I DO NOT CARE SO much for the principles I advocate as for the impression which my words produce and the reputation they give me.1
—WINSTON CHURCHILL, 1898
Winston has no principles.2
—JOHN MORLEY, 1908
Churchill will write his name in history; take care that he does not write it in blood.3
—A. G. GARDINER, 1913
Pillars of Society
AS THE TWENTIETH CENTURY ended, a debate ensued over who had been its greatest man. The Weekly Standard nominee was Churchill. Not only was he Man of the Century, said scholar Harry Jaffa, he was the Man of Many Centuries.4 To Kissinger he was “the quintessential hero.” A BBC poll of a million people in 2002 found that Britons considered Churchill the “greatest Briton of all time.”
His life was surely among the most extraordinary, his youth full of those “crowded hours” of which Theodore Roosevelt spoke after San Juan Hill. He came under fire as a correspondent attached to the Spanish army in Cuba, fought with the Malakind Field Force in India, rode in the last cavalry charge of the Empire at Omdurman, was taken prisoner in the Boer War, escaped to march to the relief of Ladysmith and capture of Pretoria, wrote bestselling books about his war experiences, became an international celebrity, and entered Parliament at twenty-six. At thirty-six, he was First Lord of the Admiralty, where his was the most powerful voice in the Cabinet for war. “Winston, who has got on all his war paint, is longing for a sea fight in the early hours of tomorrow morning,” wrote Asquith on August 4, 1914, for Britain the first day of the Great War, “the whole thing fills me with sadness.”5
Cashiered after the Dardanelles disaster, Churchill went to France to fight and returned as Minister for War and Air in Lloyd George’s Cabinet. He would participate in all the great decisions, become the dominant British leader of the twentieth century, the most famous of all prime ministers. His six-volume history of World War II would win him the Nobel Prize for Literature, besting Hemingway. Few statesmen have approached his mastery of the language. His conversation and speeches sparkle with wit, insight, and brilliance. One biographer titled his book on Churchill simply The Great Man. But what was the legacy of the most famous of all British statesmen?
THE ARMORED TRAIN
IT WAS THE BOER WAR that made Churchill famous and revealed the qualities that would make him both admired and distrusted all his life.
Sailing to South Africa as a correspondent for the Morning Post, Churchill was anxious to see a battle up close. With 150 soldiers in three trucks, attached in front of and behind the engine, Churchill rode an armored train north to scout out Boer-infested territory south of the besieged town of Ladysmith in Natal. Historian Thomas Pakenham relates:
The patrols were made by armored train, unaccompanied by mounted troops. It was a parody of modern mobile war: an innovation that was already obsolete. Imprisoned on its vulnerable railway line, the armored train was as helpless against field-guns in the veld as a naval dreadnought sent into battle with its rudder jammed.6
As the train chugged north, Churchill observed Boers on horseback, observing him. The Boers let the train pass, then piled rocks onto the tracks. Farther north, the train drew fire from a Boer field gun. Immediately, it went into reverse and roared back down the tracks, slamming into the rocks. The trucks were derailed and Boer sharpshooters with Mausers and a field piece began to pour fire into the British. Churchill helped clear the tracks to enable the engine to flee south with fifty survivors, mostly wounded. He, along with fifty-eight other British, were forced to surrender—a debacle and a humiliation for the British army. The Boers had suffered only four wounded.
Churchill was imprisoned in Pretoria, escaped, and returned to South Africa. Few incidents in his young life are more instructive in understanding the future leader Churchill would become.
Gen. Redvers Buller, the commander in South Africa, described the operation as one of “inconceivable stupidity.”7 And Churchill, more than any other, had apparently been responsible. Writes Pakenham:
[I]t was Churchill’s burning desire to see a battle, it appears, that helped persuade the officer commanding the armoured train, Churchill’s unfortunate friend, Captain Aylmer Haldane, not to turn back when they first saw the signs of Botha’s trap on their journey northwards.8
Churchill would embellish the story, contending he had been taken prisoner by the Boer general and future prime minister Louis Botha himself. But when he returned to South Africa, Churchill gave Major General Hildyard “a damning account,” admitting they had run “confidently on to within range of the Boers, being unaware they had guns with them and hoping to give them a lesson.” To John Atkins of the Manchester Guardian, Churchill blurted that the Boers had rounded them all up “like cattle. The greatest indignity of my life.”9
Of the British colonial army it was said that it exhibited a courage that was matched only by stupidity. In the armored train incident, Churchill had shown both reckless daring and dismal judgment. Both would mark his long career. Yet when his own depiction of the incident and his escape ran in the British press, he became an international figure and returned home one of the most famous young men in the world. Before his twenty-sixth birthday, Churchill was elected to Parliament, where he would remain, with two brief interludes, for sixty-four years.
As we have seen, Churchill defected to the Liberal Party in 1904, on the eve of its ascendancy, and was rewarded with the Cabinet posts of Home Secretary and First Lord of the Admiralty. In The Strange Death of Liberal England, George Dangerfield described the young Cabinet minister Winston Churchill thus:
By nature flamboyant, insolent in his bearing, impatient in his mind, and Tory in his deepest convictions, he was a curious person to be found holding a responsible position in the Liberal Party, and few men could have been more distrusted, or have taken a more curious pleasure in being distrusted.10
Even his devoted friend, Asquith’s daughter, Lady Violet Bonham Carter, said of him, “Winston was very unpopular…. The Liberals regarded him as an arriviste and a thruster—and the Conservatives as a deserter, a rat and a traitor to his class.”11
A parliamentary colleague once rose to complain that Churchill “walks in, makes his speech, walks out, and leaves the whole place as if God almighty had spoken…He never listens to any man’s speech but his own.”12 “The comment,” writes Lynne Olson, a chronicler of Churchill’s rise to prime minister, “received loud cheers from both sides of the chamber.”13
Few denied his brilliance, many questioned his judgment.
In 1916, Churchill, out of the admiralty, challenged the adequacy of the naval building program in the House of Commons, then suggested that Admiral Sir John Fisher, gone since the Dardanelles disaster, and watching from the balcony, be recalled. “[T]he following day,” writes one biographer, “Balfour tore Churchill apart by contrasting his previous statements about Fisher’s failure to support him with his current praise for his gifts.”14
Then it was that Lloyd George said of him, “Poor Winston…. A brilliant fellow without judgment which is adequate to his fiery impulse. His steering gear is too weak for his horse-power.”15
When Baldwin began his third premiership, in 1935, Churchill, though he had served in Baldwin’s second cabinet as Chancellor of the Exchequer from 1924 to 1929, was not recalled. Why was he excluded by Baldwin? Though all conceded his extraordinary gifts, Churchill was seen as a man of erratic judgment.
His decision as Chancellor to return Britain to the gold standard had proved a disaster. It overvalued British exports, pricing them out of foreign markets. This helped to bring on the General Strike of 1926, advancing the Depression and bringing down the Baldwin government in 1929. The gold decision won for Winston the title role in Keynes’s sequel to The Economic Consequences of the Peace. Keynes titled it The Economic Consequences of Mr. Churchill.
In January 1931, Churchill resigned from the shadow cabinet in furious opposition to his party’s support for self-government for India. “Churchill’s resignation and his invective-filled campaign against the government over India were major factors in his future exclusion from any high posts in the Baldwin and Chamberlain administrations.”16
In the debate over India Churchill seemed at times “almost demented with fury,” noted one government supporter. He launched bitter personal attacks against Baldwin…and his rhetorical assaults on India and those seeking its independence were extreme, even poisonous. Hindus, he declared were a “foul race protected by their pollution from the doom that is their due.”17
When Gandhi, after release from prison, met the viceroy at his palace in Delhi, Churchill exploded on the floor of the Commons:
It is alarming and almost nauseating to see Mr. Gandhi, a seditious Middle Temple lawyer, now posing as a fakir of the type well-known in the East, striding half-naked up the steps of the Vice-regal palace, while he is still organizing and conducting a defiant campaign of civil disobedience, to parlay on equal terms with the representative of the King-Emperor.18
“Such a spectacle,” said Churchill, “can only increase the unrest in India and the danger to which white people have been exposed.”19 To grant independence to India, Churchill went on, would constitute a “crime against civilisation” and a “catastrophe which will shake the world.”20 Invective of a high order, but unworthy of a statesman.
His last-ditch defense of Edward VIII in the abdication crisis over the king’s determination to marry the twice-divorced Mrs. Simpson reinforced the impression of wretched judgment. Churchill urged Edward to hold on to his throne, and, on December 7, 1936, “filled with emotion and brandy,” he implored the Commons not to rush to judgment, only to be shouted down by a hostile House.21
Robert Boothby, the personal assistant to Churchill as Chancellor, who looked to him to lead the Conservatives who wished to stand up to the dictators, wrote Churchill, after his five-minute disaster, “What happened this afternoon makes me feel that it is almost impossible for those who are most devoted to you personally to follow you blindly…in politics. Because they cannot be sure where the hell they are going to be landed next.”22
Another acolyte agreed. This abdication crisis, wrote Harold Macmillan, “undermined the reputation and political stature of the greatest and most prescient statesman then living.”23
Baldwin merrily confided to friends that he would like to say of Churchill on the floor of the House:
When Winston was born, lots of fairies swooped down on his cradle with gifts—imagination, eloquence, industry, ability—and then a fairy came who said, “No one person has a right to so many gifts,” picked him up and gave him such a shake and twist that with all his gifts he was denied judgment and wisdom. And that is why while we delight to listen to him in this House we do not take his advice.24
Churchill would never forgive Baldwin for leaving him out of his last Cabinet. Asked to pen a tribute on Baldwin’s eightieth birthday in 1947, the world-famous Churchill came up with the line “It would have been better for our country if he had never lived.”25 It was not used at the Baldwin tribute.
Chamberlain, who succeeded Baldwin in 1937, “had a similar view and, moreover, feared that Churchill would demand excessive spending for defense and make jingoistic speeches offending foreign governments.”26
In November 1938, when Churchill asked for a vote on setting up a Ministry of Supply, only to be humiliated when almost no one supported him, Chamberlain jabbed the needle in. Echoing Baldwin, the prime minister observed to laughter from the House:
I have the greatest admiration for my right hon. Friend’s many brilliant qualities. He shines in every direction…[but] if I were asked whether judgment is the first of my right hon. Friend’s many admirable qualities, I should have to ask the House of Commons not to press me too far.27
“The shaft went home because it corresponded so closely with the view many Conservatives had of Churchill,” writes biographer John Charmley.28
Yet to call these the “wilderness years” of Winston Churchill is hyperbole. Churchill remained in Parliament throughout and was, the prime minister excepted, the most famous political figure in Britain, with an entourage and following not unlike that of an opposition leader.
WHAT MAKES CHURCHILL the Man of the Century?
Comes the reply: He was the indispensable man who saved Western civilization. Without Churchill, Britain might have accepted an armistice or sued for peace in 1940. The war in the west would have been over. Hitler, victorious, would have turned on Russia and crushed her, and the world would have been at his feet. By standing alone from June 1940 to June 1941, the British bulldog held on until Hitler committed his fatal blunders—invading the Soviet Union and declaring war on the United States. These decisions sealed his doom. But without Churchill’s heroic refusal to accept any peace or armistice, Hitler would have won the war and the world.
Churchill’s claim to be Man of the Century rests on a single year: 1940. Assuming power as the German invasion of France began on May 10, he presided over the miraculous evacuation of Dunkirk and the Battle of Britain, as Fighter Command defended the island in one of the more stirring battles of the century. Magnificent it was, and, in that hour, it was the good fortune of Churchill to have been chosen by destiny to give the British lion its roar. Asked what year he would like to live over again, Churchill replied, “1940 every time, every time.”29 He was the man of destiny who inspired Britain to keep fighting until the New World came to the rescue of the Old.
In Five Days in London: May 1940, John Lukacs reveals that Churchill did entertain the idea of a negotiated peace in the last hours before Dunkirk. Lukacs describes the situation in the War Cabinet meeting on May 26, when Foreign Secretary Halifax “no longer wished merely to state his views; now he wanted to extract a commitment from Churchill.”30
Halifax recounted how he put the proposition to Churchill:
We had to face the fact that it was not so much now a question of imposing a complete defeat on Germany but of safeguarding the independence of our Empire…. We should naturally be prepared to consider any proposals which might lead to this, provided our liberty and independence were assured…. If he [Churchill] was satisfied that matters vital to the independence of this country were unaffected, (would he be) prepared to discuss such terms?31
Here, Lukacs writes, is how Churchill answered Halifax:
At this juncture Churchill knew that he could not answer with a categorical no. He said that he “would be thankful to get out of our present difficulties on such terms, provided we retained the essentials and the elements of our vital strength, even at the cost of some territory”—an extraordinary admission.32
Churchill thus considered a negotiated peace with Nazi Germany. He considered ceding some imperial territory if Britain’s independence could be assured and the essentials of the empire preserved. These would include the Royal Navy. Chamberlain, who sat between Halifax and Churchill at the Cabinet meeting, recalled in his diary Churchill’s response to Halifax’s suggestion that they negotiate with Hitler through Mussolini, who had not yet entered the war:
The P.M. [Churchill] disliked any move toward Musso. It was incredible that Hitler would consent to any terms that we could accept—though if we could get out of this jam by giving up Malta & Gibraltar & some African colonies he would jump at it. But the only safe way was to convince Hitler that he couldn’t beat us…. I [Chamberlain] supported this view.33
In the War Cabinet meeting of May 28, 1940, Churchill gave his final rebuke to those who held out hope for a negotiated peace with Germany: “The Germans would demand our Fleet…our naval bases and much else. We should become a slave state.”34
“This was surely right,” Niall Ferguson wrote in 2006.35 But was it?
Where is the evidence that Hitler intended to demand the British fleet, when he did not demand the French fleet? Where is the evidence he sought to make Britain a “slave state”? As we saw in the last chapter, in June 1940, at the apex of his power after France’s surrender and the British evacuation, Hitler wanted the British Empire to survive and endure. He wanted to end the war.
Lukacs contends that even had Churchill entertained the idea of a negotiated peace, he resisted the temptation and became the indispensable man who made the decision to fight on. Lukacs’s point seems indisputable. Churchill held on until the Soviet Union was invaded and Hitler declared war on the United States, the decisions that would bring Hitler and his regime down in fiery ruin.
WAS CHURCHILL TRULY THE indispensable man in Hitler’s defeat?
F. H. Hinsley, whose 1951 Hitler’s Strategy relies heavily on Hitler’s war directives and conversations with Adm. Erich Raeder, documents the case convincingly.
As we have seen, after the British guarantee to Poland, Hitler came to believe that he would have to fight for Danzig. But he did not want war with Britain. Among the reasons Hitler struck his pact with Stalin was to convince the British that the fate of Poland was sealed. But when Chamberlain reaffirmed his war guarantee to Poland on August 24, a stunned Hitler, his diplomatic coup having failed, called off the invasion scheduled for the twenty-fifth.
In the days before September 1, Hitler sought to give Britain a way out of its guarantee by offering a negotiated solution to the Danzig crisis if Warsaw would send a plenipotentiary in twenty-four hours to Berlin. Henderson believed the offer was sincere. Whether it was or not, it showed that Hitler desperately wanted to avoid war with Great Britain.
In his directive of August 31 ordering the invasion of Poland, Hitler instructed his army not to cross any western frontier, his navy not to attack any Allied ships, and his Luftwaffe not to fire on any Allied plane, except in defense of the Fatherland.
After Warsaw fell, “Hitler made peace overtures to London and Paris on 6 October. These overtures were rejected on 12 October.”36 After the fall of France in June 1940, Hitler again took the initiative to end the war:
On 19 July, he delivered, at last, a direct appeal; he had previously hoped that Great Britain would need no prompting. “In this hour,” he declared in a speech to the Reichstag, “I feel it to be my duty before my own conscience to appeal once more to reason and common sense in Great Britain…. I can see no reason why this war need go on….” The speech was followed by diplomatic approaches to [Britain] through Sweden, the United States and the Vatican.37
“There is no doubt that Hitler was anxious for the result and serious in the attempt,” writes Hinsley. “‘A speedy termination of the War,’ he told Raeder on July 21, ‘is in the interests of the German people.’”38
Alan Clark, defense aide to Margaret Thatcher, believes that only Churchill’s “single-minded determination to keep the war going,” his “obsession” with Hitler, prevented his accepting Germany’s offer to end the war in 1940.
There were several occasions when a rational leader could have got, first reasonable, then excellent terms from Germany. Hitler actually offered peace in July 1940 before the Battle of Britain started. After the RAF victory, the German terms were still available, now weighted more in Britain’s favor.39
But Hitler’s offer was “at once rejected by the British Government and Press, its rejection being officially confirmed on 22 July by the British foreign secretary.”40
From May 1940 to June 1941, Hitler would cast about for a way to end the war he had never wanted. Lukacs and Hinsley document Hitler’s search for some path to peace with the British Empire.
On May 20, 1940, after the Ardennes breakthrough, Alfred Jodl wrote in his diary, “The Fuhrer is beside himself with joy…. The British can get a separate peace any time, after restoration of the colonies.”41
After Dunkirk, Ribbentrop wrote that he had wondered if Hitler could make a quick peace with England. “The Fuhrer was enthused with the idea himself,” and proceeded to lay out to Ribbentrop the peace terms he was prepared to offer the British:
It will only be a few points, and the first point is that nothing must be done between England and Germany which would in any way violate the prestige of Great Britain. Secondly, Great Britain must give us back one or two of our old colonies. That is the only thing we want.42
As Churchill rejected peace with Germany, Hitler, fearing defeat if the war were not concluded soon, explored military options. He ordered up various plans—for an invasion of England; of Iceland; of Ireland; seizure of the Azores, the Cape Verdes, the Canary Islands, and Gibraltar; a sweep through Turkey and Syria to Suez. By mid-1940, writes Hinsley, Hitler was coming to the conclusion that crushing Russia was “the only solution for the problems created by the British refusal to collapse.”43
Lukacs agrees. Hitler’s ultimate purpose in invading Russia in 1941, Lukacs writes, was not Lebensraum, or eradicating “Jewish-Bolshevism,” or preempting a Soviet attack. The June 1941 invasion of Russia was a preemptive strike to remove Britain’s last hope of winning the war. Lukacs quotes Hitler in the summer of 1940, as the Battle of Britain was getting under way:
If results of the air war are not satisfactory, [invasion] preparations will be halted…. England’s hope is Russia and America. If hope on Russia is eliminated, America is also eliminated…. Russia [is] the factor on which England is mainly betting. Should Russia, however, be smashed, then England’s last hope is extinguished…. Decision: in the course of this context, Russia must be disposed of. Spring ’41.44
Lukacs and Hinsley, in their contention that Hitler invaded Russia to remove Britain’s last hope of winning the war, are supported by Kershaw, biographer of Hitler, and Michael Bloch, biographer of Ribbentrop.
According to Kershaw, on July 13, 1940, Franz Halder, chief of the German army General Staff, wrote in his diary:
The Fuhrer is greatly puzzled by Britain’s persisting unwillingness to make peace. He sees the answer (as we do) in Britain’s hope in Russia, and therefore counts on having to compel her by main force to agree to peace.45
On July 22, 1940, when Foreign Secretary Lord Halifax spurned his peace offer, Hitler, anticipating British rejection, had already, on July 21, “raised with his commanders-in-chief the prospect of invading the Soviet Union that very autumn.”46 Realizing the impracticality of an invasion so soon and in the fall, Hitler, on July 29, told General Jodl the attack would come in May.47 Bloch says Hitler informed Jodl three days earlier:
On the 26th [of July 1940] he [Hitler] told Jodl that he had decided to launch such an invasion [of Russia] the following spring; and on the 31st, in a military conference at the Berghof, he confided to his service chiefs the extraordinary thinking which lay behind this decision. England, he said, continued to resist only because secretly encouraged to do so by the Russians, and to expect eventual Russian aid. Thus if Germany could knock out Russia, England would immediately come to terms.48
Thus, six weeks after France’s surrender, before the Battle of Britain had begun, Hitler had made and revealed the decision that would seal the fate of tens of millions. Meeting at his Alpine retreat, the Berghof, Hitler announced to his generals:
With Russia smashed, Britain’s last hope would be shattered. Germany then will be master of Europe and the Balkans. Decision: Russia’s destruction must therefore be made part of this struggle. Spring 1941…If we start in May 1941, we would have five months to finish the job.49
On December 7, Hitler informed Admiral Raeder it was “necessary to eliminate at all costs the last remaining enemy on the continent before she can collaborate with Great Britain.”50
On December 18, Hitler issued the directive for Operation Barbarossa. Thus, writes Kershaw, “by the late autumn it was clear that [Hitler] had returned to the chosen path from which he had never seriously wandered: attacking the Soviet Union at the earliest opportunity with the strategic aim of attaining final victory in the war by conquering London via Moscow.”51
On January 8, 1941, Hitler clarified and expanded upon his reasoning for attacking Russia:
Britain is sustained in this struggle by hopes placed in U.S.A. and Russia…. Britain’s aim for some time to come will be to set Russia’s strength in motion against us. If the U.S.A. and Russia should enter the war against Germany the situation would become very complicated. Hence any possibility for such a threat to develop must be eliminated at the very outset.52
In November, Roosevelt had been reelected and had begun swiftly to maneuver the United States toward a collision with Germany.
On May 29, 1941, Hitler told his confidant Walter Hewel, who would take his life twenty-four hours after Hitler, that once Russia was defeated “this will force England to make peace. Hope this year.”53
In early June, Hitler spoke to General Fritz Halder, who wrote in a diary entry of June 14: Hitler “calculates ‘that the collapse of Russia will induce England to give up the struggle. The main enemy is still Britain.’”54
On June 21, Hitler spoke again with Hewel, who wrote, “The Fuhrer expects a lot from the Russian campaign…. He thinks that England will have to give in.”55 Hitler then wrote to Mussolini: “[T]he situation in England itself is bad…. [They have only] hopes. These hopes are based solely on one assumption: Russia and America. We have no chance of eliminating America. But it does lie in our power to eliminate Russia.”56
On July 25, as the eastern campaign appeared certain to end in swift victory, Hitler predicted: “Great Britain will not continue to fight if she sees there is no longer a chance of winning.”57
On August 18, he told Field Marshal Keitel, “The ultimate objective of the Reich is the defeat of Great Britain.”58
On August 22, Hitler told Halder his aim was “to finally eliminate Russia as England’s allied power on the continent and thereby deprive England of any hope of change in her fortunes.”59
On October 28, Hitler told Admiral Kurt Fricke, “The fall of Moscow might even force England to make peace at once.”60
To deprive England of its last hope for victory, Hitler invaded the one nation that more than any other would bring the Reich down. Hitler’s invasion of Russia truly met Bismarck’s definition of preventive war: “Committing suicide—out of fear of death.”
In his June 18, 1940, speech, as France was falling, Churchill made a prophetic remark: “Hitler knows that he will have to break us in this island or lose the war.” Churchill was right. If Hitler could not break the British or achieve an armistice or peace with Britain, the war would go on, with a rising probability that the Soviet Union or the United States, or both, would become involved. And if they did, given their size and latent power, Hitler would “lose the war.”
Thus, by his refusal even to consider a negotiated peace, or armistice, Churchill caused Hitler to commit his fatal blunder: invading Russia. This would add four more years to the war and bring death to tens of millions and indescribable ruin to the continent of Europe, but also the downfall of Hitler.
Churchill was thus the indispensable man, both in the destruction of Hitler’s Reich and in the continuation of the war from 1940 to 1945.
Was it worth it? A few British historians say Britain and the world would be a better place had England ended the war in 1940 after victory in the Battle of Britain, or in 1941 after the invasion of Russia. Most yet believe that if the cost of exterminating the Nazi regime of Hitler, Himmler, and Goebbels was forty or fifty million more dead, the price had to be paid.
THE COSTS OF VICTORY
ASKED HOW HE COULD ally with Stalin, whose crimes he knew so well, Churchill answered “that he had only one single purpose—the destruction of Hitler—and his life was much simplified thereby. If Hitler invaded Hell, he would at least have made a favourable reference to the Devil.”61
Yet in his Ahab-like pursuit of Hitler “at all cost,” did Churchill ever reckon the cost of a war to the death—for Britain, the empire, and Europe? For as the war went on for five years after Dunkirk, those costs—financial, strategic, moral—mounted astronomically. Let us begin with the moral cost of Churchill’s appeasement of the greatest mass murderer of the century.
When Hitler turned on Stalin, his accomplice in the rape of Poland, Churchill welcomed Stalin into the camp of the saints, writes conservative scholar Robert Nisbet, “in words that might have been addressed to a Pericles or George Washington”:
Before the whole world Churchill greeted the Soviets as fellow freedom fighters protecting their own liberties and democracy. Reading it today, one becomes slightly nauseated by Churchill’s words…. It was one thing to make the best of things, to accept and even help Stalin in the war against the Nazis…. It was something else and hardly necessary, given Stalin’s then desperate straits, to lavish gratitude upon the cruel, terror-minded despot, who, after all, had helped ignite World War II against the West.62
George Kennan, then in Moscow, wrote back to the State Department that, while “material aid” might be extended to Russia, “I feel strongly” that
we should do nothing at home to make it appear that we are following the course Churchill seems to have entered upon in extending moral support to the Russian cause in the present Russian-German conflict…. It is…no exaggeration to say that in every border country concerned, from Scandinavia—including Norway and Sweden—to the Black Sea, Russia is generally more feared than Germany….63
Indeed, there was no reason to repose any trust in Moscow, for Stalin was now fighting on the side of the Allies only because he had been betrayed by his partner Hitler.
But Churchill embraced Britain’s new and gallant ally: “The Russian danger…is our danger, and the danger of the United States, just as the cause of any Russian fighting for his hearth and home is the cause of the free men and free people in every quarter of the globe.”64
Eighteen months earlier, however, in a January 20, 1940, broadcast, Churchill had hailed the heroism of Finland in resisting Russia’s onslaught in the Winter War and poured out his contempt of Soviet ideology:
The service rendered by Finland to mankind is magnificent…. Many illusions about Soviet Russia have been dispelled by these fierce weeks of fighting above the Arctic Circle. Everyone can see how Communism rots the soul of a nation; how it makes it abject and hungry in peace and proves it base and abominable in war.65
Now, in his first great act of appeasement, Churchill let Eden persuade him to declare war on Finland, the heroic little country Churchill had praised in January of 1940 for resisting Stalin’s aggression as “superb, nay sublime—in the jaws of peril.”66
When Churchill first met Stalin in Moscow in 1942, he tried to explain to the Man of Steel how the terrible toll on British ships and sailors had forced a pause in convoys to Murmansk. Stalin responded by insulting Churchill to his face:
This is the first time in history that the British navy has ever turned tail and fled from the battle. You British are afraid of fighting. You should not think that the Germans are super-men. You will have to fight sooner or later. You cannot win a war without fighting.67
This abuse exceeded anything Chamberlain had taken from Hitler and came out of the mouth of a Bolshevik butcher who had been Hitler’s willing partner in the rape of Poland and Hitler’s enabler in his attack on the West. When Britain had been fighting alone, Stalin was aiding Nazi Germany and accusing Britain and France of having started the war.
When Stalin brought up Churchill’s role in 1919 as the champion of Allied intervention in Russia, Churchill asked, “Have you forgiven me?”68
The ex-seminarian replied, “All that is in the past. It is not for me to forgive. It is for God to forgive.”69 This scene is almost unimaginable.
On his return from that September 1942 trip to Moscow, Churchill appeared captivated, rising in Parliament to tell his countrymen they were truly fortunate to be allied to so great a man:
This great rugged war chief…. He is a man of massive outstanding personality, suited to the sombre and stormy times in which his life has been cast; a man of inexhaustible courage and will-power, and a man of direct and even blunt speech…. Above all, he is a man with that saving sense of humour which is of high importance to all men and all nations, but particularly to great men and great nations. Stalin left upon me the impression of a deep, cool wisdom, and a complete absence of illusions of any kind.70
To appease his great ally, Churchill would agree to Stalin’s annexation of the Baltic republics, his plunder from the devil’s pact with Hitler, and turn a blind eye to the Katyn massacre. When the Polish government-in-exile asked him to look into the 1940 mass murder of the Polish officer corps in Soviet captivity, fifteen thousand Poles executed in all, Churchill was dismissive: “There is no use prowling round the three year old graves of Smolensk.”71
Churchill’s answer suggests he suspected or knew the truth, that Stalin had perpetrated the Katyn massacre. If he thought an investigation would implicate the Nazis in the mass murder of Poland’s officer corps, Churchill would have pursued it.
At Teheran in 1943, Churchill presented Stalin with a Crusader’s sword.72 In early 1944, “Churchill put pressure on the Poles to accept border changes that made Munich look like a simple frontier adjustment.”73
In September 1944, Churchill crossed the Atlantic for a summit with FDR at Quebec’s Citadel. At the banquet on September 13, U.S. Treasury Secretary Morgenthau and his deputy, Harry Dexter White, a Soviet spy, were seated at Churchill’s table, where the secretary laid out his Morgenthau Plan. Devised by White to ensure Stalin’s domination of Europe, the plan “envisaged turning the Ruhr into a ‘ghostland.’ The industrial region of the Saar was to be destroyed…. All machinery and factory materials were to be turned over to the Russians.”74 Germany was to be converted into an agricultural nation.
“It is no exaggeration to say that the Morgenthau Plan…if applied in its full rigor, would have been an undiscriminating sentence of death for millions of Germans,” wrote U.S. historian W. H. Chamberlin.75 When one U.S. official pointed out to Morgenthau that Germany’s population could not survive on farming, that millions would starve, Morgenthau suggested the Allies ship the surplus Germans to North Africa. Historian Gregor Dallas describes the initial reaction of Churchill:
Morgenthau had only got through a few sentences when Churchill began fidgeting and muttering. When he got to the end, the Treasury Secretary received a “verbal lashing” such as he had never received in his life. Churchill said the plan—the “Morgenthau Plan” as it has gone down in history—was “unnatural, un-Christian and unnecessary.” “I’m all for disarming Germany, but we ought not to prevent her from living decently,” said Churchill…. “I agree with Burke. You cannot indict a whole nation.”76
Churchill, however, was informed by aides that “Stage II” of Lend-Lease, upon which the economic survival of Britain depended, might hinge on his support of the Morgenthau Plan. By Friday the fifteenth, he had broken. “The future of my people is at stake,” Churchill told a protesting Eden, who said the plan would never be approved by the Cabinet, “and when I have to choose between my people and the German people, I am going to choose my people.”77 Churchill initialed the plan, inserting the words that the destruction of the warmaking capacity of the Ruhr and Saar would be but “one step in the direction of converting Germany into a country primarily agricultural and pastoral in character.”78
In Washington, a storm broke over the savage peace to be imposed. Secretary of War Stimson memoed FDR that the Morgenthau Plan was a flagrant violation of the principles of the Atlantic Charter and his own words about “freedom from want and freedom from fear.” In his diary, Stimson wrote that Morgenthau’s “Carthaginian views” amounted to “Semitism gone wild with vengeance.”79 In a week, the U.S. press was ablaze over the plan and FDR was back-pedaling. Churchill, however, would carry the plan to Stalin and Molotov.
Seven days after the Wehrmacht had crushed the Polish Home Army, which had risen in Warsaw on a signal from the Red Army, which then sat idle on the east bank of the Vistula to observe the slaughter, Churchill slipped into Moscow “to divide the spoils of Eastern Europe.”80 There, he revealed to Stalin what he called his “naughty document”:
“Americans including the President would be shocked by the division of Europe into spheres.” On Rumania, Russia had 90%, Britain 10%; in Greece Britain had 90%, Russia 10%. Stalin ticked it.
“Might it not be thought cynical if it seemed we’d disposed of these issues, so fateful to millions of people, in such an offhand manner?” said Churchill, half guilty at, half revelling in, the arrogance of the Great Powers.81
As Stalin’s armies were already in Rumania and Bulgaria and had joined hands with Tito’s Partisans in Yugoslavia, Churchill was discussing where the Iron Curtain would fall across Europe, and secretly and cynically ceding Eastern Europe and the Balkans to Stalin, save Greece. The couplet of Kipling, who lost his son in the Great War, comes to mind: “If any question why we died,/Tell them, because our fathers lied.”
Churchill’s concessions at Moscow were far worse than Chamberlain’s at Munich. For the Poles were terrified of Stalin’s Russia, while the Sudeten Germans clamored to join Hitler’s Germany. What did Churchill think the fate of the Poles, who had defeated the Red Army in 1920, would be under Stalin? How could he not have known what Stalin had in store for the Poles when Stalin in 1944 had refused U.S. and British planes permission to fly supplies to the dying Home Army?
At Yalta in February 1945, Churchill gave moral legitimacy to Stalin’s control of half of Europe by signing a “Declaration on Liberated Europe.” Writes Nisbet, the one hundred million Europeans east of the Oder
had to watch what democracy and freedom they had known before the war disappear, and then suffer the added humiliation of seeing such words as “free elections,” “sovereignty,” “democracy,” “independence,” and “liberation” deliberately corrupted, debased, made duplicitous, in the Declaration on Liberated Europe, the very title of which, given the ugly reality underneath, was a piece of calculated Soviet effrontery—one, however, that both Churchill and FDR acquiesced in.82
Yet Churchill “was so pleased with Yalta, noted a British diplomat, he was ‘drinking buckets of Caucasian champagne which would undermine the health of any ordinary man.’”83 Within days of his return from the Crimea, Churchill got word on how Stalin interpreted the Declaration on Liberated Europe:
On March 6, messages reached Churchill about the mass arrests taking place in Cracow, with whole trainloads of Polish intellectuals, priests, professors, and labor union leaders being taken to a huge work-prison camp in Voroshilovgrad. As many as 6,000 Home Army officers were put in a camp near Lublin, overseen and directed by Soviet officials indifferent to the publicity.84
To Churchill, the independence and freedom of one hundred million Christian peoples of Eastern Europe were not worth a war with Russia in 1945. Why, then, had they been worth a war with Germany in 1939?
To this day, a question remains unanswered. Did Churchill ever give a damn about Poland? His ambivalence toward and his often-expressed contempt for, Polish leaders and the Polish people with whom Britain was allied, was on public display in his history of the world war. In 1948, long after Poland had been consigned to Stalin’s custody, Churchill wrote that the Nazis were “not the only vultures upon the carcass” of Czechoslovakia:85
The heroic characteristics of the Polish race must not blind us to their record of folly and ingratitude which over centuries has led them through measureless suffering…. We see them hurrying, while the might of Germany glowered against them, to grasp their share of the pillage and ruin of Czechoslovakia…. Glorious in revolt and ruin; squalid and shameful in triumph. The bravest of the brave, too often led by the vilest of the vile! And yet there were always two Polands; one struggling to proclaim the truth and the other grovelling in villainy.86
Churchill wrote these savage words after Polish pilots helped win the Battle of Britain and Polish patriots had endured nine years of Nazi and Stalinist hell. From these words one begins to understand why Churchill seemed so unconcerned with the fate of the Poles for whom his nation had gone to war. The moral issue cannot be ignored. Was it moral to issue a war guarantee to Poland that Britain’s leaders knew they had neither the power nor the intent to honor? Ask the Poles, the ones who survived.
In his 2005 work on Churchill subtitled A Study in Character, Robert Holmes may have come closest to the truth when he wrote that Churchill “had no objection to throwing other peoples to the wolves if it genuinely helped the British sledge to reach safety.”87
In defense of Churchill, Andrew Roberts wrote in 2007: “Once it dawned on Churchill that Russia wanted to swallow up and partition Poland once again—just as she had done so often in previous centuries—it was simply beyond his power to prevent it.”88
The Roberts defense raises the question: Did it take until 1945 for it to dawn “on Churchill that Russia wanted to swallow up and partition Poland,” when Russia had already partitioned Poland with Hitler’s Germany in 1939? To suggest it did not dawn on Churchill until Yalta that Stalin would hold any land and people he conquered is to suggest Churchill was childishly naive. But how can this be, when Churchill had been among the most farsighted statesmen in assessing the character of the Bolshevik regime and in urging its extermination in 1919?
Churchill had to know in 1939, when he was pounding the war drums and calling for partnership with Stalin, that any victory in alliance with Stalin would bring Communism into the heart of Europe and replace Nazi tyranny with Bolshevik tyranny. Was it worth bankrupting and bleeding his country and bringing down the empire for this? Was it worth declaring war to keep 350,000 Danzigers separate from a Germany they wished to rejoin, if the cost was to consign one hundred million people to the mercy of Stalin’s butchers?
In 1919, like no other Western leader, Churchill had excoriated the “foul baboonery of Bolshevism.”89 By 1919, writes Martin Gilbert,
Churchill had no doubt that of “all the tyrannies in history,” he told an audience in London that April, “the Bolshevik tyranny is the worst, the most destructive, the most degrading.” The atrocities committed under Lenin and Trotsky were “incomparably more hideous, on a larger scale, and more numerous than any for which the Kaiser is responsible.”90
To Churchill, the Soviet regime consisted of a “foul combination of criminality and animalism.”91 So savage were his denunciations that Lloyd George began to describe Churchill as a “dangerous man” with “Bolshevism on the brain.”92
Churchill knew of the mass murders on Lenin’s orders, the massacre of the Czar’s family, Stalin’s slave-labor camps, the forced starvation in Ukraine, the Great Purge of the old comrades and Russian officer corps, the show trials, the pact with Hitler, the rape of Finland and the Baltic republics, Katyn. As historian John Lewis Gaddis writes, “[T]he number of deaths resulting from Stalin’s policies before World War II…was between 17 and 22 million,” a thousand times the number of deaths attributed to Hitler as of 1939, the year Churchill was clamoring for war on Hitler and an alliance with Stalin.93
Among the most knowledgeable statesmen in the West, Churchill had to know this. Yet in January 1944, twenty-five years after he had urged the Allies to invade Russia and kill the Bolshevik snake in its crib, twenty years after he had castigated the Labour Party for entering trade negotiations with the “foul filth butchers of Moscow,” Churchill was writing Foreign Secretary Eden of the “deep-seated changes which have taken place in the character of the Russian state and government, the new confidence which has grown in our hearts toward Stalin.”94
Addressing the House of Commons on May 24, 1944, Churchill declared, “Profound changes have taken place in Soviet Russia. The Trotzkyite form of communism has been completely wiped out…. The religious side of Russian life has had a wonderful rebirth.”95
In October 1944, after meeting with Stalin to discuss the secret deal to divide the Balkans and leave Stalin in control of all but Greece, Churchill wrote Clementine: “I have had very nice talks with the Old Bear. I like him the more I see him. Now they respect us & I am sure they wish to work with us.”96
This is the very echo of Chamberlain at Munich.
At Yalta, Churchill raised a glass to Stalin:
It is no exaggeration or compliment of a florid kind when I say that we regard Marshal Stalin’s life as most precious to the hopes and hearts of all of us…. I walk through this world with greater courage and hope when I find myself in a relation of friendship and intimacy with this great man, whose fame has gone out not only over all Russia, but the world.97
Allowances may be made for toasts between heads of state on foreign soil, but they do not extend to remarks made when Churchill returned from the summit that will live in infamy alongside Munich.
“Poor Neville Chamberlain believed he could trust Hitler. He was wrong. But I don’t think I’m wrong about Stalin,” Churchill said on his return from Yalta.98 He declared to the House, “I know of no Government which stands to its obligations, even in its own despite, more solidly than the Russian Soviet Government.”99 “This must surely rank as one of the most serious political misjudgments in history,” wrote Royal Navy captain and historian Russell Grenfell.100
If Chamberlain was naive about Hitler, how defend Churchill’s naive trust in Stalin, twenty-five years after Lenin’s Revolution and Red Terror?
In 1943, General Franco had written the British ambassador in Madrid to express his fear that Stalinism and the Soviet Union would emerge from the war deep inside Germany and dominate Europe. General Franco asked the ambassador to send his memo on to London. Churchill himself wrote back to reassure the Spanish ruler:
Do you really believe that a single nation is strong enough to dominate Europe after this war? And that it will be actually Russia…. I venture to prophesy that, after the war, England will be the greatest military Power in Europe. I am sure that England’s influence will be stronger in Europe than it has ever been before since the days of the fall of Napoleon.101
Three years later, on March 5, 1946, Churchill would be in Fulton, Missouri, declaring, “From Stettin in the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic, an iron curtain has descended across the continent.” Churchill was describing the line he and the Old Bear had drawn up together at Teheran, Moscow, and Yalta.
In defense of his decision to approve Stalin’s annexation of that half of Poland he had gotten out of the Hitler-Stalin pact, Churchill wrote in 1953:
I wanted the Poles to be able to live freely and live their own lives in their own way. That was the object which I had always heard Stalin proclaim with the utmost firmness, and it was because I trusted his declarations about the sovereignty, independence, and freedom of Poland that I rated the frontier question as less important.102
But how could a statesman of Churchill’s rank—twenty-five years after he had described Bolshevism as the bloodiest tyranny in history—place his “trust” in a despot who had massacred, starved, and murdered millions of his own countrymen? Upon what ground could Churchill stand to condemn his dead rival Chamberlain for having briefly trusted Hitler, when he, Churchill, admits to having trusted Stalin to respect “the sovereignty, independence and freedom of Poland”?
ETHNIC CLEANSING AND SLAVE LABOR
AT MUNICH, CHAMBERLAIN HAD agreed to the transfer of 3.25 million Sudeten Germans to Berlin, rather than fight a futile war to keep them under a Czech rule they wished to be rid of. At Teheran and Yalta, Churchill signed away one hundred million Christians to Stalin’s terror and agreed to let him annex the Baltic states and 40 percent of Poland, the nation for whose “integrity” Britain had gone to war. At his wartime summits with Stalin, Churchill also agreed to the ethnic cleansing of thirteen to fifteen million Germans from their ancestral homes, two million of whom would die in the exodus. He agreed to Stalin’s use of Germans as slave laborers, and to the forced repatriation of millions of Russians, Ukrainians, and Cossacks to a barbaric Asiatic regime he had called the foulest murderers in all of history.
After Normandy, thousands of German prisoners who were ethnic Russians fell into British hands and were transferred to England. As they had been captured fighting in German uniforms, they were entitled under the 1929 Geneva Convention to treatment as POWs. But when their disposition was debated in London, an exasperated Churchill memoed Sir Alexander Cadogan of the Foreign Office: “I thought we had arranged to send all the Russians back to Russia…. We ought to get rid of them all as soon as possible. This was your promise to Molotov as I understood it.”103
As British historian A. N. Wilson writes, “The tragedy of the twentieth century is that in order to defeat Hitler, Churchill believed it was not merely necessary but desirable to ally himself to Stalin.”104
More than “ally himself to Stalin,” Churchill colluded with Stalin in such historic crimes as the forcible return of millions of resisting POWs and Russians, whether “Soviet citizens” or not, from Allied-occupied territory to the NKVD. Stalin was especially interested in the Cossacks who had fought Soviet rule in the civil war of 1919–1920 and fled with their families to the West. Though they had never been “Soviet citizens,” the Cossacks were sent back. As Solzhenitsyn writes in The Gulag Archipelago,
In Austria that May , Churchill…turned over to the Soviet command the Cossack corps of 90,000 men. Along with them, he also handed over many wagonloads of old people, women, and children who did not want to return to their native Cossack rivers. This great hero, monuments to whom will in time cover all England, ordered that they, too, be surrendered to their deaths.105
Britain’s betrayal of the Cossacks was “an act of double-dealing consistent with the spirit of traditional English diplomacy,” Solzhenitsyn wrote of Churchill and others who betrayed them. “In their own countries FDR and Churchill are honored as embodiments of statesmanlike wisdom. To us, in our Russian prison conversations, their consistent shortsightedness and stupidity stood out as astonishingly obvious.”106
In the winter of 1940, Churchill had made an explicit pledge to the German people: “We are opposed to any attempt…to break up Germany. We do not seek the humiliation or dismemberment of your country.” But, as the tide began to turn against Germany, Churchill began to weasel out of his pledge to the German people and the Atlantic Charter commitments he had made at Placentia Bay in August 1941.107 Article 2 of the Charter’s program for peace, agreed to by FDR and Churchill, read: “The Alliance desires to see no territorial changes that do not accord with the freely expressed wishes of the peoples concerned.”
But at Teheran in 1943, Churchill agreed to Stalin’s annexation of half of Poland. To compensate the Poles, Churchill would agree to transfer to Warsaw the eastern provinces of Germany. As he related in his memoirs, Churchill used three matchsticks to show a “pleased” Stalin how this might be done.108
On October 14, 1944, at the British embassy in Moscow, Churchill and Eden bullied the Poles into ceding half their country to Stalin. They applied
massive pressure on [the Polish leader] Mikolajczyk to induce him to give his consent to the Curzon Line without Lvov or Galicia. The encounter is so revealing of the realities of power politics, that one can hardly help thinking back to the infamous Berlin meeting in March 1939 between President Hacha of Czechoslovakia and the German dictator, who, after receiving Hacha with the honours due a Head of State, proceeded to instruct him to sign away the independence of his people.109
At the meeting, Churchill acted as Stalin’s enforcer, brutalizing his Polish ally to yield or face the consequences. Unless you accept the new borders demanded by Moscow, Churchill told Stanislaw Mikolajczyk, “you are out of business for ever. The Russians will sweep through your country and your people will be liquidated. You are on the verge of annihilation.”110
Stalin was pleased. As Churchill’s plane took off from Moscow, the Soviet dictator was seen standing in the rain, waving a white handkerchief.111
On May 24, 1944, Churchill declared that the principles of the Atlantic Charter did not apply to a defeated Germany: “There is no question of Germany enjoying any guarantee that she will not undergo territorial changes if it should seem that the making of such changes renders more secure and more lasting the peace in Europe.”112 On December 15, Churchill rose in the House of Commons and formally repudiated the Atlantic Charter:
Expulsion is the method which, so far as we have been able to see, will be the most satisfactory and lasting. There will be no mixture of populations to cause endless trouble…. A clean sweep will be made. I am not alarmed by these large transferences which are more possible in modern conditions than they ever were before.113
At Yalta in February 1945, Churchill and FDR sought to limit the German lands ceded to Poland, but capitulated to Stalin’s demand that the new provisional Polish-German border be set at the Oder and western Neisse rivers. This meant “11 million people—9 million inhabitants of the eastern German provinces and 2 million from Old Poland and the Warta District” would be driven out of their homes.114
Two million Germans would die in this largest forced transfer of populations in history, a crime against humanity of historic dimensions in which twenty times as many Germans were driven from their homes between 1944 and 1948 as the 600,000 Palestinians of the war of 1948, and more Germans died than all the Armenians who perished in the Turkish massacres of World War I. The territories of East Prussia, Pomerania, Eastern Brandenburg, Silesia, Danzig, Memel, and the Sudetenland were relentlessly and ruthlessly “cleansed” of Germans, whose families had inhabited them for centuries. While this crime against humanity was being perpetrated, the Allies at Nuremberg, including Stalin’s USSR, were prosecuting the Germans for crimes against humanity. Alfred M. de Zayas, an American historian of the horror, says Churchill “knew what was going on.”115
The responsibility for the decision to uproot and resettle millions of human beings, to evict them from their homes and spoliate them—and this as a quasi-peacetime measure—is…a war crime for which individuals bear responsibility, even if many would still hesitate to put the correct label on the crime and its perpetrators.116
To Anne O’Hare McCormick of the New York Times, Churchill and FDR acquiesced in “the most inhuman decision ever made by governments dedicated to the defense of human rights.”117
In his Iron Curtain speech at Fulton, Churchill would invoke the same defense as the Germans prosecuted at Nuremberg—ignorance: “The Russian-dominated Polish Government has been encouraged to make enormous and wrongful inroads upon Germany, and mass expulsions of millions of Germans on a scale grievous and undreamed-of are now taking place.”118 Nor was this the last of the human rights atrocities to which Churchill gave assent:
A fateful decision was made…on February 11, 1945. The discussion revolved around reparations for the Soviet Union, which demanded the use of German work forces. This was nothing more or less than trade in human beings, slavery. But the statesmen had coined a euphemistic phrase for it: “Reparations in kind.” Churchill and Roosevelt agreed to the Soviet demand. The Yalta agreement on “reparations in kind”…clearly demonstrates the complicity of Roosevelt and Churchill in this slave labor program.119
After Churchill returned from Yalta to celebrate his agreement with Stalin, a disgusted Labour MP, John Rhys Davies, rose in the House of Commons on March 1, 1945, to declare, “We started this war with great motives and high ideals. We published the Atlantic Charter and then spat on it, stomped on it and burnt it, as it were, at the stake, and now nothing is left of it.”120
Churchill’s last meeting with Stalin came at Potsdam in July 1945. According to Eden, his performance was “very bad.”121 Not only had he not read his briefs, Churchill seemed captivated by Stalin: “I like that man.”122
By August 1945, Churchill had become alarmed at the consequences of what he had done at Teheran, Yalta, and Potsdam. Now out of power, he told Parliament, “Sparse and guarded accounts of what has happened and is happening [in the new Poland] have filtered through, but it is not impossible that tragedy at a prodigious scale is unfolding itself behind the iron curtain which at the moment divides Europe in twain.”123 Added Time, “Europe had emerged from history’s most terrible war into history’s most terrifying peace.”124
Yet as late as November 1945, Churchill, though out of power, was again praising Stalin so effusively—“this truly great man, the father of his nation”—that Molotov ordered Churchill’s speech published in Pravda.125
At war’s end, Hitler and his evil and odious regime had been buried, and Churchill had played a historic role in its demise. But all three of the great causes of his life—keeping socialism from Britain’s door, preserving his beloved empire, and preventing any single hostile power from dominating Europe—had been lost. And he had been dismissed by the people he had led to victory, and had himself been a collaborator in the betrayal of the peoples for whom Britain had gone to war.
Churchill had been right when the others had been wrong—about the character of the Bolsheviks, the amorality of Hitler, the imperative to rearm. But he had been horribly wrong when others had been right.
AS MILITARY STRATEGIST
NOR DOES CHURCHILL’S REPUTATION as a legendary military strategist survive scrutiny. From August 1914 to May 25, 1915, when he was replaced by Balfour as First Lord, Churchill was involved in two of the greatest blunders of the Great War. First came the Antwerp fiasco of 1914, where he sent his untested naval brigade to help defend Antwerp and went over to command the resistance, only to see Antwerp seized by the Germans in weeks and his naval unit decimated and interned for the duration.
In 1915 came the Dardanelles disaster and resignation as First Lord. The campaign was MacArthurian in concept: to breach the Dardanelles with battleships, slice Turkey in two, seize Constantinople, convince the Balkan neutrals to join the Allies, and open a new supply route to Russia. But the execution was appalling. Churchill had violated Nelson’s dictum: Ships do not fight forts. The Royal Navy’s attempt to force the Dardanelles without landing ground troops to assault the Turkish forts from the rear resulted in the loss of three battleships and the crippling of three more by mines on the first day. There followed weeks of delay as the Turks fortified Gallipoli peninsula. Then came the British-French-Anzac invasion that resulted in months of battle, two hundred thousand casualties, and the worst Allied rout of the war.
In September 1939, Churchill returned to the Admiralty and began to urge an invasion of neutral Norway to cut Germany off from Swedish iron ore, which, during the winter when Sweden’s closest port was iced over, was transported across Norway to Narvik, then to Germany. Attlee and Labour had balked at any violation of Scandinavian neutrality, and the Cabinet went back and forth on the wisdom of mining neutral waters and seizing Narvik.
Churchill, however, tipped Britain’s hand to Berlin. On February 17, the destroyer Cossack intercepted the Altmark in Norway’s coastal waters, rescuing British prisoners being taken to Germany for internment. Most were seamen from merchant ships sunk by the Graf Spee. An infuriated Hitler now feared the British would invade Norway and turn his northern flank. He ordered plans prepared to preempt the British with an invasion of his own. Appointing von Falkenhorst to head it, Hitler told him, “The success which we have gained in the East and which we are going to win in the West would be annihilated by a British occupation of Norway.”126 As Andrew Roberts writes:
The captured records of Hitler’s conferences reveal that in early 1940 he still considered “the maintenance of Norway’s neutrality to be the best course for Germany,” but that in February he came to the conclusion that: “The English plan to land there and I want to be there before them.” His definite decision to order an attack on Norway was taken a few days after Churchill had ordered the British destroyer HMS Cossack to sail into Norwegian waters and board the German ship Altmark in order to liberate British prisoners. Churchill capitalised on this success and much was made of the event. The Norwegian Government protested against the violation of their neutrality, but their passive acceptance served to convince Hitler that Norway was actually Britain’s accomplice, and it became the detonating spark of the pre-emptive action that he now ordered: the invasion of Norway.127
On April 9, despite Churchill’s assurances that the Royal Navy had absolute command of the North Sea, German troops, many concealed in the holds of merchant ships, seized Oslo and five other Norwegian ports, including Narvik, within hours of the anticipated arrival of British marines. On April 11, the First Lord rose to reassure Parliament, “Herr Hitler has committed a grave strategic error in spreading the war so far to the north and in forcing Scandinavia out of neutrality….”128
[I]t is the considered view of the Admiralty that we have greatly gained by what has occurred in Scandinavia and in northern waters in a strategic and military sense. For myself, I consider that Hitler’s action in invading is as great a strategic and political error as that which was committed by Napoleon in 1807 or 1808, when he invaded Spain.129
Churchill’s assurances could not long cover up the debacle the British had suffered in Norway. For “the disastrous British campaign in Norway,” writes Ian Kershaw, “the main responsibility rested with Churchill, but it was Chamberlain who paid the political price.”130 And for having succeeded where Churchill failed, in the preemptive occupation of neutral Norway, Admiral Raeder was sentenced at Nuremberg to life imprisonment.
According to Roberts, Churchill had blabbed his Norwegian plans at a secret meeting of neutral press attachés and German intelligence had picked up vital information on the British attack.
Lloyd George was apoplectic:
We are not suffering from one blunder. The Norwegian fiasco is one of a series of incredible botcheries….
When we decided that it was essential for our own protection that we should invade the territorial waters of Norway despite Norwegian protests, we ought to have anticipated a swift counter-stroke from Germany.131
George Kennan reached the same conclusion: The British, by violating Norwegian neutrality, had drawn Hitler into Scandinavia.
The British themselves, toying as they did with the idea of an expeditionary force across northern Norway to Finland, and finally deciding to encroach on Norwegian neutrality themselves by mining the leads along the Norwegian coast, had a heavy responsibility for Hitler’s decision to move on Scandinavia….132
Churchill had blundered disastrously. During April and May, Britain suffered repeated defeats in Norway until the force was withdrawn. While the debacle was Churchill’s doing, it was Chamberlain who fell. Churchill’s greatest fiasco since Gallipoli vaulted him to national power.
Two years later, under pressure from Stalin to open a second front, Churchill, now prime minister, launched a cross-Channel raid on the French port of Dieppe. A bloodbath ensued, with two-thirds of the six thousand commandos, mostly Canadians, killed, wounded, or captured, and RAF losses of three-to-one against the Luftwaffe. Canadians have never forgotten what one officer called the bloodiest nine hours in Canadian military history. Many blame Churchill for the loss of their bravest sons in an assault even German defenders regarded as a suicidal sacrifice of brave soldiers.
In his fortnightly letters on strategy and security, published in 1939 as Step by Step, Churchill repeatedly denigrated the submarine as an obsolete weapon of war and contended the airplane was vastly over-rated as a threat to battleships. On March 22, 1937, Churchill wrote:
The technical discoveries since the war have placed the submarine in a position of far less strength and far greater danger than was apparent even at the moment when the U-boat warfare was decisively mastered. So far as any lessons can yet be drawn from the Spanish war, it would seem that the claims of air experts to destroy warships at their pleasure and discretion have, to put it mildly, not so far been made good.133
On May 17, 1937, Churchill again wrote:
I do not myself believe that well-built modern warships properly defended by armour and antiaircraft guns, especially when steaming in company, are likely to fall prey to hostile aircraft…. [T]he submarine also is not nowadays regarded as the menace it used to be…. [T]he new methods which have been discovered and perfected make the submarine liable almost certainly to be found and thereafter hunted to death far more easily than was possible even in the days when the British Navy strangled the U-boats.134
On September 1, 1938, Churchill again disparaged airpower as against battle fleets, and dismissed the submarine:
[A]ircraft will not be a mortal danger to properly-equipped modern war fleets, whether at sea or lying in harbour under the protection of their own very powerful anti-aircraft batteries reinforced by those on shore….
This, added to the undoubted obsolescence of the submarine as a decisive war weapon, should give a feeling of confidence and security, so far as the seas and oceans are concerned, to the Western democracies.135
Churchill could not have been more wrong. During his eight months as First Lord,
the carrier HMS Courageous was torpedoed in Bristol Channel in September 1939. In the next month, a German submarine penetrated the defences of Scapa Flow and sank the battleship HMS Royal Oak. In the first nine months of the war, Britain lost 800,000 tons of shipping to a relatively small number of enemy submarines and magnetic mines.136
In the first year of Churchill’s premiership, antiquated British Swordfish biplanes torpedoed, crippled, and sank Italian battleships in Taranto harbor, and a Swordfish from the Ark Royal crippled the rudder and steering gear of Bismarck, enabling British warships to close in for the kill.
On December 10, 1941, three days after Pearl Harbor, where Japanese aircraft had crippled or sunk eight U.S. battleships, the battleship Prince of Wales, on which Churchill had crossed to Placentia Bay for his Atlantic Charter summit with FDR, was sunk, along with the battle cruiser Repulse,within an hour of each other, by Japanese fighter-bombers and torpedo planes. Six months later at Midway, four Japanese carriers were sent to the bottom by U.S. aircraft. Churchill had rarely been more wrong.
THE MORAL PROGRESS OF CHURCHILL
FROM MOST BIOGRAPHIES, the young Churchill appears to have been the model of a Christian warrior. As a young officer who rode in the cavalry charge at Omdurman, he came home to tell the story in The River War. In the book Churchill expressed his moral outrage that Lord Kitchener had left fifteen thousand wounded Dervishes to die on a field of battle and profaned the tomb and desecrated the body of the Mahdi. In a passage deeply offensive to Kitchener, Churchill called this a “wicked act, of which the true Christian…must express his abhorrence.”137
The young author, however, gave himself cover from retribution by friends of the Sirdar by dedicating his 250,000-word, two-volume history—to the prime minister. The dedication read:
The Marquess Of Salisbury, K.G., Under Whose Wise Direction The Conservative Party Have Long Enjoyed Power And The Nation Prosperity, During Whose Administrations The Reorganization Of Egypt Has Been Mainly Accomplished, And Upon Whose Advice Her Majesty Determined To Order The Reconquest Of The Soudan.138
“Everyone likes flattery,” said Disraeli, “and when you come to Royalty you should lay it on with a trowel.”
Nevertheless, Churchill’s conduct as a twenty-three-year-old cavalryman seems in the most admirable and honorable tradition of a soldier. But something happened to Churchill at the Admiralty, and with the coming of the Great War for which he had so ardently lusted.
Churchill had no more respect for the rights of neutral nations than von Moltke, who had said, “Success alone justifies war.”139 Had the German army not first violated Belgian neutrality in 1914, Churchill planned to do so himself—with a blockade of Antwerp. As First Lord, he urged the Cabinet to seize Dutch and Danish islands, though both nations were neutral. He pressed for a blockade of the Dardanelles when Turkey was still neutral.
Churchill’s starvation blockade was without modern precedent. To deny food to women and children was a violation of international law and a transgression against human rights. During the Boer War, Lord Salisbury had declared:
Foodstuffs, with a hostile destination, can be considered contraband of war only if they are supplies for the enemy’s forces. It is not sufficient that they are capable of being so used; it must be shown that this was in fact their destination at the time of the seizure.140
The starvation blockade of the First Lord Winston Churchill, writes historian Ralph Raico, “was probably the most effective weapon employed on either side in the conflict…. About 750,000 Germancivilians succumbed to hunger and diseases caused by malnutrition.”141 That is almost a hundred times the number of civilian dead attributed to German atrocities in Belgium.
As to the purpose of the hunger blockade, Churchill was direct: “to starve the whole population—men, women, and children, old and young, wounded and sound—into submission.”142
Churchill would claim that, on the evening of Armistice Day, 1918, he had urged Lloyd George to send shiploads of food to Germany.143 In a September 17, 1937, column, answering a charge in the German press that he was an enemy of Germany, Churchill wrote in self-defense:
At the moment of the Armistice, as is well known, I proposed filling a dozen great liners with food, and rushing them into Hamburg as a gesture of humanity. As Secretary of State for War in 1919, I pressed upon the Supreme Council the need of lifting the blockade, and laid before them the reports from the generals on the Rhine which eventually produced that step.144
There is, however, no supporting evidence that Churchill ever made any sustained effort to end the starvation blockade he imposed as First Lord in August 1914.
While Germany introduced poison gas to the battlefield, Churchill became an enthusiast of its use against enemies of the empire. When the Iraqis resisted British rule in 1920, Churchill, as Secretary for War and Air, wrote Sir Henry Trenchard, a pioneer of air warfare: “I do not understand this squeamishness about the use of gas…. I am strongly in favor of using poisoned gas against uncivilised tribes [to] spread a lively terror.”145
Churchill’s defenders contend he was referring to nonlethal gas and believed it more humane than high-explosive bombs and shells. But the gas the British used did kill Kurds and Iraqis, and during World War II, Churchill would drop the distinction between nonlethal and deadly gas. The same day he took office as prime minister, he ordered the bombing of civilians. After the fall of France, Churchill wrote a somber letter to Lord Beaverbrook, Minister of Air Production:
When I look round to see how we can win the war I see that there is only one sure path. We have no Continental army which can defeat the German military power. The blockade is broken and Hitler has Asia and probably Africa to draw from. Should he be repulsed here or not try invasion, he will recoil eastward, and we have nothing to stop him. But there is one thing that will bring him down and that is an absolutely devastating, exterminating attack by very heavy bombers from this country upon the Nazi homeland.146
This letter “is of great historical significance,” writes Paul Johnson, “marking the point at which the moral relativism of the totalitarian societies invaded the decision-making process of a major legitimate power.”147
Churchill led the West into adopting the methods of barbarism of their totalitarian enemies. By late 1940, writes Johnson, “British bombers were being used on a great and increasing scale to kill and frighten the German civilian population in their homes.”148
The policy, initiated by Churchill, approved in cabinet, endorsed by parliament and, so far as can be judged, enthusiastically backed by the bulk of the British people—thus fulfilling all the conditions of the process of consent in a democracy under law—marked a critical stage in the moral declension of humanity in our times.149
“The adoption of terror bombing was a measure of Britain’s desperation,” writes Johnson, and, one might add, of the moral decline of Winston Churchill.150 “So far as air strategy was concerned,” writes A.J.P. Taylor, “the British outdid German frightfulness first in theory, later in practice, and a nation which claimed to be fighting for a moral cause gloried in the extent of its immoral acts.”151
“WOLVES WITH THE MINDS OF MEN”
IN ADVANCE TO BARBARISM, to which the dean of St. Paul’s Cathedral wrote the foreword, historian F.J.P. Veale traces Britain’s abandonment of the rules of civilized warfare to May 11, 1940. Just twenty-four hours after the German army invaded France, Bomber Command sent eighteen Whitley bombers on a night run far from the front, on Westphalia. Writes Veale, italicizing his words: “This raid on the night of May 11, 1940, although in itself trivial, was an epoch-making event since it was the first deliberate breach of the fundamental rule of civilized warfare that hostilities must only be waged against the enemy combatant forces.”152
It had taken Churchill only twenty-four hours as prime minister to remove the keystone upholding “the whole structure of civilized warfare as it had been gradually built up in Europe during the preceding two centuries.”153 From there, that “structure of civilized warfare…collapsed in ruins.”154
B. H. Liddell Hart confirms it: “[W]hen Mr. Churchill came into power, one of the first decisions of his Government was to extend bombing to the non-combatant area.”155 While the Luftwaffe had bombed cities, Liddell Hart noted the critical strategic and moral difference with what Britain was doing: “Bombing [of Warsaw and Rotterdam] did not take place until German troops were fighting their way into these cities and thus conformed to the old rules of siege bombardment.”156
In his first meeting with Stalin in 1942, Churchill brought up the Royal Air Force bombing of German cities to ingratiate himself with the tyrant by impressing upon him how ruthless Britain intended to be.
Churchill now spoke of the bombing of Germany. This was already considerable, he said, and would increase. Britain looked upon the morale of the German civilian population “as a military target. We sought no mercy and we would show no mercy.” Britain hoped to “shatter” twenty German cities, as several had already been shattered. “If need be, as the war went on, we hoped to shatter almost every dwelling in almost every German city.”157
At this point in the conversation, writes Martin Gilbert, the “record of the meeting noted, ‘Stalin smiled and said that would not be bad’…and thence forward the atmosphere became progressively more cordial.”158
What Churchill had been describing to Stalin was a British policy to “de-house” the civilian population of Germany.159 Who was instigator and architect of the policy to carpet-bomb German cities? Frederick Lindemann, “the Prof,” an intimate of Churchill’s whom he had brought into his war Cabinet as science adviser. Lindemann had “an almost pathological hatred for Nazi Germany, and an almost medieval desire for revenge.”160
C. P. Snow, a science adviser to the war government, wrote that Lindemann had a zealot’s faith in the efficacy of bombing. Early in 1942, when Britain had failed to achieve a single major victory, Lindemann presented his great paper to the Cabinet.
The paper laid down a strategic policy. The bombing must be directed especially against German working-class houses. Middle-class houses have too much space round them, and so are bound to waste bombs…. The paper claimed that—given a total concentration of effort on the production and use of bombing aircraft—it would be possible, in all the larger towns of Germany (that is, those with more than 50,000 inhabitants), to destroy fifty percent of all houses.161
This was to be accomplished in just eighteen months, from March 1942 to September 1943. Snow, in his 1960 Godkin lectures at Harvard, asked—about himself and his colleagues in wartime—“What will people of the future think of us? Will they say, as Roger Williams said of some of the Massachusetts Indians, that we were wolves with the minds of men? Will they think we resigned our humanity? They will have the right.”162
In his 1944 Bombing Vindicated, J. M. Spaight, Principal Secretary for the Air Ministry, claims full credit for Churchill’s Britain for having been first to initiate the bombing of civilians:
Because we were doubtful about the psychological effect of propagandist distortion of the truth that it was we who started the strategic bombing offensive, we have shrunk from giving our great decision of May 11th, 1940, the publicity which it deserved…. It was a splendid decision. It wasas heroic, as self-sacrificing, as Russia’s decision to adopt her policy of “scorched earth.”163
Our “splendid…heroic and self-sacrificing” decision to bomb cities, insists Spaight, gave Britons the right to stand as equals alongside the Red Army. For these preemptive strikes on German cities brought Luftwaffe retaliation on British cities, giving “Coventry and Birmingham, Sheffield and Southampton, the right to look Kiev and Kharkov, Stalingrad and Sebastopol in the face. Our Soviet Allies would have been less critical of our inactivity in 1942 if they had understood what we have done.”164
Though British propaganda broadcasts charged that the Luftwaffe had begun the bombing of cities by brutally targeting London, Spaight believed that British cities might have been spared had Churchill not first resorted to city bombing: “There was no certainty, but there was a reasonable probability that our capital and our industrial centres would not have been attacked if we had continued to refrain from attacking those of Germany.”165
“To achieve the extirpation of Nazi tyranny there are no lengths of violence to which we will not go,” Churchill told Parliament on September 21, 1943.166 By 1944, he had come back around to the idea of using chemical and biological warfare on civilians. In one secret project, he commissioned the preparation of five million anthrax cakes to be dropped onto the pastures of north Germany to poison the cattle and through them the people. As the Glasgow Sunday Herald reported in 2001,
The aim of Operation Vegetarian was to wipe out the German beef and dairy herds and then see the bacterium spread to the human population. With people then having no access to antibiotics, this would have caused many thousands—perhaps even millions—of German men, women and children to suffer awful deaths.167
The anthrax cakes were tested on Gruinard Island, off Wester Ross in Scotland, which was not cleared of contamination until 1990.
In July of 1944, as the Allies were still attempting a breakout from Normandy, Churchill minuted General “Pug” Ismay of the Chief of Staffs committee,
I want you to think very seriously over this question of poison gas…. We could drench the cities of the Ruhr and many other cities in Germany in such a way that most of the population would be requiring constant medical attention…. [I]f we do it, let us do it one hundred percent. In the meantime, I want the matter studied in cold blood by sensible people and not by that particular set of psalm-singing uniformed defeatists…. I shall of course have to square Uncle Joe and the President.168
“It is absurd to consider morality on this topic,” Churchill told his RAF planners.169
On the fiftieth anniversary of the destruction of Dresden, the Washington Post’s Ken Ringle wrote, “[I]f any one person can be blamed for the tragedy at Dresden, it appears to have been Churchill.”170
Before leaving for Yalta, Churchill ordered Operation Thunderclap, massive air strikes to de-house German civilians to turn them into refugees to clog the roads over which German soldiers had to move to stop a Red Army offensive. Air Marshal Arthur “Bomber” Harris put Dresden on the target list. On the first night of the raid, 770 Lancasters arrived over Dresden around 10 P.M.:
In two waves three hours apart, 650,000 incendiary bombs rained down on Dresden’s narrow streets and baroque buildings, together with another 1,474 tons of high explosives…. The fires burned for seven days.
More than 1,600 acres of the city were devastated (compared to 100 acres burned in the German raid on Coventry) and melting streets burned the shoes off those attempting to flee. Cars untouched by fire burst into flames just from the heat. Thousands sought refuge in cellars where they died, robbed of oxygen by the flames, before the buildings above them collapsed.
Novelist Kurt Vonnegut, who as one of twenty-six thousand Allied prisoners of war in Dresden helped clean up after the attack, remembers tunneling into the ruins to find the dead sitting upright in what he would describe in “Slaughter-house Five” as “corpse mines.” Floating in the static water tanks were the boiled bodies of hundreds more.171
The morning after the Lancasters struck, five hundred B-17s arrived over Dresden in two waves with three hundred fighter escorts to strafe fleeing survivors. Estimates of the dead in the firestorm range from 35,000 to 250,000. The Associated Press reported, “Allied war chiefs have made the long-awaited decision to adopt deliberate terror bombing of German populated centers as a ruthless expedient to hasten Hitler’s doom.”172
In a memo to his air chiefs, Churchill acknowledged what Dresden had been about: “It seems to me that the moment has come when the question of bombing of German cities simply for the sake of increasing the terror, though under other pretexts, should be reviewed.”173 Sensing they were about to be scapegoated for actions Churchill himself ordered, the air chiefs returned the memo. In his 1947 memoir, Bomber Offensive, Air Marshal Harris implies that Churchill gave the order to incinerate Dresden: “I will only say that the attack on Dresden was at the time considered a military necessity by much more important people than myself.”174
Writes A.J.P. Taylor of his countrymen at war:
What mattered was the outlook: the readiness by the British, of all people, to stop at nothing when waging war. Civilized restraints, all considerations of morality, were abandoned. By the end of the war, men were…ready to kill countless women and children…. This was the legacy of the bombing strategy which the British adopted with such high-minded motives.175
Concludes F.J.P. Veale: “The indiscriminate bombing of civilians, enemy cities, and civilian property brought about a terrifying and unprecedentedly destructive reversion to primary and total warfare” as once practiced “by Sennacherib, Genghis Khan, and Tamerlane.”176
The old Churchill had made young Churchill a prophet. As he had written in his novel Savrola, long before the war in which he led his nation, “Chivalrous gallantry is not among the peculiar characteristics of excited democracy.”177
Americans, too, played a role in adopting methods of barbarism from which earlier generations would have recoiled in horror and disgust. During World War I, we condemned the British starvation blockade before we went in, but supported it with our warships after we went in. If Churchill initiated terror bombing, America perfected it. Boasted Curtis LeMay of his famous raid on Tokyo, “We scorched and boiled and baked to death more people in Tokyo that night of March 9–10 than went up in vapor in Hiroshima and Nagasaki combined.”178 We and the British fought for moral ends. We did not always use moral means by any Christian definition, and Churchill played the lead role in Western man’s reversion to barbarism.
THE FEROCITY WITH WHICH Churchill pursued war against civilians can be traced to his convictions. He was less a Christian than a pagan in the Roman tradition. Though he might sing “Onward Christian Soldiers” at Placentia Bay and sign an Atlantic Charter on the rights of peoples, these had nothing to do with how he prosecuted war. His views on some issues were not that far removed from the man in Berlin for whom he had expressed grudging admiration in Great Contemporaries.
Indeed, Churchill might justly be called a post-Christian man. After reading the exuberantly anti-Christian Martyrdom of Man by Winwood Reade in Bangalore as a twenty-one-year-old subaltern, Churchill wrote his mother:
One of these days the cold bright light of science & reason will shine through the cathedral windows & we shall go out into the fields to seek God for ourselves. The great laws of Nature will be understood—our destiny and our past will be clear. We shall then be able to dispense with the religious toys that have agreeably fostered the development of mankind.179
After his capture in the armored train disaster by the fiercely Christian Boers, who fought for God and country, Churchill confessed to having been profoundly shaken when he heard a sound,
which was worse even than the sound of shells: the sound of Boers singing psalms. “It struck the fear of God into me. What sort of men are we fighting? They have the better cause—and the cause is everything—at least I mean to them it is the better cause.”180
In truth, the Boers had the “better cause.” And Churchill could count himself fortunate that his captors were pious Christians and not Afghan or Sioux.
Nor did Churchill in his last days hold out hope for the world to come. He approached his end a despairing atheist, telling his lifelong friend Violet Bonham Carter that “death meant extinction” and “eternity was a nightmare possibility.”181
Writing in The Spectator in scorn of “the cult of Churchill,” Michael Lind put on the record views of the Great Man that might shock Americans. Churchill was no egalitarian humanist. In 1910, he informed Prime Minister Asquith of his gnawing social concern:
The unnatural and increasingly rapid rise of the feeble-minded and insane classes, coupled as it is with a steady restriction among the thrifty, energetic and superior stocks, constitutes a national and race danger which it is impossible to exaggerate. I feel that the source from which the stream of madness is fed should be cut off and sealed up before another year has passed.182
When the Mental Deficiency Act was advanced to sterilize the feeble-minded and “other degenerate types,” Asquith’s government agreed to consider the measure. Writes Edwin Black, author of War Against the Weak,
Home Secretary Winston Churchill, an enthusiastic supporter of eugenics, reassured one group of eugenicists that Britain’s 120,000 feeble-minded persons “should, if possible, be segregated under proper conditions so that their curse died with them and was not transmitted to future generations.” The plan called for the creation of vast colonies. Thousands of Britain’s unfit would be moved into these colonies to live out their days.183
“Hitler’s ultimately genocidal programme of ‘racial hygiene’ began with the kind of compulsory sterilization of the ‘feeble-minded and insane classes’ that Churchill urged on the British government,” writes Lind.184
Though a philo-Semite and supporter of Zionism, Churchill’s views on the roots of Bolshevism seem not markedly different from those of Hitler. In the Illustrated Sunday Herald of February 8, 1920, after the failed Allied intervention in Russia, Churchill wrote that in the “creation of Bolshevism” the role of “atheistical Jews…probably outweighs all others.”185 Contrasting the patriotism of “National Russian Jews” with the “schemes of the International Jews,” Churchill describes the latter:
[A] sinister confederacy…[of] men reared up among the unhappy populations of countries where Jews are persecuted on account of their race. Most, if not all, of them have forsaken the faith of their forefathers, and divorced from their minds all spiritual hopes of the next world. This movement among the Jews is not new. From the days of Spartacus-Weishaupt to those of Karl Marx, and down to Trotsky (Russia), Bela Kun (Hungary), Rosa Luxembourg (Germany), and Emma Goldman (the United States), this world-wide conspiracy for the overthrow of civilisation and for the reconstitution of society on the basis of the arrested development, of envious malevolence, and impossible equality, has been steadily growing…. [T]his band of extraordinary personalities from the underworld of the great cities of Europe and America have gripped the Russian people by the hair of their heads and have become practically the undisputed masters of that enormous empire.186
Had Churchill not been a dedicated Zionist, he might have suffered the fate of Father Coughlin, though it needs to be emphasized: Churchill was no anti-Semite. He admired Jews, respected their abilities and accomplishments, befriended Zionists and national Jews, and loathed only those apostates to their faith who had cast their lot with Lenin and Trotsky.
“All is race,” wrote Disraeli in Tancred, “there is nothing else.” Churchill would have agreed. In Eminent Churchillians, Andrew Roberts writes that his views were not only “more profoundly racist than most,” they influenced his conduct as a statesman.187
Churchill’s racial assumptions occupied a prime place both in his political philosophy and in his views on international relations. He was a convinced white…supremacist and thought in terms of race to a degree that was remarkable even by the standards of his own time. He spoke of certain races with a virulent Anglo-Saxon triumphalism which was wholly lacking in other twentieth-century prime ministers, and in a way which even as early as the 1920s shocked some Cabinet colleagues.188
To Churchill, blood and race were determinant in the history of nations and civilizations. Introducing the peoples of the Sudan in The River War, his memoir of the campaign in which he had served under Kitchener, Churchill wrote:
The qualities of mongrels are rarely admirable, and the mixture of the Arab and negro types has produced a debased and cruel breed, more shocking because they are more intelligent than the primitive savages. The stronger race soon began to prey upon the simple aboriginals…. All, without exception, were hunters of men.189
To Churchill, Negroes were “niggers” or “blackamoors,” Arabs “worthless,” Chinese “chinks” or “pigtails,” Indians “baboos,” and South African blacks “Hottentots.”190
Churchill’s physician Lord Moran wrote in his diary that, while FDR was thinking of the importance of a China of four hundred million, Churchill “thinks only of the color of their skin; it is when he talks of India and China that you remember he is a Victorian.”191 Years after the war, Moran wrote, “It would seem that he has scarcely moved an inch from his attitude toward China since the day of the Boxer Rebellion [of 1899–1901].”192
Writing to the Palestine Commission in 1936, Churchill made his convictions clear: “I do not admit…that a great wrong has been done to the Red Indians of America or the black people of Australia…by the fact that a stronger race, a higher grade race…has come and taken their place.”193
Churchill, writes Andrew Roberts, “found Indians ‘the beastliest people in the world, next to the Germans.’”194
During the 1943 Bengal famine, in which over a million Indians died, [Churchill] reassured the Secretary of State for India, Leo Amery, that they would nevertheless continue to breed “like rabbits.” After such an outburst in 1944, Amery was prompted to tell the Prime Minister that he “didn’t see much difference between his outlook and Hitler’s.”195
During the war, Churchill ranted against Indian demands for independence. “I hate Indians,” he said. “They are a beastly people with a beastly religion.”196 Beseeched by Amery and the Indian viceroy to release food stocks in the wartime famine, “Churchill responded with a telegram asking why Gandhi hadn’t died yet.”197
One may find like comments in other leaders of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. But Churchill, as First Lord of the Admiralty in two wars and prime minister for five years of the bloodiest war in history, was in a position to act on his beliefs. And he did.
“KEEP ENGLAND WHITE”
THOSE RACIAL BELIEFS were behind the uncompromising stand Churchill took on “what was then called coloured immigration from the British Commonwealth” in his last days as prime minister in the mid-1950s.198 Churchill was a restrictionist. His thinking paralleled that of Lord Salisbury, who had declared: “It is not for me merely a question of whether criminal negroes should be allowed in or not…it is a question whether great quantities of negroes, criminal or not, should be allowed to come.”199
“Churchill’s feelings were strongly in [Salisbury’s] direction,” writes historian Peter Hennessey.200 To the governor of Jamaica, Sir Hugh Foot, Churchill said in 1954 that were immigration from the Caribbean not halted, “we would have a magpie society: that would never do.”201
Colored immigration weighed heavily on his mind. Churchill told one interviewer, “I think it is the most important subject facing this country, but I cannot get any of my ministers to take notice.”202 Writes Hennessey, “Just as [Churchill] was distressed by the break-up of the British Empire, he was, for all his imperial romance, deeply disturbed about its black or brown members coming to the mother country.”203
Future prime minister Harold Macmillan, in his diary entry on the Cabinet meeting of January 20, 1955, wrote: “More discussion about the West Indian immigrants. A Bill is being drafted—but it’s not an easy problem. P.M. [Churchill] thinks ‘Keep England White’ a good slogan!”204
Had Churchill endured in office, there might have been legislation, says Hennessey. London would look entirely different today. But by April, against his will, Churchill was out as prime minister, no longer able to lead a campaign to “Keep England White”—an astonishing slogan in a day when Dr. Martin Luther King, a disciple of Gandhi whom Churchill had detested, was starting out in Montgomery. In 1968, Enoch Powell, Tory shadow minister of defense, would take up the banner of Salisbury and Churchill and deliver his “Rivers of Blood” speech. By then, time had passed the restrictionists by, and England was on its way to becoming the multiracial, multicultural nation of today, no longer Churchill’s England.
STATESMAN—OR WAR CHIEF?
THAT CHURCHILL WAS A GREAT war leader who inspired as he led his people is undeniable. But was he a great statesman?
“You ask: What is our policy?” he had roared to the House of Commons on May 13, 1940.
I will say, “It is to wage war, by sea, land and air, with all our might and with all the strength that God can give us: to wage war against a monstrous tyranny, never surpassed in the dark lamentable catalogue of human crime. That is our policy.”
You ask, What is our aim? I can answer with one word: Victory—victory at all costs, victory in spite of all terror, victory however long and hard the road may be; for without victory there is no survival.205
This is the rhetoric of a war chief.
When Hitler invaded Russia, Churchill welcomed Stalin into the camp of the saints. On September 21, 1943, after the tide had turned at Stalingrad and the vast Red Army was moving inexorably westward toward Europe, Churchill was still monomaniacal on the evil of Germany:
The twin roots of all our evils, Nazi tyranny and Prussian militarism, must be extirpated. Until this is achieved, there are no sacrifices we will not make and no lengths in violence to which we will not go.206
It was this mind-set that led Churchill to accept the Soviet annexation of eastern Poland and Eastern Europe, to endorse FDR’s call at Casablanca for “unconditional surrender,” to agree to Morgenthau’s plan to turn Germany into a pasture, to test anthrax cakes to poison German civilians, to unleash waves of bombers on the defenseless cities of a defeated country.
This single-minded determination of Churchill to pulverize and punish Germany played directly into the hands of Goebbels and Stalin. The Nazi propaganda minister used the Allied demand for unconditional surrender and the vindictive Morgenthau Plan to convince Germans they must go on fighting to the death, as defeat meant no survival for the nation. Eisenhower believed the demand for an unconditional surrender at Casablanca extended the war by years and cost countless lives. And the destruction of Germany to which Churchill had dedicated himself left a power vacuum in Europe Stalin inevitably filled. Britain fought Nazi tyranny for six years, only to pave the path to power for a greater tyranny.
Within months of the war’s end, Churchill was bewailing the “Iron Curtain” that had fallen across Europe and the horrors taking place on the far side. Within a few years, he was to call for the rearmament of those same Germans he had called “Huns,” to help defend Christian civilization. Evil as they were, “Nazi tyranny and Prussian militarism” had not been “the twin roots of all our evils.” When the Nazi tyranny fell, others—Stalin’s, Tito’s, Mao’s, Kim Il Sung’s, some mightier and even more murderous—arose.
“War,” said the soldier-scholar Clausewitz, “is a continuation of policy by other means.”207 The warrior’s goal is victory. The statesman’s goal is a peace that leaves the nation more secure. Churchill succeeded magnificently as a war leader. He failed as a statesman.
As time went by, Churchill seemed to realize it. “As the blinkers of war were removed,” writes John Charmley, “Churchill began to perceive the magnitude of the mistake that had been made.”208 After the war, he told Robert Boothby, “Historians are apt to judge war ministers less by the victories achieved under their direction than by the political results which flowed from them. Judged by that standard, I am not sure that I shall be held to have done very well.”209
Stalin kept in mind always what Europe would look like after the war. Churchill seemed not to have thought long or deeply over the fate of the continent if Germany, Europe’s ancient barrier to Oriental despotism and barbarism, were annihilated. Blindly, he helped bring it about.
Full of honors, late in life Churchill must have realized the depth of his failure. For had not he himself written, “Those who can win a war well can rarely make a good peace and those who could make a good peace would never have won the war.” Yet statesmen have done both: Washington, Wellington, Bismarck, and MacArthur come to mind.
“MILKING THE BRITISH COW”
WHAT WAS THE LEGACY of Winston Churchill?
If one traces his career from his entry into the inner Cabinet as First Lord in 1911 to his final departure from 10 Downing Street in 1955, that half century encompasses the collapse of British power. In 1911, the sun never set on the British Empire. In 1955, all was lost save honor. India was gone. Egypt and the Suez Canal were gone. Palestine was gone. All the colonies in Asia and Africa were going. Russians and Americans were the hegemons of Europe and the Dominions were looking to Washington, not London, for protection and leadership. Britain was no longer great. The long and brilliant career of the Man of the Century coincided precisely with the decline and fall of Britain as a world power and a great power.
When Churchill at last yielded office to Eden in 1955, the ex–Labour minister Anuerin Bevan said satirically: “Sir Winston Churchill’s superlative personal gifts have eased the passage of Britain to the status of a second-rate power.”210
The twentieth century was not the British Century. It was the American Century. Churchill believed the two English-speaking peoples would be eternal partners, with British statesmen playing Greeks to America’s Romans. But when Britain was in her darkest hour, FDR shook her down for every dime. Poring over a list of British assets in the Western Hemisphere that Morgenthau had requested, Roosevelt “reacted with the coolness of a WASP patrician: ‘Well, they aren’t bust—there’s lots of money there.’”211
Looking back, Alan Clark was appalled by Churchill’s groveling to the Americans:
Churchill’s abasement of Britain before the United States has its origins in the same obsession [with Hitler]. The West Indian bases were handed over; the closed markets for British exports were to be dismantled; the entire portfolio of (largely private) holdings in America was liquidated. “A very nice little list,” was Roosevelt’s comment when the British ambassador offered it. “You guys aren’t broken yet.”212
Before Lend-Lease aid could begin, Britain was forced to sell all her commercial assets in the United States and turn over all her gold. FDR sent his own ship, the Quincy, to Simonstown near Cape Town to pick up the last $50 million in British gold reserves.213
“[W]e are not only to be skinned but flayed to the bone,” Churchill wailed to his colleagues.214 He was not far off. Churchill drafted a letter to FDR saying that if America continued along this line, she would “wear the aspect of a sheriff collecting the last assets of a helpless debtor.”215 It was, said the prime minister, “not fitting that any nation should put itself wholly in the hands of another.”216 Desperately dependent as Britain was on America, Churchill reconsidered, and rewrote his note in more conciliatory tones.
And FDR knew exactly what he was doing. “We have been milking the British financial cow, which had plenty of milk at one time, but which has now about become dry,” Roosevelt confided to one Cabinet member.217
Writes A.J.P. Taylor of how Roosevelt humbled Churchill:
Great Britain became a poor, though deserving cousin—not to Roosevelt’s regret. So far as it is possible to read his devious mind, it appears that he expected the British to wear down both Germany and themselves. When all independent powers had ceased to exist, the United States would step in and run the world.218
At Teheran and Yalta, where FDR should have supported his British ally, he mocked Churchill to amuse Stalin. FDR thought the British Empire an anachronism that ought to be abolished. “We are therefore presented,” writes Captain Grenfell, “with the extraordinary paradox that Britain’s principal enemy was anxious for the British empire to remain in being, while her principal ally, the United States, was determined to destroy it.”219
When Churchill’s successor Eden invaded Suez in 1956 to retake the Canal from the Egyptian dictator who had nationalized it, Harold Macmillan assured the Cabinet, “I know Ike. He will lie doggo.”220
Like many Brits, Macmillan misread Ike and the Americans. Ike ordered Britain out of Egypt. Faced with a U.S. threat to sink the pound, the humiliated Brits submitted and departed. Eden fell. The new Romans would not be needing any Greeks. Correlli Barnett is savage on Churchill’s naiveté in believing in a “special relationship” with the Americans:
The Second World War saw the disastrous culmination of the long-standing but unreciprocated British belief in the existence of a “special relationship” between England and America. For the Americans—like the Russians, like the Germans, like the English themselves—were motivated by a desire to promote their own interests rather than by sentiment, which was a commodity they reserved for Pilgrim’s Dinners, where it could do no harm. Churchill’s policy therefore provided the Americans with the opportunity first, of prospering on British orders, and secondly, of humbling British world power, a long-cherished American ambition. From 1940 to the end of the Second World War and after, it was America, not Russia, which was to constitute that lurking menace to British interests which Churchill, in his passionate obsession with defeating Germany, failed to perceive.221
Canadian historian Edward Ingram seconds Barnett, calling Britain’s “alignment with the United States…a strangling alliance in which one party uses the alliance to destroy the other.”222
The relationship between the United Kingdom and Britain is shown in the U.S. offer during World War II to defend the United Kingdom but not the British Empire. As the destruction of Britain as a world power was the price to be paid for the safety of the United Kingdom, Englishmen and Scots were asked to buy safety for themselves by throwing [other subjects] and Indians to the wolves.223
“We must never get out of step with the Americans—never,” Churchill told Violet Bonham Carter.224 Charmley considers this maxim to reflect one of Churchill’s greatest failures of vision, how he “imperfectly understood the dynamics of American power and its hostility to the Empire to which he had devoted so much of his life.”225
In Eminent Churchillians, Andrew Roberts writes of how one British writer had wittily graded George VI as king and sovereign:
Considering that King George VI’s sixteen-year reign spanned Anschluss, Munich, the Second World War, the communist domination of Eastern Europe, the loss of India and the twilight of empire, post-war Austerity and Britain’s eclipse as a global superpower, one might sympathize with Evelyn Waugh’s valediction, “George VI’s reign will go down in history as the most disastrous my country has known since Matilda and Stephen.”226
“Of course,” writes Roberts charitably, “the King was in no way personally to blame for any of this.”227 No, the King was not. But, then, who was? What did Churchill recommend at Anschluss? Did he not applaud Chamberlain’s war guarantee to Poland that led to the Second World War, Stalin’s domination of Eastern Europe, Britain’s bankruptcy, the postwar Austerity, the early and humiliating end of the British Empire, and Britain’s eclipse as a world power? Who sacrificed everything to stand atop the rubble of Hitler’s Reich? If the reign of George VI was, as Waugh said, the “most disastrous my country has known since Matilda and Stephen,” but the king was not to blame, who was? Who made British history in the reign of the late and unlamented George VI?
The title of the last book of his six-volume history of World War II, Triumph and Tragedy, was apposite. Churchill’s words are immortal, but the deeds with which he brought triumph to himself produced tragedy for his nation and the world. He inherited a great empire, but left an island-nation off the coast of Europe with three centuries of its wealth, power, and prestige sunk. After Potsdam and his dismissal, when the lasting ruin the war had visited on his nation had sunk in, Churchill seemed often to be melancholy. Returning by train to Washington following his Iron Curtain speech in Fulton, Missouri, Churchill was talking with Clark Clifford and Truman’s spokesman Charlie Ross of the events that had shaped his life; suddenly he blurted, “If I were to be born again, I would wish to be born in the United States. Your country is the future of the world…. Great Britain has passed its zenith.”228
In Cairo in 1943, Churchill was entertaining Macmillan. The war had passed its crisis point and Churchill seemed briefly to realize that, after all the spilled blood and lost treasure, Stalin might emerge as the master of Europe—“one monstrous regime…about to replace another that was slowly being strangled to death.”229 He turned suddenly to Macmillan.
“‘Cromwell was a great man, wasn’t he?’ Churchill asked.
“‘Yes, sir, a very great man,’ Macmillan replied.
“‘Ah, but he made one terrible mistake,’ Churchill went on. ‘Obsessed in his youth by fear of the power of Spain, he failed to observe the rise of France. Will that be said of me?’”230
Yes, it will be said of him.
He had been a great man—at the cost of his country’s greatness.