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Foreign News: Vision, Vindication

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One afternoon early last week a short, stout, chubby-cheeked gentleman wearing a black hat and smoking a black cigar entered the House of Commons and took his place on Government benches. He was the Right Honorable Winston Churchill, most versatile member of the Conservative Party, once First Lord of the Admiralty, once Chancellor of the Exchequer, once Minister for the Colonies, once President of the Board of Trade and now just plain M.P. for Epping, 17 miles northeast of London on the Chipping Ongar Branch of the London North East Railway.

As M.P. for Epping he had no more power than an honorable member for Deptford, Huddersfield, Moss Side, Smethwick, Penryn, and Falmouth, Tavistock, Penrith and Cockermouth, Spennymoor, The Wrenkin, Tewkesbury (pronounced “tooksbroo”) or the 615 constituencies of England, Scotland and Wales. But as Winston Churchill the Elder Statesman, scarred veteran of innumerable parliamentary battles, historian of the World War, novelist, biographer of his ancestors, and the most pungent and expressive critic of Prime Minister Chamberlain, he had an influence, a possible future and a voice in affairs that made his position unique. That he was there at all said much about him, more about British politics. Statesmen out of office make speeches in the U. S., particularly at college commencements; are shot in Russia, generally after confessing themselves allied to Jack the Ripper; disappear in Germany without having a chance to do that. But in Great Britain they may step back to the House of Commons, start over, criticize and mold Government policy by the weight of their experience—particularly if, as in the case of Mr. Churchill, events prove their judgment correct, and they have a good chance to get back into power.

The session was historic (see p. 20). From 2:45 p.m. when the clerk placed on the table the great mace, signifying that Parliament was in session, to 10:30 p.m. when members left the building, found crowds singing Rule Britannia outside, it was stamped with the quality of grave decision that has marked the great crises of Parliament. Mr. Churchill did not speak. When the vote came he walked out the door on the Government side of the House, thereby signifying his assent to the granting of war powers to the Government. Implicit in Prime Minister Chamberlain’s speech, no less than in the news of war over London, was an acknowledgement that Churchill had been right. For six bitter, hog-ridden years he had pounded on his argument as tenaciously as Cato the Elder demanding the destruction of Carthage: that a rearmed and rearming Nazi Germany was a menace to

Britain, to the Empire, to free speech, to Parliament. To Britons newly enraged by the German-Soviet Pact, he had been terribly justified. Elder Statesman Churchill expected no cheers for his foresight. He rushed off to have dinner with Harold Nicolson, M.P. (author of Portrait of a Diplomatist, Peacemaking, Dwight Morrow, Small Talk, Curzon: The Last Phase), and then hurried to his country home “Chartwell” in Kent to run his six secretaries ragged and hang on the telephone putting in calls all over Europe. “Now,” said he, “Hitler is on the run.”

Experience. Historic sessions were no novelty for Mr. Churchill. For 37 of his 65 years he has been a member of Parliament, a steady dweller of the eight acres of stone where more good things have been said, and more windy platitudes expounded, than anywhere else on earth—with the possible exceptions of the ancient Roman and present U. S. Senates. Even his greatest admirers admit that he has said more than his share of both. As First Lord of Admiralty he sat on the Government benches on the hushed night of Aug. 3, 1914. Out of the Government after the failure of the Dardanelles campaign that he initiated, he was back in the House as M.P. for Dundee, attending the secret sessions in the darkest days of the War—after the Passchendaele offensive, the five-month stalemate on the Western Front that cost the British 300,000 casualties. Back in Lloyd George’s Cabinet as Secretary of State for War, Secretary of State for Air, Secretary of State for Colonies, he attended the still more panicky, still more secret sessions that followed the Russian Revolution, when Russia’s leaving the Allies released about 50 more German divisions for the Western Front. Undismayed, undisturbed, a superb orator when aroused, his mind crammed with sonorous phrases (many of them taken from his own works), he thrilled his listeners with great rolling periods like this: “What they [Germany’s allies] do not see or realize is the capacity of the ancient and mighty nations against whom Germany is warring to endure adversity, to put up with disappointment and mismanagement, to recreate and renew their strength, to toil on with boundless obstinacy through boundless suffering to the achievement of the greatest cause for which men have ever fought.”

His eloquence was matchless because he meant every word of it. Not for him was the Hollywood-Rudyard Kipling version of the Empire, compounded of pukha sahibs, Gunga Din, the little brown men, and domains beyond the sea—for him Empire was a living faith, a political necessity, a way of life, a practical program and sometimes almost a religion. Son of brilliant, sensitive Lord Randolph who died young, of a handsome, American mother, Young Churchill was groomed to rule from the start, never let himself or his friends forget it. At 20, after Harrow and Sandhurst, he held a dinner for “those who are yet under 21 years of age but who in 20 years will control the destinies of the British Empire.”

None of the others amounted to anything, but young Churchill had scarcely left the table when his Imperial career began. He went to Cuba during the rebellion against Spain as a war correspondent. Spain in Cuba seemed to him a model of all that Imperial rule should not be: irresponsible, wasteful, harsh, above all vindictive and vengeful. In India too he pondered (meanwhile playing polo, serving on the frontier, reading Gibbon, moral philosophy, history and military strategy) and after writing The River War, a description of the Sudan campaign, and a terrible novel, decided to take up literature and politics. Informing the voters of Oldham, he was rejected. He promptly left for the Boer War as a newspaper correspondent. Captured, while defending an armored train derailed by a Boer attack, he was arrested by big, beefy Louis Botha, later Prime Minister of South Africa, locked up at Pretoria. After weeks of reading Carlyle and John Stuart Mill, in desperation he scaled the prison wall and escaped. Back at Oldham for another election, he won, 12,931-to-12,522.

Against the Current. All this, like innumerable Churchill adventures and anecdotes made a lively career, but paradoxically bothered voters. To modern Britons up to last week Winston Churchill was less like a public figure than like some oldfashioned, battered Gladstone bag stuffed full of the relics of Empire—pieces of prejudices, bits of old patriotic songs (music hall comedians used to call him “Winnie”), mementoes of old Imperial wild oats, mistakes, idyllic weekends better forgotten. Jaunty, witty, informed, expert, positive, a sparkling talker when interested, a growling monster of rudeness when bored, he said in 1939 what he had said in 1903, and knew he said it better. An unabashed lover of the sound of his own voice, talking to himself very loudly when alone, he was never really popular. Moreover, as the years passed, a mighty collection of opponents assembled against him, though each had different reasons for dislike:

Army. Old line officers never got over their suspicion of his unorthodox methods. Contemporary experts agree that the Dardanelles campaign, the attempted relief of Antwerp that held up the German advance on Paris in 1914, were brilliantly conceived, weakly executed. Purpose of the Dardanelles campaign as Churchill saw it was more than an attempt to help Russia gain access to the Mediterranean: it was to swing fence-sitting Italy to the Allied side, win the tremulous Balkans away from Germany. Defending himself after the failure with biting eloquence, Churchill used the phrase “gamble” in connection with the Naval Plan, later got an undeserved reputation of needlessly sacrificing men.

Suffragettes. He was against them.

Labor. He attacked the General Strike (1926) as a Bolshevik conspiracy. For ten years he denounced Socialism as the source of all post-War troubles.

For Communists he reserved his most telling blows: “Was there ever a more awful spectacle in the whole history of the world than is unfolded by the agony of Russia . . . devoured by vermin, racked by pestilence, deprived of hope?” Russia Winston Churchill saw as not only “a wounded Russia, but a poisoned Russia, an infected Russia, a plague-bearing Russia, a Russia of armed hordes . . . and political doctrines which destroyed the health and soul of nations.” Of Stalin’s purge he wrote: “For all its horrors, a glittering light plays over the scenes and actors of the French Revolution. . . . But the Russian Bolsheviks are not redeemed in interest even by the magnitude of their crimes. . . . They have emerged from the prison cells of the Cheka to make their strange unnatural confessions to the world. They have met the death in secret to which they consigned so many better and braver men.”

Irish, Business, Miscellaneous. Irish sympathizers could not forget his harshness in the Civil War; businessmen could not forget that as Chancellor of the Exchequer he rolled up (his opponents claimed) a $1,500,000,000 debt; Liberals could not forget that he had been in eight Liberal Cabinets before he became a Conservative; party disciplinarians disliked him because he could not be plainly labeled, could not be made to obey. Complained one perplexed writer: “It is the ultimate Churchill that escapes us. I think he escapes us for good reason. He is not there.” Proving that he was somewhere, Churchill replied that parties changed their programs more often than he did, but added, with magnificent understatement, “I have a tendency against which I should perhaps be on my guard; it is to swim against the stream.”

Empire. Last week a few signs suggested that the stream was. changing its course. The solitary sandwich man bearing a banner reading “Churchill” who bumped into Prime Minister Chamberlain on his way to Parliament, the newspaper articles written by journalists who admired his style, the exasperated middle class outraged at too much muddling—these scarcely loomed big enough to conquer Mr. Chamberlain’s hostility, the lack of confidence of the people. Bigger news was that last week’s staggering events clarified in a stroke Churchill’s concept of the Empire, made understandable what had been puzzling and contradictory about it.

In his maiden speech 38 years ago Winston Churchill stated his credo and praised the Boers he had been fighting: “It must be made clear to these brave and unhappy men (the Boers) that, whenever they are ready to recognize that their small independence must be merged with the larger liberties of the Empire, there will be a full guarantee for the security of their property and religion, an assurance of equal rights . . . and what the British Army would most readily accord a brave and enduring foe—all the honors of war.” Responsibilities of Empire he considered great; if nations under the British Crown could be healthy and happy “the cause of the poor and the weak all over the world will have been sustained: everywhere small peoples will have more room to breathe; and everywhere great empires will be encouraged by our example to step forward into the sunshine of a more gentle and a more generous age.”

With this concept of rule the philosophy of Nazi Germany was despicable to him: “Germany,” he said, “is a place where a small band of ferocious men rose from the depths to dictatorship, there to take away the guarantee of life, law and liberty.” To associate British democracy with Nazi methods meant the destruction of all that the Empire ever meant: “That power which burns Christian ethics, which cheers its onward progress with barbarous paganism, which vaunts the spirit of aggression and conquest, which derives strength and pleasure from perverted persecution and uses the threat of murderous force—that power cannot ever be a trusted friend of British democracy.”

Munich. To Churchill, the military man, the loss of Czecho-Slovakia was bad enough; to Churchill, the political moralist it was frightful. Coming after the abdication crisis (when Churchill had attacked Prime Minister Baldwin, been hauled down in the House), the Munich pact unnerved him as the World War never had. “The blow has been struck!” he cried, and as he harped steadily on its enormity, brooded over Britain falling into the power orbit and influence of Nazi Germany,” the stories that Winston Churchill was passing out of public life flourished in the first post-Munich relief.

His anguish of mind was not so great, however, that he could not find time to write one more book (bringing his total, including the six volumes of his masterpiece, Marlborough, a biography of his famed warrior ancestor, to 19); to write articles, lecture, gamble, and swell his income to around $100,000 a year, to potter around his estate at “Chartwell,” where he relaxes by putting up small brick buildings—he once belonged to a bricklayers’ union—to play a little polo, paint tolerable landscapes which he exhibited under the name of “Charles Marin,” and to organize a group of some 30 Tory M.P.s who challenged Prime Minister Chamberlain’s foreign policy.

Cabinet. Last week’s news of the German-Russian Pact put Mr. Churchill in his best vein, inspired a note of confidence he has scarcely expressed so firmly since the Boer War. Gone in an instant were the generous ideals and humane motives that Communism professed to accept, vindicated in the same instant were: 1) his distrust of Russia, 2) his fear of Germany, 3) his criticisms of the Prime Minister’s delay, 4) his attacks on Munich as paving the way for a new crisis. Vindicated above all was his vision of the ideal British Empire as a force for social progress, an ideal undermined by 20 years of jeers from the Left, indifference from the Right.

Visiting General Gamelin in France when news of the pact broke, Elder Statesman Churchill caught a plane for Croydon, dashed off a brilliant article for the London Daily Mirror, At the Eleventh Hour, on his way home. “Along all frontiers hundreds of thousands of men, armed with the most deadly weapons ever known, and behind them millions more, await the dread signal. There is only one man who can give it. There he sits, torn by passion and foreboding, by appetites and fears, with his finger moving toward a button which—if he presses it—will explode what is left of civilization. . . . But the choice is still open. There is no truth in the plea that Hitler has gone too far to start over. By a single impulse of will power he could regain solid foundations of health and sanity. … If there is friendly action we will match it on our side. If there is renewed aggression we will make war.”

Whether his spirit would put Winston Churchill in the Cabinet was dwarfed by bigger questions last week: certainly Britain’s ruling class still considers him brilliant, erratic, unsafe; certainly Prime Minister Chamberlain would regard his entry as a major calamity. But in or out, Cabinet Minister or M. P. for Epping, Winston Churchill served last week as a symbol of British democracy, as an oppositionist of the kind that totalitarian governments cannot endure.

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