Our Society has designated
the period Dec. 1 through 15, 2002, as "Churchill Fortnight" in commemoration
of the honorary American citizen Sir Winston Spencer Churchill, born
Nov. 30, 1874.
During the period all four
of the 50-minute segments of "The Complete Churchill" will be shown
at the Society, starting at 1
p.m. on Dec. 1 with "Maverick Politician".
This series was produced in 1991 by BBC and A&E to considerable critical
The second segment, "To
conquer or to die" will air Monday, December 2 at 7:30 p.m. Each
screening will be followed by a short discussion period, with refreshments
for the evening shows. Admission is gratis. All are welcome. Invite
your friends and neighbors.
On Dec. 8
member Winthrop Drake Thies will deliver a Platform: "Churchill: from
Defeat to Triumph—Thrice!" This
will be followed at 1 p.m. with the third segment.
Monday , Dec. 9, the fourth segment, "Never despair", will be shown
at 7:30 p.m.
And on Sunday,
Dec. 15 will be shown a 90-minute TV presentation of a professional
actor as Churchill presenting some of his most glorious speeches and
writings. This last was produced by General Dynamics Corp. as part of
its "Winston Churchill/Ike" show.
Considered by many the iconic
heroic figure of the 20th Century, Churchill was an indifferent student,
who later noted: "I never let school get in the way of my education."
(In fact, if a subject interested him he engaged with it totally.) He
stubbornly opposed learning Greek, Latin and mathematics. Reduced to
English, he "…learnt it well."
After Sandhurst he was posted
as a young cavalry officer to India and engaged in several campaigns
on the North-West Frontier. His dispatches to the Daily Telegraph formed
the basis for his first published book. A polo star, he had time to
devour the considerable library of classics and history he had brought
with him. With the help of his mother, the beautiful American, Jenny
Jerome, daughter of an industrial magnate, he secured a post with the
British forces moving to punish the Muslim fanatics of the day, who
had seized much of the Sudan. As such he participated in one of the
last wholesale British cavalry charges. (There were in fact later such
charges in World War I, particularly against the Turks in Palestine.)
More important, he wrote
up the British (and his own) exploits for the popular press and in books.
He and his mother were often scorned by the elite for their "shameless
self-promotion". But the fact was that his family was not greatly moneyed.
(His father, Lord Randolph, had died when Winston was but 20, leaving
little beyond debts.) And he thus depended on his wit and his pen for
his livelihood. Each of his early campaigns led to one or two volumes.
In the Boer War he was a
reporter and captured by the Boers while covering a particularly inane
British thrust by armored train. But he succeeded in escaping and making
his way to Portuguese East Africa and home, as a national hero. Naturally,
he wrote it all up to much acclaim. He ran for Parliament and after
an initial defeat secured a seat.
He later left his father's
party, the Conservatives, over a matter of conscience: their failure
to support "home rule" for Ireland. "Crossing the aisle" in the UK is
a considerable undertaking. As a Liberal he became First Lord of the
Admiralty in World War I. (Reflecting his interest in military technology
he helped develop the tank.) In that capacity he championed the Gallipoli
Campaign, perhaps the one brilliant strategic concept of WWI (to knock
Turkey out of the war and supply a faltering Russia), a depressingly
dreary and uninspired war. But it turned into a disaster from British
incompetence and delay combined with Turkish resolve. Holding the high
ground the Turks poured merciless fire on the Anzacs below. Eventually,
all remaining were evacuated. Churchill was made the scapegoat, held
responsible and resigned, going into the Army on the Western front as
a front-line officer. (But Churchill never gave up his "peripheralist"
tendencies in war strategy, which
led to the Allied Italian Campaign of World War II on the supposed "soft
underbelly of Europe". It turned out to be terrain ideally favoring
Field Marshall Albert Kesselring's solid defense. Most students of the
war account the campaign an unnecessary and tragic mistake. Earlier,
at the outbreak of World War II, he had championed the rather equivocal
From the end of WWI to the
mid-1920s, Churchill was out of Parliament. He mostly wrote, including
a multi-volume history of the Great War. He finally in effect "crossed
the aisle" back to his father's Conservatives and gained a seat in 1924.
He eventually took the post his father had once held: Lord of the Exchequer
(like our Secretary of the Treasury). But he clung to gold support for
the pound and pegged it too high, which hurt exports and increased unemployment.
His career in such office was accounted a disaster, and he left in disgrace.
Now came some of Churchill's
most difficult years: the years "in the wilderness" as he described
them. Out of office (but with a seat) until the late-1930s, he turned
to writing and got out a history of the English speaking peoples and
of his illustrious forebear, Marlborough—and other books--to much acclaim.
Despite a few kind things he ventured about Italian Fascism in the 1920s,
in due course he recognized the danger posed by Fascism and particularly
a resurgent Germany. Heading up a small group out of the government
he repeatedly warned against its rearming and urged the United Kingdom
to ramp up its defense, particularly the Royal Air Force. The group
sponsored work on radar, which was probably decisive in the eventual
air war over England. He was largely ignored.
He vehemently opposed the
shame of Munich. As World War II loomed he was again appointed First
Lord of the Admiralty. In the series of defeats the West suffered at
the War's start, the Navy virtually alone distinguished itself. Thus
when Chamberlain was sacked and in the context of Churchill's long and
vocal opposition to Hitler, he was the natural choice as Prime Minister.
After the disaster of France's defeat and Dunkirk, the coalition War
Cabinet debated making a deal with Hitler. In effect, it was proposed
that the UK give him a free hand on the Continent in return for peace
and retention of most colonies. Churchill successfully opposed this
and rallied the Cabinet and in turn the British people to fight on.
He gave a succession
of brilliant speeches which fortified the will of the nation and its
fighting men and women.
In due course, with American
resources, the war was won. But "Winny" was turned out of office by
a seemingly ungrateful nation—which wanted to get back to "business
as usual" and security "from the cradle to the grave" as promised by
Labor. While out of power he wrote his 6-vol. first person history of
WWII and in 1953 was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature.
He at all times had recognized
the threat of Stalinism—as FDR did not. (Indeed, he was an early exponent
of intervention after the Oct. 1917 Putsch, urging that "…the Bolshevik
baby be strangled in its crib.") He had used British troops after WWII
to aid the Greeks in defeating an attempted Communist take-over there.
And in the various Conferences—Teheran, Yalta, Potsdam—he sought to
limit Soviet encroachments on the West. He had a brilliant grasp of
geopolitics. Thus his "Iron Curtain" speech in 1946 at Fulton, Mo. was
a natural. And he was a staunch supporter of the Western alliance against
In due course, he again became
Prime Minister and served for two terms with distinction. He was ethically
brave: he took risks on behalf of his beliefs. He was a natural leader,
a brilliant writer and orator: truly a Renaissance man for our time.
He was remarkably resilient: with the ability to bounce back from seemingly
crushing defeat. At a crucial time for democracy, when Hitlerism seemed
on the verge of unstoppable success, he stepped in to defend democracy
and lead it to victory. While he did not defeat Hitlerism (that was
largely due to Soviet and American arms and materiel) he crucially did
not lose WWII in May 1940, which might otherwise well have happened.
A grateful Congress made him an honorary American citizen.
– Win Thies