Winston Churchill Essay, Research Paper
Winston S. Churchill, M.P.
FIFTY years ago, the Second World War was approaching its crescendo. A million British and
Commonwealth and a million American troops were preparing to hurl themselves across the English
Channel to storm Hitler’s Atlantic Wall and embark upon the noble task of liberating Europe from the scourge of the swastika. I am therefore especially delighted to be asked to address you on the role of my grandfather as a War Leader.
Everyone has his or her favorite Churchill story, some true, others apocryphal. One of my favorites goes back to the days before we had free telephones in the House of Commons, when a rather desperate Lloyd George sticks his head out of a phone-booth and, seeing the portly figure of my grandfather approaching, calls to him: "Be a good fellow, Winston, and lend me sixpence so that I can call a friend." My grandfather, making a great demonstration of digging deep into his pocket to produce a coin, and with a mischievous grin on his face replies: "Here is a shilling – now you can call all your friends!"
It is something of a paradox, but true nonetheless, that had it not been for Hitler and the Labour Party, Churchill would never have become Prime Minister of Great Britain. Despite a political career that had already spanned forty years, and his evident availability, the Conservative Party had shown no inclination to invite him to be their leader. Only in the hour of maximum peril -indeed on the very day, 10 May 1940, that Hitler launched his Blitzkrieg against France, Belgium and the Low Countries – did the British nation turn, almost too late, to Churchill. This was a decision that owed much to the refusal of the leadership of the Labour Party to serve in a Coalition Government under Chamberlain, and the unwillingness of Halifax, who was the preferred successor by both the Conservative Party and King George VI, to serve as Premier. As Churchill himself pointed out, he was, at the moment he became Prime Minister, already sixty-five years of age and qualified to draw the Old Age Pension.
FEW politicians have come to power so well qualified to lead their nation in war. His first career had been as a soldier. He had received his baptism of fire on his twenty-first birthday in 1895, while acting as an observer o the Cuban Revolutionary War against Spain. A bullet, which missed him by inches while he munched on a chicken leg, prompted him to exclaim, "There is nothing so exhilarating as to be shot at without result!".
Thereafter he served on the skirmish line on the Northwest frontier of India and charged with the 21st Lancers at Omdurman in the Sudan in one of the last great cavalry charges of history, before participating in the Boer War in South Africa where he was taken prisoner. From there he made his dramatic escape from captivity, "climbing out," as he put it, "of a public convenience, into world-wide acclaim and notoriety." It was on this basis that, at the age of twenty-six, this impecunious cavalry officer was to launch his long, erratic but ultimately triumphant career in politics. He rose rapidly to become Home Secretary at the age of thirty-three and, in 1911, still only thirty-six years of age, First Lord of the Admiralty, where the responsibility fell to him to prepare the British Fleet for war.
The failure of the Gallipoli landings in southern Turkey for which he was, wrongly, made the scapegoat,
seemed to have brought his political career to an abrupt and premature conclusion at the age of forty He thereupon rejoined the Army and served in the front line in the trenches of Flanders in Southern Belgium, where he commanded a Battalion of the Royal Scots Fusiliers in action at Ploegsteert, commonly known to the British Tommy as "Plug Street." In one of those strange quirks of history, serving at the time in the Kaiser’s Army, just 10 km. away on the very same sector of the front, a certain Corporal Hitler
Though he returned to office as Minister of Munitions and, after the Great War, as Colonial Secretary and Chancellor of the Exchequer, Churchill’s warnings about the dangers of the rise of Hitler in the Thirties and his call for an urgent programme of rearmament fell on deaf ears and alienated him from his own party. which was so disastrously bent on the path of appeasement.
Within two months of becoming Prime Minister in May 1940, France fell and all organised resistance to Nazi rule on the continent of Europe was at an end. Many, even among Britain’s friends abroad, believed that it would be no more than a matter of weeks before Britain, too, ran up the white flag of surrender.
Churchill’s great strength as a War Leader rested in his burning conviction, in the teeth of all the odds, that in our island we were unconquerable. Second, and equal to that, was his ability to communicate that spirit to the British nation and to inspire them to feats of which they did not know themselves to be capable. In the words of Edward R. Murrow repeated by President John F. Kennedy: "He mobilised the English language and sent it into battle."
Churchill’s unshakable resolve and puckish sense of humour, conveyed in his wartime radio broadcasts, galvanised a nation that hung on his every word. Thus as France fell and the British Army retreated from Dunkirk, he told the House of Commons, on 4 June 1940:
"Even though large tracts of Europe and many old and famous States have fallen or may fall into the
grip of the Gestapo and all the odious apparatus of Nazi rule, we shall not flag or fail. We shall go on
to the end, we shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing
confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our Island, whatever the cost may be. 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, and even if which I do not for a moment
believe, this Island or a large part of it were subjugated and starving, then our Empire beyond the seas,
armed and guarded by the British Fleet, would carry on the struggle, until, in God’s good time the New
World, with all its power and might, steps forth to the rescue and the liberation of the Old."
And again, just two weeks later:
"The Battle of France is over. I expect that the Battle of Britain is about to begin. Upon this Battle
depends the survival of Christian civilisation. Upon it depends our own British life, and the long
continuity of our institutions and our Empire. The whole fury and might of the enemy must very soon
be turned on us. Hitler knows that he will have to break us in this Island or lose the War. If we stand
up to him, all Europe may be free and the life of the world may move forward into broad, sunlit
uplands. But if we fail, then the whole world, including the United States, including all that we have
known and cared for, will sink into the abyss of a new dark age made more sinister, and perhaps more
protracted, by the lights of perverted science. Let us therefore brace ourselves to our duties, and so bear ourselves that ~f the British Empire and its Commonwealth last for a thousand years, men will still say, ‘This was their finest hour."
Nor was it only the British nation that he inspired. Time and again I have met people from all the
nations of Europe, occupied during the War, who told me how my grandfather’s words alone gave them
the courage to endure, and provided the one hope of liberation. A brief quote from his broadcast to the
French people of October 1940, conveys for me the power and majesty of those addresses:
"Goodnight then: sleep to gather strength for the morning. For the morning will come. Brightly will it
shine on the brave and true, kindly upon all who suffer for the cause, glorious upon the tombs of
heroes. Thus will shine the dawn. Vive la France! Long live also the forward march of the common
people in all the lands towards their just and true inheritance, and towards the broader and fuller age."
A key element in his speeches was his abiding faith in the United States and his conviction that, while Britain could not be defeated in her Island, only the combined strength of Britain and her Empire, together with the United States, could defeat Hitler and bring about the liberation of Europe.
I recall my father, Randolph, telling me of a visit he paid to my grandfather at Downing Street early one morning in the course of that fateful Summer of 1940. Hitler was massing vast numbers of transport vessels and landing-craft across the Channel for his threatened invasion of Britain, code-named "Operation Sea-Lion." My father, on his way to rejoin his unit, which was undergoing commando-training, found the Prime Minister standing before a shaving mirror naked apart from a short silk vest which was the only thing he would wear to sleep in. Randolph seated himself on the end of the bed, intently watching the reflection of his father’s face in the shaving mirror. For some considerable time, the latter remained silent. Then suddenly, fixing him with his eye in the mirror, he declared: "I think I see my way through: we shall have to drag in the Americans."
In fact that was only to be done some eighteen months later – and not by Churchill but by the Japanese. As one who was himself half American, Churchill saw the United States as the key to victory and he played on this relationship when, in December 1941, he addressed a Joint session of the United States Congress. He could not resist teasing them with the suggestion: "If my father had been American and my mother British, instead of the other way round, I might have got here on my own!".
To the dismay of some British and U.S. generals, the Prime Minister, who had made himself his own Minister of Defence, involved himself in directing military strategy. And he was a firm believer in the idea that, if advance was blocked via the front door, it made sense to try the back or side doors. Thus, in World War I, appalled at the sacrifice of tens of thousands of lives on the Western Front to gain just a mile or two of ground – "chewing barbed-wire," as he put it – he became convinced there had to be some better alternative. This led him, though still at the Admiralty, to press ahead with the development of what he called his "land-battleship," later known as the tank, which, by the spring of 1918, the German General Luddendorf would credit with the defeat of his armies. This impatience with the slaughter in the west also brought him to conceive the idea of forcing the Narrows to the Bosphorus,
with the aim of knocking Germany’s ally, Turkey, out of the war and linking forces with Russia.
Tragically, the execution of the operation, over which he did not have full control, proved a disaster.
Indeed my wife Minnie’s grandfather was one of those who died on the beaches of Gallipoli. But few
now doubt that the concept was brilliant. If successful, it could have ended the war two years earlier
and, possibly, even forestalled the Russian Revolution of 1917, with all the bloodshed and suffering that
would have saved Europe and the world in the ensuing years.
Similarly, in World War II, while some urged an early frontal assault on Hitler’s Atlantic Wall, Churchill favoured a steady approach-march to victory, rather than risk all on a premature, potentially disastrous attack where the enemy was strongest. Thus he conceived the North African campaign where Hitler, without either Air or Naval superiority, would be unable to concentrate ground strength sufficient to prevent the defeat of Field Marshal Rommel’s German-Italian Army. He was reinforced in this view by
his reading of Hitler’s mind – and, it must be said, of his Intelligence through the "Ultra" intercepts
and decrypts, the most closely-guarded secret of the war. These revealed Hitler’s orders to his
field-commanders, instructing them to hold onto all their conquests, no matter the cost. North Africa,
together with the Sicily landings and the Italian campaign, were not irrelevant side-shows as some have
suggested, but necessary steps in the transformation of armies of British and American civilians into
Meanwhile the tide of war had turned in North Africa at El Alamein, and in Russia at Stalingrad, where 175 Nazi and Red Army divisions confronted each other on either side. Thus the scene was set for the D-Day Landings, involving one million Americans and, let it not be forgotten, an equal number of British and Commonwealth soldiers, in an invasion which was to bring about the defeat of Nazi Germany and the liberation of Western Europe. IT WAS the greatest disappointment of my grandfather’s life that after six long years of struggle and sacrifice since Britain had drawn the sword in defence of Poland, the nations of Central and Eastern Europe merely exchanged one tyranny for another after the war. Stalin’s Red Army, advancing from the East in the guise of liberators, came in reality as new enslavers. I am reluctant to impute views to my grandfather about events of modern times. But one thing I do know is that he would have rejoiced loudly and long at the fall of the Iron Curtain, to which he had so poignantly drawn attention in 1946 at the small midwestern town of Fulton, Missouri – and at the fact that the proud and ancient nations of Central and Eastern Europe, together with the peoples of the former Soviet Union, have at last been able to take their rightful places among the ranks of free nations.
The eyeball-to-eyeball confrontations of the Cold War are, thankfully, consigned to history. But it would be ‘a mistake to imagine that grave challenges and perils do not lie ahead. The reality must be faced that the world has once again been made safe for conventional warfare. Furthermore, the demise of communism and totalitarian regimes, in such places as Yugoslavia and the former Soviet Union, has unleashed forces of nationalism that have plunged many of these nations into bitter ethnic strife and civil war. The dangers, in the event of something comparable to the Bosnian conflict breaking out in Russia or between any of the former Soviet Republics, armed as they still are with some 27,000 nuclear weapons, need no elaboration. Perhaps those same principles, which were Churchill’s guiding light and which saw Europe through its darkest hour, still have application to the challenges and perils that confront us today and tomorrow. I would identify them as follows:
First, let the democracies remain strong and militarily prepared: advice we are, sadly, already ignoring as, too rapidly, we cast our weapons aside in a rush to disarm.
Second, let Collective Security be the cornerstone of our policy in deterring and dealing with aggression, and make the bedrock of that policy the North Atlantic Alliance.
Third, ensure that the English-speaking Peoples work closely together.
The links of democracy, law, history and culture that bind us are, at the end of the day, so much greater than any petty disagreements that may from time to time divide us. We have confronted, endured and emerged victorious from two World Wars and the Cold War. Who can doubt that together we can face and surmount the challenges and perils of the future, as we have so triumphantly those of the past?