Friday, June 22, 2007

Advice From the Man Who Lived It

William Manchester -- The Last Lion: Winston Spencer Churchill, Alone, 1932-1940.

This is the second book of a three-volume biography of Churchill. I picked up the only part that was available at a library book sale some time ago, and this was my second reading of it.

Everyone knows about Churchill's terse speech on the value of perserverence -- "Never give in. Never, never, never, never give in." I wasn't fully aware of how much he had lived it, and not in the obvious sense of long hours in the years of World War II -- Churchill spent more than a decade as a political pariah, abandoned by his party for his stand against independence for India, then finding himself completely out of step with the Conservatives' ruling factions of Stanley Baldwin and then Neville Chamberlain.

It was chilling to read how Chamberlain and his group kept themselves willfully blind about the intentions, and then the actions, of Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini. These British leaders, and some on our side as well, seemed willing to believe that life dominated by Fascism was preferable to one ruled by Communists, and that Hitler was preferable to Stalin in the long run. Pacifism was rampant, even though nearly twenty years had passed since the Armistace ended the Great War. As I read, the names Pelosi, Reid, Edwards, and Kennedy kept coming to mind; in fact, Ted Kennedy's father Joseph Kennedy, as U.S. ambassador to Britain at that time, was firmly convinced that England was a lost cause and Germany was the nation to deal with.

Churchill, through it all, gave speech after speech warning of the German militarism building up right in front of them, pouring out a river of editorials and opinion pieces for newspapers and magazines, and writing numerous volumes of history all the while. His private network of intelligence was more sensitive and accurate than even the government's, and he maintained what amounted to a private war room to stay abreast of the crumbling European situation.

It was only at the eleventh hour that Chamberlain was forced out of office, after the policies he promoted allowed the Nazis to take over first the Rhineland, then Sudetenland, Austria, Czechoslovakia, Poland, and at last the Low Countries. Churchill then went from pariah to messiah for the Conservatives, because he alone of the Tories was unhindered by the ruined hulk of appeasement -- only because Churchill had never given in, even when only five or six members of Parliament would stand with him. "Nevah!" indeed.

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