Winston Churchill still instructs

by Tony Blankley
Washington Times
January 5, 2010

Over the Christmas holiday, I read a couple of books that, at least for me, may provide some guidance in the upcoming tumultuous and probably consequential year. The first book was “Munich, 1938” by David Farber, (grandson of former British Prime Minister Harold Macmillan) by far the most authoritative book on that world changing event.

Beyond the obvious policy point that appeasement is generally bad, the value of the book is in its dissection of how the experienced leadership class of the then-leading power – the British Empire – was able to think and talk and deceive itself into a catastrophically bad policy decision. The author reveals in minute example how domestic politics, leaks and counterleaks to major newspapers shaped – and misshaped – both vital foreign policy judgment and how the world construed and misconstrued British strategic thinking.

The author also reveals in fresh details the well known story of how Winston Churchill, Duff Cooper and a hand full of others – in and out of government – dissented from the policy.

The other half of the story of Munich 1938 was events in Germany, where, unlike in Britain, the problem was a war policy advocated by Adolf Hitler that was opposed by most of the institutional leadership (including many of the very top generals) and by the general public which feared another war. (As Hitler paraded his armored columns through Berlin in preparation for entering Czechoslovakia, according to a witness, “the people of Berlin ducked into subways, refused to look on, and the handful that did stood at the curb in utter silence. It was the most striking demonstration against the war I’ve ever seen.” Hitler watched it from a window and in furious contempt of the German people complained “With such people I cannot wage war.” Of course he did, in part because of what, the author points out, was Hitler’s “exceptional insight into the tendency of men torn between conscience and self-interest to welcome what made it easier to opt for the latter.”)

The second book is a new short biography of Winston Churchill by the prolific English writer Paul Johnson. It has the advantage of being probably the last Churchill biography which will be written by an author who personally knew the great man – and is filled with personal tidbits that bring further color to the well known story of Churchill’s life.

At a mere 166 pages, the book, among other things, encapsulates how to dissent on the great policies of war and peace by a politician who is both personally ambitious and honorable. It also brings to life how such a man fights on in the face of overwhelming public opposition and elite scorn. These are lessons we need to learn and practice here in America in 2010.

Mr. Blankley’s essay continues at the Washington Times.

Comments are closed.