. Despite the attempt at secrecy, large crowds met them at Halifax and at every train stop on the way to Quebec. Churchill’s V-sign was extremely popular.

Churchill wanted Brooke and Roosevelt wanted Marshall to command the invasion of Europe. Roosevelt insisted that the position go to an American but eventually he could not bear to be without Marshall in Washington. They agreed that Mountbatten should receive the South-East Asia Command. They also agreed that the atomic bomb would be manufactured in the United States and that they would invite Stalin to meet them, probably in Alaska.

The Quebec conference, code-named Quadrant, began on August 17th, 1943. For a break, Churchill, Roosevelt, Hopkins and Harriman visited the Canadian Governor-General’s country retreat where they fished and discussed global strategy in a log cabin in the woods. The conference ended on 24 August.

On his return to Quebec he spoke to the people of Canada where “in mighty lands which have never know the totalitarian tyrannies of Hitler and Mussolini, the spirit of freedom has found a safe and abiding home.”[9]

The Big Three

After the Quebec Conference, Churchill went to Washington to discuss a tripartite meeting with Stalin.

While “closing the ring” the issue of postwar boundaries in Eastern Europe had to be resolved. Stalin desired a resolution now but Churchill wanted to wait until after the war was won. Concerning Poland, the British Prime Minister said, “we should do everything in our power to persuade the Poles to agree with the Russians about the Eastern frontier, in return for gains in East Prussia and Silesia. We could certainly promise to use our influence in that respect.”

Churchill, Roosevelt and Stalin agreed on the surrender terms for Italy and, on October 15th, the Royal Italian Government declared war on Germany, even though Rome would not be liberated for many months.

Stalin’s distrust of his allies’ intention to establish a second front would have to be addressed at a meeting of the “Big Three”. The appointment of a supreme commander was essential and Churchill was confident it would be George Marshall. In December Roosevelt informed him that he needed Marshall in Washington and that the appointment would go to Dwight Eisenhower.

A foreign ministers’ conference in October set the stage for a meeting of the “Big Three” at Teheran in December. Eden told Churchill that Stalin knew the British were committed to defeating Germany, but that the Soviet leader believed Churchill “had a tendency to take the easy road and leave the difficult job to the Russians.”

On 27 November 1943 they flew to Teheran to meet Stalin. After those meetings Churchill telegraphed Attlee: “Relations between Britain, US and USSR have never been so cordial and intimate. All war plans are agreed and concerted.”

In October Churchill had cabled Roosevelt. “Unless there is a German collapse, the campaign of 1944 will be far the most dangerous we have undertaken and personally, I am more anxious about its success than I was about 1941, 1942, or 1943.” [9]

On February 15 1944 the Allies unsuccessfully attacked German forces at Monte Cassio and on February 16 the Germans counter-attacked at Anzio. The hope of capturing Rome in January was now distant.

The lessons of Italy would be applied in Normandy. Bordeaux was rejected as a suitable port for landing. Churchill directed that planning keep casualties to a minimum. Meanwhile, Rommel was busy strengthening the Atlantic wall.

In their memoirs Brooke, Eden and Eisenhower all comment on the Prime Minister’s exhaustion at this time. In early May Churchill admitted to Brooke that he felt like Roosevelt, who “was no longer the man he had been.” Speaking of himself, Churchill said that “he could still always sleep well, eat well, and especially drink well, but that he no longer jumped out of bed the way he used to.”

Brooke noted in his diary: “We found him in a desperately tired mood. I am afraid that he is losing ground rapidly. He seems quite incapable of concentrating for a few minutes on end, and keeps wandering continuously. He kept yawning and said he was feeling desperately tired.”

While eagerly and anxiously awaiting the invasion of Europe, Churchill also worried about possible perfidy by the Soviets. “Once we get on to the Continent with a large commitment, they will have the means of blackmail, which they have not at the present, by refusing to advance beyond a certain point, or even tipping the wink to the Germans that they can move more troops to the West.” Force and facts, he believed, were the only realities the Communists understood. Later he would comment: “Never forget that the Bolsheviks are crocodiles.”

Churchill’s disagreement with the Americans on strategy in Italy continued. He feared that their insistence on an invasion of the south of France after Normandy, on top of Alexander’s “desolating delay,” would destroy future success in Italy. He and his American allies also disagreed on whom to support in Yugoslavia.

On June 4th 1944 Rome was liberated and Churchill’s feelings of elation about that achievement were so strong that he took the first ten minutes of his speech to the House on June 6th to ask the House to “take formal cognisance of the liberation of Rome by the Allied forces under the command of General Alexander.” Needless to say, members waited throughout that speech for his announcement about the landings in Normandy. After his speech in the House, he lunched with the King and drove with him to Eisenhower’s headquarters.

In a note to Stalin, Churchill summed up the military situation: “The enemy is burning and bleeding on every front at once.”

The enemy was still capable of inflicting serious injury, however, and many casualties resulted from the flying bomb attacks against London, starting on June 12. Unfavorable weather made it difficult for Allied planes to find the launch sites. An even greater threat was imminent from V2 rockets being tested by the Germans.

On 7 July 1944 Churchill received a full report on the situation in Auschwitz. His instructions to Eden were to provide as much assistance as possible to prevent the Germans from transporting prisoners to the concentration camp, and to “invoke my name if necessary.”

In early August the inhabitants of Warsaw rose up against the German occupier. Churchill appealed to Stalin for assistance on their behalf. He was very concerned about a “summit,” yet both Stalin and Roosevelt declined his invitation to come to Britain; but he and the American President agreed to meet in Quebec in September.

In October 1944 Churchill flew to Italy, where he met Alexander and Wilson, then to Cairo, then on to Moscow, where the “Tolstoy Conference” began. Churchill wanted to deal candidly with Stalin so he said, “Let us settle about our affairs in the Balkans.” While his comments to Stalin were being translated Churchill wrote on a half-sheet of paper: “Romania: Russia 90%. The others 10%; Greece: Great Britain (in accord with USA) 90%, Russia 10%; Yugoslavia. 50-50%; Hungary: 50-50%; Bulgaria: Russia 75%. The others 25%.” Stalin took out his blue pencil and made a large tick upon it.

Allied fortunes in the Mediterranean had always been a priority for Churchill and his attention was now focused on Greece and the Communist threat following the Nazi withdrawal. Roosevelt and Harry Hopkins warned him, however, that American public opinion might not support Allied intervention in a Greek civil war.

Deciding almost on the spur of the-moment to see the situation for himself, Churchill flew to Athens on Christmas Eve. On 26 December Churchill, Eden, Alexander and American and French representatives met with the warring parties in Athens. With the support of the Americans, Churchill was able to persuade the Greek King to make Archbishop Damaskinos the Regent without Communist participation in the Government.[10]

Looking forward to final victory, Churchill glumly but prophetically commented: “I think the end of this war may well prove to be more disappointing than was the last.”

In February 1945 he met Roosevelt and Stalin in the Crimea where they signed the Yalta Agreement. With full understanding of the Anglo-American relationship with the Soviets, Churchill commented that “the only bend of the victors is their common hate.” His parting toast to Marshal Stalin was that the Soviet leader would live “to see his beloved Russia not only glorious in war, but also happy in peace.”

Churchill was deeply anxious about the fate of Poland and Greece. On his return from Russia he visited Athens where he was wildly received in Constitution Square. The Acropolis was floodlit for the first time since the beginning of the war.

In Egypt he met his friend Franklin Roosevelt for the final time. As they parted, Churchill recalled that “I felt he had a slender contact with life.”

Back home his worst fears were realised concerning the Soviets’ intention not to uphold the Yalta Agreement regarding Poland. Specifically, he learned that soldiers of the Polish Home Army were being rounded up. Jock Colville recorded: “The PM and Eden both fear that our willingness to trust our Russian ally may have been vain and they look with despondency to the future.”

Shortly after he made the following valedictory comments about the life of his great American friend and ally, Franklin Roosevelt. “As the saying goes, he died in harness, and we may well say in battle harness, like his soldiers, sailors, and airmen, who side by side with ours are carrying on their task to the end all over the world. What an enviable death was his. He had brought his country through the worst of its perils and the heaviest of its toils. Victory had cast its sure and steady beam upon him.”

The end of April brought the death of two of his mortal enemies, Mussolini and Hitler.

The two days of victory celebrations were some of the most celebratory in Churchill’s long life. On 8 May after lunch and an appearance on the Buckingham Palace balcony with the King and Queen he returned to 10 Downing Street and then drove to the House of Commons in an open car. No engine power was necessary, said his bodyguard. The car was literally forced along by the crowd.

He led a procession of his Cabinet and members of the House of Commons to St. Margaret’s Church for a Thanksgiving Service. He spoke to the crowd several times from the balcony of Whitehall. “This,” he said to them, “is your victory.”

Later in the month Churchill was informed by the Labour Party that the coalition could not continue. At the King’s request he took over a caretaker government while conducting a general election, continuing the war with Japan and creating a post-war Europe with Truman and Stalin.[11]

Here the words by Christopher C. Harmon about the Big Three could be quoted:

“The Grand Alliance had historical singularity. For example, it was unusual for the U.S. to bind itself so closely to any other power, even Britain. This partnership was among the closest bilateral relationships between independent powers in all of history. It might also serve as a model alliance. It brought together three global powers, each very different from the others. Here was a joining of unlimited efforts for a limited common purpose.

It was, by war’s end, an enormous alliance: “Great Amalgam” is perhaps more apt a tag than “Grand Alliance.” Wartime coalitions with so many partners cannot be a blissful union. But the whole did survive immense tests; it did last through the war. And then, after victory, it became fractious and discontented. That is very common for alliances.” [13]

To the Opposition

During June Churchill fought an election, on one day visiting ten cities. As it became clear that the people thought Labour had a better post-war policy and were about to express their long-held resentment against the Conservative pre-war appeasers, Churchill hoped that his own popularity could withstand the tide. He advised the overseas troops that there is “no truth that you can vote Labour or Liberal without voting against me.”

As grateful as they were, many people expressed concern that the great war leader would not be a good peace leader. He was even heckled at Walthamston Stadium. He responded to that challenge by telling the hecklers that he forgave them because they were about to receive a thrashing.

Perhaps the most important is that he overestimated his popularity and offered no program to the electorate. The Conservative election propaganda only consisted of accusations against the Labour party, trying to prove that the Labourists were Socialists, and emphasising Churchill’s role in the winning of the war, not bearing in mind that the British people were interested in what would happen after the war. At the same time, the Labourists offered a positive program that promised important reforms in the social sphere, nationalisation of some branches of economy and extensive construction of dwelling houses.

5 July was polling day was in Britain but it took three weeks to count the service vote. Meanwhile Churchill flew to Bordeaux to rest before moving on to Berlin. Shortly after arriving in the German capital Churchill, with his daughter Mary, toured its ruins including Hitler’s Chancellery. When Churchill observed the German populace he said his “hate died with their surrender.” On the same day he met President Truman for the first time. A few days later the two leaders agreed to use the atomic bomb against Japan.

Churchill’s last public event as the British Prime Minister occurred on 21 July when he took the victory salute in Berlin.

On 25 July Churchill left Stalin and Truman, without saying goodbye, to return to London with Attlee to await the results of the election. On 28 July Clement Attlee returned to Berlin as Prime Minister.

Unknown to anyone but his doctor, Churchill had a premonition of the results in a dream. “I dreamed that life was over. I saw it was very vivid my dead body under a white sheet on a table in an empty room. I recognized my bare feet projecting from under the sheet. It was very life-like. Perhaps this is the end.”

The concession speech included the admirable comment: “I thank the British people for many kindnesses shown towards their servant.” This remark stands in contrast to Stalin’s reported comment that he was surprised because he had supposed that Churchill would have “fixed” the results. On 29 July Churchill signed “finis” in the visitors’ book at Chequers. Many high-ranking officials who owed their positions to Churchill, including Lord Louis Mountbatten, were now expressing Labour sympathies.

On 16 August the House recognized Churchill’s war leadership. The new Prime Minister spoke for all when he said that Churchill’s “place in history is secure.” [11]


After the general elections in 1950 that were unsuccessful for the Conservatives, Churchill tried, by any means, to discredit the Labour government. This way he hoped to bring nearer the next elections. What he criticised most was the armament policy Churchill did not oppose the armament race, but claimed that everything was done wrong and not how it would be done if he were the Prime Minister.

The position of the Labour Party was weakened by the fact that their policy worsened the living conditions of the people and brought along the increase of the danger of war. In 1951, the Labour leaders had to witness severe dissensions. Under these bad circumstances in the country and in the Labour party, new preschedule general elections had to be held.

The most important question to be answered by the elections was the question of war and peace. People were disappointed at the actions of the Labour ministers, at the same time they were afraid of the Conservatives who might lead the nation in a war. Churchill did all he could to oppose this fear and proposed to hold a summet meeting with US and SU prime ministers after the elections.

The Conservatives won the elections, but not with a great majority (Labourists 295, Conservatives 321 seats). In October 25, 1951, Winston Churchill, now almost 77 years old, became Prime Minister for the last time. [3]

The government of 1951-55 was a very consensual one. There were occasional flourishes of partisan rhetoric, but little partisan action. Or, as Churchill said at the beginning of Parliament:

“What the nation needs is several years of quiet steady administration, if only to allow the Socialist legislation to reach its full fruition. What the House needs is a period of tolerant and constructive debating on the merits of the questions without nearly every speech on either side being distorted by the passions of one election or the preparations for another.” [2]

In the domestic policy Churchill made no considerable changes. The social care system that was developed by the Labourists after the war was not noticeably altered. Even in such an important field for the Conservatives as nationalisation they acted weakly. Only car and metal industries were denationalised.

As usual, Churchill concentrated most of his energy on foreign affairs.

Armament Race

Churchill, who had criticised the Labourists for an unsatisfactory politics in armament, decided to restrict the armament to a certain extent. The sums that were expected to be spent on armament over three years were decided to be spent over four years. Many were amazed at this step of the Conservatives. However, the problem was not that Churchill wanted to slow down the speed of armament race, but he was afraid of an economical boom, and for that fear he relieved the load of defense expenses on British economy.

Churchill’s cabinet paid a lot of attention to the research on the atomic bomb. Already in 1945, after the first successful testings of this weapon in the USA, he understood the great importance of it. The McMahon Act in 1946 in which the USA decided not to give the UK any information on nuclear weapons was an unpleasant surprise for Churchill here it is appropriate to point out that English scientists participated actively in creating the atomic bomb in the USA.

Another surprise shocked Churchill and also many others in the western world when the first successful Soviet atomic bomb testing was announced. This happened in 1949. From this moment on until returning to power Churchill criticised the Labour government for the backwardness in armament race. But, as it was discovered later, Churchill had attacked the Labourists for no reason already in 1945 the Labourists started a program for creating British nuclear potential. The co-ordinating committee of this project consisted of many known political leaders, including C. Attlee (the PM), E. Bevin (the Foreing Secretary), G. Morrison (the Home Secretary) and others. When Churchill came to power he discovered that the Labour government had already spent 100 million pounds on this nuclear program, at the same time being able to hide these expenses from Parliament. Churchill did not make changes in the project, and in October 3, 1952 the UK tested its first nuclear bomb.[3]

Churchill’s government was convinced that Great Britain can only restore its glory by the ownership of nuclear weapons. Still, one would not doubt now that after the World War II the United Kingdom was no real world power any more. English physicists G. Thizzard and P. Blackett pointed out that Britain will never become a great power again the British are one of the great nations, but not a world power. Under these circumstances it would have been wiser not to spend money on nuclear weapons, but to improve the economy that had suffered from the war. But this was not done. Churchill’s adviser Professor Lindeman was of the opinion that if the UK cannot independently create a nuclear weapon and must completely rely on the USA, it will be at the level of a “a second-grade country” who is allowed only to give support forces.

In 1955 the Conservative government decided to start the production of nuclear weapons. On May 15 1957 the UK tested its first hydrogen bomb.[3]

Churchill and the Soviet Union

To understand Churchill’s attitude towards the Soviet Union, it is essential to point out what he said in Fulton, 1946.

First, as one of the architects of the Grand Alliance he, in effect, recognized the tragic reality of its dissolution. No one else of similar authority had said what he did so plainly or so publicly before. And this, too, he had foreseen. At the Cairo Conference in 1943, he told Harold Macmillan of his fears about the rise of Soviet power, and the failure of the West to observe and respond to the danger.

Second, he traced the roots of the dawning conflict to Soviet territorial ambitions. As he put it, “What they desire are the fruits of war, and the indefinite expansion of their power and doctrines.”

Power and doctrine Winston Churchill had read history and he knew that ideology was not simply or solely the reason for Soviet aggression and subversion; it was, in sinister combination, the rationalization of conquests otherwise coveted. The Soviet commissars were fulfilling, on a grander scale, the expansionist ambitions of the Russian czars. This continuing, expansionist impulse was felt in Eastern Europe in the 1940’s.

Third, he urged the West to be firm in the form of both closer British Commonwealth -American association and a new European unity, from which, he said, “no nation should be outcast.” Already again, prophetically, he was anticipating the then almost unimaginable rapprochement between France and Germany. Most of all, Churchill gently warned, firmness required American involvement; we cannot afford, he said in politer words than these, a repetition of the catastrophic American retreat from international responsibility after World War I.

He saw the emerging parallel in 1946; in less than a year, the United States Army had shrunk by nearly 90 percent. The boys were coming home, but Churchill was reminding us that now all Europe and the world were our neighborhood.

He was looking toward a system of collective security; he was anticipating NATO by three years, each year marked by recurrent and escalating crisis with the Soviet Union. So he asked the Western powers “to stand together,” and he concluded: “There is nothing [the Russians] admire so much as strength, and there is nothing for which they have less respect than weakness, especially military weakness,”

It is at this point, for the most part, that the reading, citation, and interpretation of the Fulton speech all stop. Probably that is because it was Churchill’s sounding of the alarm about Soviet misdeeds which drew the most attention and the most controversy at the time. Indeed that aspect of the speech aroused nearly violent protest among many people, who once again were hoping that they had finished the war to end all wars. In New York a few days after Fulton, the police had to be called out to protect the former Prime Minister from hostile demonstrators parading outside the Waldorf-Astoria, where he was staying.

There are three other points Winston Churchill made at Fulton which apply with equal force today but which do not seem to be as clearly heard or heeded in the councils of power.

First, the address was a plea for peace, not conflict. It began with a reminder that “our supreme task and duty is to guard the homes of the common people from the horrors and miseries of another war.” Churchill viewed that prospect with undisguised apprehension. He spoke of future world conflict, and I quote, “as incomparably more rigorous than what the world has just been through. The Dark Ages may return the Stone Age may return now on the gleaming wings of science, and what might shower unmeasurable material blessings upon mankind may even bring about its total destruction.

Some fifty years ago, when the West held a nuclear monopoly, Churchill was not talking of “winnable” nuclear wars; he was worried about nuclear wars in which the only winner would be death. And to him, even then, the issue was urgent: “Beware I say; time may be short. Do not let us take the course of allowing events to drift along until it is too late.”

Second, the former and future Prime Minister insisted that there was a basis on which to deal with the Soviets. He had stated it before, shortly after the outbreak of the war in 1939. In another famous phrase which is usually only half-quoted, he said: “Russia… is a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma; but perhaps there is a key. That key is Russian national interest.”

The part about national interest is the part of the quote that is often left out. But in 1946, at Fulton, Churchill identified precisely what that interest was: The Soviets might want expansion, but they did not want war. The inevitable truth of that principle, in the atomic age, still eludes foolish and dangerous people on both sides of the Iron Curtain, who assume that on the other side, a first strike is being planned, a nuclear exchange is being actively considered, and therefore, arms control is an impossible dream or an undesirable snare. To them, Churchill replied, 40 years in advance: “What we have to consider… is the permanent prevention of war.” This, he believed, was in the Russian interest as surely as our own.


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