Picture of packet containing £5 Churchill commemorative coin.
One of these was among the souvenirs we brought home from London.
January 15, 2013

Winston Churchill

I've been an unabashed admirer of Churchill's since the 1970s, and read the first two volumes of William Manchester's biography when they first came out. So I spent a long time waiting for the third and final volume. Manchester made an unfortunate detour, and interrupted his work for A World Lit Only By Fire.* So I put this on my Christmas wishlist and marked it highest priority.#

*I call this an unfortunate detour because Manchester's medieval history has been thoroughly savaged by critics. For example see the Wikipedia entry for the book.Other critical pieces that are freely available can be found here, and here. Readers interested in Medieval history are advised to try other secondary sources, and to actually try reading Medieval literature. The detour was also unfortunate in that delayed his work on the Churchill biography, which was in his area of competency.

#The Blu-Ray set of Marilyn Monroe movies was also given highest priority.

The volume starts out with a bit of a summary, and portrait of Churchill as he was about to took office as Prime Minister. We learn among other things that Chruchill was not terribly religious, and indeed described himself as an agnostic. (In fairness it should be noted that while he was not ostentatious, he did sprinkle Biblical quotations and allusions throughout his writings, and he did make reference to God.) He also disputes the description given by Charles Wilson, Baron Moran, of Churchill's “black dog”, which Moran considers to be clinical depression, if not the depressed phase of bipolar disorder. He will, towards the end, return to this again where Moran describes the final years of Churchill's life as being depressed.

The point is made, in talking about the initial response to the invasion of Poland, that had France, and whatever of the British army was in France during that time, moved forward against Germany that Hitler would have been fighting a two front war. He had moved over 50 divisions into Poland, and had left 23 divisions in Germany. Those would have been opposed by 80+ Franco-British divisions. There was then sufficient force to crush the German army, and move into the heartland of Hitler's burgeoning empire. However, that prompts these questions:

A point that is emphasized several times in the course of the book is the perfidy of the government of Éamon de Valera. The Republic of Ireland was neutral throughout the conflict, and de Valera tendered condolences upon the death of Hitler. Other instances of "tilting" towards the Nazi side are given throughout the book.

  1. While England was being harassed by German U-Boats and needed to maintain its supply lines it was denied the use of naval and air bases. 210
  2. De Valera proclaimed that Ireland had a right and duty to offer sanctuary to war criminals. 805
  3. De Valera several times refused deals that would have re-united Ireland.
Since this is a book about a British Prime Minister there is a pronounced pro-British bias, and the American generals don't come off particularly well.
  1. Eisenhower was deficient as a leader during Torch, the invasion of North Africa, particularly at Kasserine Pass.
  2. Troops were allowed to escape from Sicily. These troops, amounting to 60,000, were to fight against the Allies later in Italy.
  3. Mark Clark's "phony Roman triumph" when he entered Rome, rather than pursuing the German armies, was a mistake.
  4. Patton should have been supplied with gasoline instead of supplies being shifted to the disastrous Market-Garden. (In all fairness this was Monty's operation, but Eisenhower should have resisted his subordinate's demands, and given maximum logistical support to Patton.)
  5. It may have been a mistake not to follow up the Italian campaign with an attack on the Balkans, which would have tied up Hitler's armies, and prevented the Soviets from gaining a foothold in the region, instead of Operation Dragoon, the invasion of the south of France.
FDR is portrayed as someone who thought that his charm was strong enough to win Stalin to his way of thinking. Now we've seen that approach tried even more recently, but Roosevelt was charming, and the other guy who attempted to charm bad guys, well he's just not. FDR also erred in his approach to Communism. Churchill was more realistic in his appreciation of Stalin and Communism, though sadly, like FDR, he placed a lot of hope in what has become a club for the diplomats of kleptocracies and thug kingdoms to gather in and pursue high class American hookers, the UN.

Churchill, however, was not firmly wedded to the idea of laissez faire capitalism, and while he did not go over to socialism, and indeed opposed it, he was not opposed to schemes for National Health Insurance, and similar welfare measures. When the Labour government came to power at the end of the war it instituted the Welfare State, and brought about National Health Insurance, and a whole raft of reforms. When running against Labour in the 1950s Churchill pointed out that Labour had created 450,000 useless jobs, government employees, and had brought no benefit to the country. I would have to say that Labour's policies probably delayed the recovery of the country. If portrayals in films and television programs of the period, as well those that take a retrospective look at the time, I would have to say with Ronald Reagan that "government is the problem." His second term as Prime Minister is not covered in nearly as much detail as his first, which occupies over 800 pages, but then it's not nearly as interesting.

It wasn't just Labour that made Britain's post-war years so bad. The Truman administration didn't help matters by ending Lend Lease at a time when Britain, which had fought two years without allies, and which had borne most of the burden for the initial period of the war, was broke. The Truman administrative then imposed a series of tariffs that raised the prices of foreign goods, including those of Britain, France, Holland, and the other victims of Nazi domination, as well as those of Germany and the Axis countries. The effect was to retard the economic recovery of Britain and Europe, effectively a punitive measure against our allies. It was not until April 1948 that the Marshall plan went into effect. In the meantime any prospect for recovery was stalled by the malevolent Truman.

Churchill's final years appear to have been a time of slow decline, though he was not senile, his mental slowness being caused by strokes rather than dementia. Despite bad diet, cigar smoking, and the consumption of alcohol, he died at 90.

Churchill, while out of power, did not give in on the weakness of Labour's policies while they were in office. He was constantly on the attack, pointing out the weakness of the National Health Service, the huge bureaucracies, and the booming state economy that Attlee and his group were imposing on Britain. There may well be a lesson here for the pols in DC today.

The book suffers from some deficiencies. For example, in the index, if you want to look up the raid on Coventry, the logical entry would be "Coventry, bombing of." Instead it's listed under "Mondscheinsonate, operation Moonlight Sonata." There are multitudinous notes, and it's pretty standard to have indexes at the top of the pages that tell what section of the book, or what pages the notes refer to. Those are missing. There are sometimes long, detailed descriptions of photographs that someone has evidently seen, but those photos are missing. Photos are not listed in the Table of Contents, though there are two sections of black and white photos.

Next up a couple of books on the Victorian pre-Raphaelite painter Burne-Jones.