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Through War & Peace

35 minute read

Through War & Peace

Starting with superb confidence, the 20th Century plunged vigorously forward from ambush to ambush.

Other ages may have suffered greater agonies; none suf fered greater surprises. Much that seemed for the best turned out for the worst. Germany’s progress led to Sarajevo and later to Buchenwald. Japan’s progress became Pearl Harbor. The overthrow of the Czar became Communist dictatorship. The greatest triumphs of capitalism fell prey to socialism and bureaucracy. Science led to Hiroshima.

Shock after shock threw civilization into confusion. As the 20th Century plunged on, long-familiar bearings were lost in the mists of change. Some of the age’s great leaders called for more & more speed ahead; some tried to reverse the course. Winston Churchill had a different function: his chief contribution was to warn of rocks ahead, and to lead the rescue parties. He was not the man who designed the ship; what he did was to launch the lifeboats. That a free world survived in 1950, with a hope of more progress and less calamity, was due in large measure to his exertions. A Pardon from Napoleon. Churchill first came to public attention as the victim of an ambush and he never forgot the lesson. As a correspondent with British forces in the Boer War, he accepted an invitation to join a rash reconnaissance by armored railway train into enemy territory. The Boers waylaid the train. Churchill managed to get some wounded men to safety and started back alone toward his besieged comrades. A mounted Boer (Louis Botha, who later became Prime Minister of the Union of South Africa, and Churchill’s good friend) rode up, aiming a rifle. Churchill remembers that what went through his mind then was a magnanimous statement of Napoleon: “When one is alone and unarmed, a surrender may be pardoned.” Whether or not his sense of history was already that active, Churchill did surrender. But his life (and the half-century) was to be full of pleasant as well as unpleasant surprises. Within five weeks he made a hair-raising escape from the Boer prison at Pretoria, walked unnoticed through the crowded town, hid all day in a copse tenanted by a large vulture, stumbled upon the only English settlement in 20 miles, and was smuggled under a carload of wool to safety in Portuguese territory. All Britain acclaimed Churchill as a national hero. Late in 1900, the hero was elected a Tory member of the House of Commons. There, three weeks after Victoria’s death had opened the new era, he rose, inwardly quaking and outwardly calm, to make his first speech. His subject: the Boer War. He favored reinforcement of the army in South Africa, but his main point was to urge civil rather than military government of conquered areas. He wanted “to make it easy and honorable for the Boers to surrender, and painful and perilous for them to continue in the field.”

These Churchillian themes would recur in succeeding decades: no appeasement of the armed enemy; no revenge on the beaten enemy; no military encroachments on civilian responsibility; look ahead to what you want and remember that every action has consequences which affect the goal. In short, Churchill at 26 was already a serious politician.

One day in 1904 he entered the House, bowed to the Speaker, and turned his back upon the Conservative benches. He sat down in the front row of the Opposition, next to the Liberal David Lloyd George. Churchill joined the Liberals because they were for free trade. Some Conservative leaders were veering toward protective tariffs, an early surge of the 20th Century’s economic nationalism. In 1904 few foresaw that Conservatives, Socialists, Communists, Fascists (and U.S. Republicans and Democrats) were to build higher & higher national trade barriers, strangling commerce, living standards and freedom.

Shifts & Stirrings.

Outside of Britain, the block of years 1900-14 brought more important shifts and stirrings:

Wherever industrial machinery went it brought a new prosperity to the middle class — and rebellion or unrest among the workers, even when it raised their standard of living. The industrial proletariat of the great European cities drifted away from Christianity. In 1891 Pope Leo XIII solemnly warned against the unrestrained abuses of capitalism and against the Socialist remedy for them. By & large, the abuses went uncorrected. By 1914 12,000,000 Socialists were affiliated with the Second International; in Germany the Socialists were the largest party.

U.S. unrest took a less definite, more subtle form. The strong moral element in the American character was brought to bear on the new social and economic issues. S. S. McClure and his muckrakers exposed evil in politics and business. William Jennings Bryan, declaiming against the money power of the Eastern cities, found his most responsive audience in the rural churches. Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft and Woodrow Wilson, each in a very different way, tried to deal with the restless discontent. They deflected currents which were to flow more strongly another day.

In 1905, Japan, with the full approval of Teddy Roosevelt and progressive men everywhere, humbled Russia. No one noticed that this broke a chain of victories by Christians over non-Christian nations, stretching back to Lepanto in 1571. No one foresaw that the real effects of Russia’s defeats would be 1) to tip the scale in the struggle between Japanese democrats and militarists in favor of the latter and 2) to break the confidence in Russia’s rulers and lead to the revolution of 1905 — the dress rehearsal for 1917. From the fall of Port Arthur one line led straight to Pearl Harbor; another led straight to Lenin.

Dr. Sun Yat-sen hurried home from Denver to take charge of the revolt which brought down China’s Manchu dynasty in 1912. Western techniques and ways of thought had torn the threads of the old society and the West looked upon the fall of the Manchus as a forward step. It turned out, however, to be easier for Western influence to destroy an alien society than to rebuild. Dr. Sun’s fires were caught by strong breezes; in 1950 they were still burning.

Mexico’s revolution was regarded by the outside world as a comic nuisance. It was, however, part of the deep stirring of “backward” peoples everywhere which was to be characteristic of the century. Not the least poignant of ‘the era’s surprises was the flowering of its greatest art movement in the soil of the Mexican revolution; Rivera, Orozco and Siqueiros were culturally about as far as possible from Paris salons.

Crusades & Soup Kitchens.

In Britain, the Liberal Party was the first channel of those who sought State help against the rigors of capitalism. Sidney and Beatrice Webb and their Fabians went further than the Liberals: they worked for gradual change toward the socialist state. (The grade turned out to be steeper than they thought.)

Churchill, as president of the Board of Trade (1908-10)* and Home Secretary (1910-11), was in the front ranks of the early Liberal drive for social security. He fought for old-age pensions and a job-finding service for the unemployed. But even in those Liberal salad days there were limits beyond which Churchill would not go. Offered the Local Government Board (now part of the Health Ministry), he recoiled: “I decline to be shut up in a soup kitchen with Mrs. Sidney Webb!”

The Smoking Volcano.

Like its successor, World War I came slowly, but more stealthily. There was no Hitler screaming in the Sportpalast, no Mussolini popping his eyeballs from a balcony of the Palazzo Venezia. International affairs before World War I were in the hands of gentlemen, trained diplomatists all. With great technical brilliance, they poulticed inflamed crises again & again with the salve of compromise.

The root of the trouble went deep. Germany had come late to nationalism and industrialization, late to the feast of trade and colonies — late but with a hearty appetite.’German steel production equaled Britain’s by 1892, doubled it by 1910. The Prussian power cult had thrived in a poor land, now enriched by progress. Limitless expansion and conquest seemed to lie ahead. Germany’s threatening moves from 1900 to 1914 drove old rivals — Britain, France and Russia — into one another’s arms.

Churchill explained the Kaiser’s-restlessness: “All he wished was to feel like Napoleon, and be like him without having had to fight his battles … If you are the summit of a volcano, the least you can do is to smoke. So he smoked, a pillar of cloud by day and the gleam of fire by night, to all who gazed from afar; and slowly and surely these perturbed observers gathered and joined themselves together for mutual protection.”

The Will to Suffer.

In 1911 Churchill was appointed First Lord of the Admiralty. He plunged wholeheartedly into the navy’s fathomless sea of details, visited every major naval installation in the British Isles and the Mediterranean. “I could put my hand on anything that was wanted,” he recalls. He knew how to put the technicalities into memorable metaphors. In a 1914 debate on naval estimates, he told the House of Commons: “If you want a true picture in your mind of a battle between great modern ironclad ships, you must not think of it as if it were two men in armor striking at each other with heavy swords. It is more like a battle between two eggshells striking at each other with hammers.”

Churchill gives this picture of the summer of 1914: “The world on the verge of its catastrophe was very brilliant. Nations and Empires crowned with princes and potentates rose majestically on every side, lapped in the accumulated treasures of the long peace. All were fitted and fastened — it seemed securely — into an immense cantilever. The two mighty European systems faced each other glittering and clanking in their panoply, but with a tranquil gaze . . . But there was a strange temper in the air … Almost one might think the world wished to suffer . . .”

Danton v. Maxim.

The world did not wish nor foresee the suffering of 1914-18. Blindly, the peoples acquiesced in the war. When on Aug. 4 the roll was called in the German Reichstag, Socialists, who were supposed to be pacifists and internationalists, voted war appropriations to the Kaiser. On this day socialism and nationalism began their long, turbulent and unexpected marriage; in the 20th Century’s second quarter, the offspring of this union were to dominate politics in Italy, Germany, Russia and even France, Britain, and the U.S.

The generals of 1914 knew as little as the peoples about what lay ahead. By a triumph of indoctrination, the French army, from marshal to private, was imbued with the spirit of the offensive, which was just Danton’s toujours de I’audace expressed in human flesh. Bands playing, the French soldiers, fine targets in red-and-blue uniforms, hurled themselves on the German lines in Lorraine. Machine guns mowed them down. The New England-born inventor, Hiram Maxim, had overruled Danton. The German generals were surprised, too. Their Schlieffen plan, a wheel through Belgium toward Paris, was expected to knock out France in six weeks. It swung short of the objective. Trenches were dug from Switzerland to the sea, and a four-year siege of war which neither side sought or foresaw developed.

Out of the horror and futility of the trenches was born a new feeling that war in all circumstances is futile and evil. This pacifism suffused the minds of a whole generation in the West; it was to ease the path for Hitler’s and Mussolini’s early aggressions. The casualties of World War I trench warfare (4,000,000 died on the Western Front) were only a part of the horror. The rats, the lice, the slime were utter degradation to the most cleanly and comfortably reared generation of men the world had ever known. Former wars had been fought by professional soldiers or by men whose hazardous and squalid peacetime lives almost equaled the hazards and squalor of war. The generation of World War I thought that it had progressed beyond the old dangers. The pacifist poet, Siegfried Sassoon, understood that the horror lay in a shocking contrast:

/ see them in foul dugouts, gnawed by rats,

And in the ruined trenches, lashed with rain,

Dreaming of things they did with balls and bats,

And mocked by hopeless longing to regain

Bank-holidays, and picture-shows, and spats,

And going to the office in the train.-

Churchill looked upon the Western Front as an immense trap. The military men, he said, “had no policy but the policy of exhaustion.” He emphatically agreed with France’s Georges Clemenceau — that “war is too serious a matter to be left to the generals.”

Uncle to Tanks & Socialism.

Early in the war, Churchill suggested “interposing a thin plate of steel” to protect troops from machine-gun fire. He ordered experimental tanks in 1915. The paternity of the tank is disputed; Churchill is at least its uncle.

His other major effort to end the Western Front deadlock was the Dardanelles campaign, later known by a tragic name — Gallipoli. He wanted to force the Dardanelles, knock Turkey out of the war, tip the Balkan states to the side of the Allies and open a supply line through the Black Sea to exhausted Russia. Gallipoli was bungled by lack of coordination between the services and a piecemeal, too-little, too-late scale of attack. Churchill got the blame. He was fired from the Admiralty in May 1915 and six months later was dropped from the cabinet. For the next six months he saw trench warfare at firsthand as a lieutenant colonel in France. After Lloyd George became Prime Minister, he called Churchill back to head the Munitions Ministry in 1917. There Churchill presided over the amazingly successful production machinery that Lloyd George himself had set up. This all-out industrial mobilization (including nationalized factories) was to have consequences which neither Churchill nor Lloyd George foresaw. In all countries the prodigies of wartime achievement by national governments left a deep impression in which socialism and the welfare state later flourished. In 1933 New Dealers justified themselves, not with the tenets of orthodox socialism but with the slogan, “Let’s fight the depression as we fought the war.”

Churchill as mobilizer of two great national defense efforts unwittingly contributed more than all the Fabians to the triumph of the socialist state.

A Bacillus & a Moralist.

The greatest triumph of the all-powerful national socialist state came in 1917. Russian authority was broken less by an upsurge from below than by a rotting away at the top. The Czar and a large part of his court were so incompetent that the monk, Rasputin, a greasy sexual athlete, exercised more influence between 1912 and 1916 than any man in Russia. The confused, divided and frivolous Russian aristocracy had no idea of what was about to hit them. The Czar’s last Premier, Count Golitsyn, said that he took the job in order “to have one more pleasant memory.”

The Germans sent Lenin back to Russia (“like a plague bacillus,” said Churchill) to help the Revolution along. On Nov. 7 Lenin walked on to the platform of the Supreme Soviet, after removing his wig, and said: “We will now proceed to construct the proletarian socialist society.”

The U.S. entry into the war far overbalanced the Russian defection. At first, Wilson (and the American people) had blamed both sides, assuming their own moral superiority to all of the combatants. When he did decide to go to war, Wilson announced his objectives on moral grounds: to re-establish international law upon the seas from which Allied and neutral ships were being driven by German submarines and “to make the world safe for democracy.”

Mrs. Edith Wharton, the novelist, remembered Nov. n, 1918: “Through the deep, expectant hush we heard, one after another, all the bells of Paris calling to each other . . . We had fared so long on the thin diet of hope deferred that for a moment or two our hearts wavered and doubted. Then like the bells, they swelled to bursting, and we knew the war was over.” Out of the mud came the men who had sung of Madelon and Mademoiselle from Armentieres and of how far it was to Tipperary. They thought they had made the world safe for democracy. They, and all the world, turned to Woodrow Wilson; he would make real the dream of peace.

He failed. Nationalism, which had been one of the great progressive forces of the 19th Century, had grown to the point where nations would not limit their sovereignty, even in the hope of escaping war. And Wilson himself dwelt in a self-righteous personal isolation unbecoming to a champion of collective security. He insisted that only Democrats could properly support his efforts of war & peace in Congress. Churchill said of him: “If Wilson had been either simply an idealist or a caucus politician, he might have succeeded. His attempt to run the two in double harness was the cause of his undoing . . . That was his ruin, and the ruin of much else as well. It is difficult for a man to do great things if he tries to combine a lambent charity embracing the whole world with the sharper forms of populist party strife.”

Churchill played no great part in the Peace Conference. He deplored its failure to make peace on the principles he had recommended for the Boer War. The terms the victors gave Germany were neither generous nor safe. Churchill called the reparation clauses “malignant and silly.”

The Allies made him their agent in an effort to crush the Bolsheviks. It would not have been a difficult job then; the Reds controlled only about 20% of the Czar’s old territories. But the world was sick of war. Communists led a mutiny in a French fleet sent to the Black Sea to help the Russian Whites. After a desultory struggle, which Churchill called “a war of few casualties and unnumbered executions,” the Allies gave up and the Communists won by default. Not their own strength, but the weakness and indecision of their enemies brought them to power and saved their skins.

The Demon Rum.

In a sense Europe never recovered from World War I. The old sense of unity, stability and confidence had been buried in the trenches. The U.S. went through a similar experience. In the midst of prosperity greater than it had ever known, it began to doubt itself more deeply than ever before. The political muckrakers of Teddy Roosevelt’s day had been succeeded by a brilliant group of muckrakers of the spirit. Sinclair Lewis, John Dos Passes, Ernest Hemingway asserted the barrenness and hypocrisy of American life.

The weird controversy over Prohibition contributed to American disunity and self-doubt. Prohibition had not been solely the achievement of frustrated rural preachers, as H. L. Mencken & friends suggested. It had substantial support among industrialists, social workers, educators. Harvard’s Charles W. Eliot at the age of 90 wrote in 1924: “I have become convinced that cheap alcohol threatens the existence of the white race.” He especially decried the combination of alcohol and prostitution “resulting from the brothel or from the newer method of telephone assignation.” Probably, in 1920, a majority of thoughtful Americans believed that Prohibition would work. It did, for a while. Its success had been connected with the war-born idea that governments were responsible for everything and could do everything; its failure came out of a war-born loosening of discipline and a more feverish tempo of life.

F. Scott Fitzgerald and the newspaper moralists described the ‘203 as one long drunken stagger. The actuality was considerably less lurid. The ‘203 played golf, listened to the radio and sang When My Baby Smiles at Me, It Ain’t Gonna Rain No More, and I’m Sitting on Top of the World. More solid suburban homes than silver hip flasks were sold in that decade. Even so, the fact that millions of Americans believed that millions of others were living in Babylonian depravity helped to undermine moral confidence.

In one sector — business — the American people thought they had nothing to worry about. Henry Ford’s mass production of automobiles had blossomed into the economic wonder of all time. The industry produced 896,000 cars in 1915, 1,906,000 in 1920 and 5,358,000 in 1929. The rest of business tried to keep pace, although home construction began to slip in 1926 and farm income lagged behind.

By the mid-’20s the American businessman had almost lived down the stigma of selfishness attached to him in the early years of the century. He had invented “service,” had come honestly to believe that the justification for his existence was what he contributed to the community. (In 1950 he still believed it, and was ridiculed by his European brethren for his conviction.) Service and rising living standards and more & more production seemed to be progressing toward a materialist Nirvana.

When the stock market broke, it was not just another panic, so familiar in American history. The others had been more or less expected; this one was the end of a dream.

Elsewhere other dreams were ending. In Britain the shame of the dole, the misery of the depressed areas, settled, like coal dust, on the power and glory and glitter of the Empire. Churchill went back to the Tory Party in 1925. From 1924 to 1929 he served as Chancellor of the Exchequer. To this post he brought his amazing administrative ability and his infirm grasp of the decimal system (“those damn little dots”). He put Britain back on the gold standard (1925) and helped break the General Strike of 1926. It was not one of his better decades; in 1922 he was even beaten for Parliament by a Mr. Scrim-geour, a Prohibitionist and Christian Socialist who had unsuccessfully contested the seat at Dundee against Churchill in five elections since 1908.


The 19303 brought more surprises and upheavals. Some of them:

In 1931 Japan grabbed Manchuria in the first major postwar aggression in defiance of the League of Nations. Within ten years Japan organized Manchurian raw materials and manpower into an industrial asset without which she would not have dared attack the U.S. The implications of this feat stretch beyond 1950; the Communists, who seized control of almost all China in 1949, have a parallel opportunity.

In Germany, Hitler took power. In the U.S., Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal achieved victory, if not definition. Its underlying thrust was the same vague, restless force which Theodore Roosevelt had met with the Square Deal and Wilson with the New Freedom. This force was multiplied by the calamities of 1929-33: farm riots, .bank closings, apple-selling unemployed-and the U.S.’s least glorious military action, the assault on the bonus marchers at Anacostia. Also multiplied by the depression was the old self-doubt troubling the conscience of U.S. business. In Roosevelt’s Hundred Days, businessmen rushed to Government like wet chicks to a hen, sheltering under the wings of Hugh Johnson’s NRA Blue Eagle. The early New Deal’s immense and contradictory activity generated an impression of constructive action. One of the pleasanter surprises of the aoth Century was how rapidly confidence and normal business life began to revive. The New Deal did not lick the depression, which lingered until rearmament, but it did lick the creeping chaos of 1932. The New Deal exchanged part of the American dream of opportunity for a new and perhaps more illusory dream of security. Most of the nation loved the warmhearted, skillful, and sometimes fuzzy-minded politician who had presided over the exchange. EURJ U.S. union labor, moribund in the ‘203 and feverishly feeble until 1933, got a boost from Roosevelt. Sit-down strikes (“When they tie a can to a union man, sitdown, sit-down”) established unions in the automobile industry. As 1949 ended there were 16 million members of U.S. unions — five times as many as in 1933. Huey Long proved that the U.S. was not safe against Fascism. His Share Our Wealth Society promised to make “Every Man a King.” Huey blamed the people’s woes on the big money interests. His followers sang:

Black Sheep, Wall Street, have you any


Yes, sir; yes, sir, all I can hold. Thanks to the New Deal I’ve made a

billion more And I’ve stuck it all away in my little

chain store.

Huey was becoming a national menace when he was assassinated in 1935; in 1949 his followers and his ideas were still lurking in the back alleys of U.S. politics.

Spain, an anachronism, finally came face to face with igth Century democracy, and immediately thereafter with 20th Century Communism and Fascism. As the resultant civil war wore on, Germany and Italy intervened more & more openly to help Francisco Franco; Moscow’s Communists used terrorists to fasten their grip on the Loyalists. It ended with a civil war within a civil war; the Loyalist hero of Madrid, Jose Miaja, fought his Communist allies in the streets as the Fascists closed in for the kill. The confusion of the world’s liberals was extreme; by default, they let the Communists take over the Loyalist cause, then the liberals stood in gape-mouthed admiration for Communist initiative.

In 1936 France’s Communists took the lead in organizing a Popular Front with the nationalist slogan, “For a free, strong and happy France.” The world’s liberals were misled again. Most of them thought the Communists fine fellows; some liberals changed this opinion after the 1939 Hitler-Stalin pact; some needed the stern lessons in Communist aggression that 1946-49 was to bring.

Gandhi, beginning his nonviolent resistance in 1920, had by the ‘305 created a force in India to which the British government had to bow. Laborite Ramsay Mac-Donald and Tory Stanley Baldwin began the British retreat. Churchill, breaking with Baldwin on the issue, stayed in the Tory Party, disgruntled and almost alone, about to take up his greatest work.

The Wasted Years?

By this time Churchill was four men, working in close partnership from 1930 to 1950. The personal Churchill was happy, reveling in the good things of life, both the simple and the complex. He laid bricks and built dams at his country home, enjoyed the best food and sampled, thoroughly, the best brandy. From painting, for years his main hobby, he derived “a tremendous new pleasure.” Only Winston Churchill could have said: “Painting a picture is like fighting a battle … It is the same kind of problem as unfolding a long, sustained, interlocked argument.” Churchill’s happiness is an important element in his political leadership. The forces of dictatorship are pessimistic and sullen. Churchill loves freedom partly because he has got so much fun out of it. As Lord Birkenhead once said: “Mr. Churchill is easily satisfied with the best.”

Churchill the journalist maintained a fairly high average of quality, and his quantitative achievement was prodigious. During the ‘303, which friendly biographers have called his “wasted years,” he averaged a million words (equivalent to ten novel-length books) a year.

Churchill the historian in the ‘203 wrote The World Crisis, professionally regarded as the best account of World War I. His Marlborough is not just a tribute to a famous ancestor. It abounds with new glimpses of an age with many lessons for the 20th Century.

Churchill the politician has the other three, especially the historian, working for him. He is not obsessed with the past, but with the application of the past to the present and future. The business of a serious politician is to foretell; he uses history as an instrument of prophecy.


Churchill spotted Hitler early as the main enemy of Britain and of civilization. He also foresaw that the crucial point of danger would be met when Germany’s air power overhauled Britain’s. In & out of the House of Commons Churchill began to hammer this home. Out of sheer apathy, the Tories ignored him. The Laborites, out of a deeply ingrained pacifism, did the same. Both parties pursued disarmament in the teeth of Hitler’s rising might. In 1932, Churchill said: “Do not [believe] that all Germany is asking for is equal status … All these bands of sturdy Teutonic youths . . . are not looking for status. They are looking for weapons.”

When Hitler occupied and fortified the Rhineland in 1936, Churchill’s strategic sense told him that the danger lay in Eastern Europe, now that Germany’s western border was safe against invasion. Germany was free to turn upon Austria, Czechoslovakia and Poland, which became the three major steps to war. Churchill, who knew Hitler could have been stopped in the Rhineland, calls World War II “the Unnecessary War.”

In the Czech crisis, he saw clearly that nothing could be done without cooperation between the West and Russia. When Chamberlain came home from Munich with “Peace for our time,” Churchill called it by its right name: “A total and unmitigated defeat.”-Churchill’s warnings had two effects of transcendent importance: i) they speeded up expansion of the R.A.F. to the point that saved Britain, 2) they left Churchill with a clear record, giving the free world a man to trust, after so many other leaders stood disgraced by unpreparedness and appeasement.

On Sept. 3, 1939, His Majesty’s ships on the seven seas cheered a signal from the Admiralty’s Sea Lords: “Winston is back.” The disasters of early 1940 had finished Chamberlain. Calling in Churchill and Lord Halifax, he told them that a coalition government had to be formed. Labor Party leaders would not serve under other Conservatives tainted with appeasement; the new Prime Minister had to be either Churchill or Halifax. For once, the voluble Churchill was silent. For a long minute he stared fixedly into space until Halifax modestly declined the task. Churchill, at 65, had attained the supreme responsibility at a moment of supreme crisis. He thought that was just as it should be: “As I went to bed at about 3 a.m. I was conscious of a profound sense of relief . . . Impatient for the morning, I slept soundly and had no need for cheering dreams. Facts are better than dreams.”

What Churchill said and did thereafter is still famous and fresh in the world’s memory. Some of the passages of his wartime speeches are as ready to the tongue of 1950 as anything in Shakespeare, and the deeds to which he was a party are still better known.

“What Will the People Think?” From his study of Marlborough’s times (in which some British leaders dealt secretly with the enemy, France, and thereby consolidated Britain’s reputation as “perfidious Albion”), Churchill brought a deep sense of the moral and political necessity of good faith between wartime allies. Although he was never misled about Communism’s character or ultimate aims, he dealt loyally with his ally, Stalin. Through the darkest months, working more & more closely with Roosevelt, Churchill hoped for and expected that an even greater ally, the U.S., would come in. This dream might never have come true but for dreams on the other side of the world.

Japan had dreamed of progress and her course had been unprecedented in history. In a single century this isolated, feudal realm, with meager natural resources, had become master of the East. It held half of China, and was wearing down the long, masterly defense of Chiang Kaishek. All seemed clear sailing ahead, except for U.S. insistence that Japanese troops get out of Indo-China.

To deal with that, a Japanese task force left Kure harbor in mid-November 1941. Iki Kuramoto, a Japanese sailor, has left a record of how it seemed from his side:

“Finally the navigation officer . . . told us we were to make a surprise attack on Hawaii… At last Japan would be at war with Britain and the U.S.A. … A dream come true! What will the people at home think when they hear the news? Won’t they be excited!”

Not, it turned out, as excited as the

Americans were. In the succeeding four years they mobilized 14,000,000 men, built 4,900 merchant ships, sent 76,000 planes overseas with 2,000,000 tons of bombs.

Soon Japan’s sun — and Hitler’s — began to set. Already Montgomery’s Eighth Army had captured the song Lili Marlene from the Afrika Korps. At Stalingrad, Guadalcanal, Sicily, the dictators took the road back. The German generals who had been amazed at Hitler’s political successes of the ‘303, amazed again at their own easy victories of 1940-41, were amazed once more that their invincible troops could not hold their ground. Hitler was even amazed at the best-advertised fact in military history: Russian winters are cold.

Poison & Guilt.

When his Atlantic Wall was breached, Hitler’s only hope was a rift between his Eastern and Western enemies. They held together — at the stiff (and probably unnecessary) price to the West of a compromise of moral principle at Yalta. Stalin might have taken Manchuria and Poland without the Yaltese benison; but at Yalta he got something more important than territory: proof that the West did not have enough sense to distrust him.

So Hitler, with his blowzy mistress, died in a Berlin bunker and the first half of the 20th Century survived its greatest scourge. The man had used the most novel weapons of science and persuasion to revive the oldest and darkest human passions. He was the awful, ultimate answer to i goo’s smug belief that change always moved in an upward direction. He was the proof that progress is poison as well as food, that evil is ineradicable and that safety is the most foolish of all foolish human hopes.

After he died, it became the fashion to think of Hitler and the Nazis as some inexplicable variation from normal mankind. The fact was that Germany stood near the peak of Western civilization, and Hitler, every inch a German, carried the bulk of his people with him into crime. The depths to which Germans had descended would not be impossible for Russians, Britons or Americans — if they managed to achieve sufficiently bad political leadership and a sufficiently reckless disregard of moral law. Hitler systematically, scientifically slaughtered 6,000,000 Jews, a fact which the world learned after the war. But before the war, he had clearly shown that he would do this if he got a chance — and most of the world, German and non-German, had received these tidings with no great indignation. War guilt was not confined to the aggressors, and not all of the guilty were tried at Niirnberg.

With Victory, the Veto.

As Hitler’s defeat became certain, the victors gathered at San Francisco to build a new and better league of nations — “peace-loving nations,” the phrase went. A charter, sharply restricted by the Big Power veto, emerged from San Francisco. The veto, it was agreed, would be used sparingly, a word that turned out to have different meanings in English and Russian; up to the end of 1949, the Russians have used the veto 43 times in the United Nations Security Council.

The intense nationalism that led to the veto was even proof against atomic bombs. The U.S.S.R. steadily refused to enter international atomic control agreements containing provision for genuine inspection and enforcement. By 1949 the Russians became able to make atomic bombs, and the hope of atomic agreement faded further.

In July 1945, Britain held its first general election in ten years. Churchill has described the surprising result: “I acquired [in 1940] the chief power in the State, which … I wielded in ever-growing measure for five years and three months of world war, at the end of which time, all our enemies having surrendered unconditionally, or being about to do so, I was immediately dismissed by the British electorate from all further conduct of their affairs.” Britain at that point preferred Clement Attlee (Churchill called him: “That sheep in sheep’s clothing”) and his Socialists, who continued the grim, grey wartime regime of “fair shares for all” — and not much for anybody.

Attlee presided resolutely over the partial dissolution of the Empire on which Churchill cast a Cassandra eye: “It is with deep grief that I watch the clattering down of the British Empire, with all its glories and all the services it has rendered to mankind.” It was too late for such regrets. Asians were determined to break the imperialist tether even at the risk of chaos and subsequent Communist control. In April 1949, Chinese Reds fired on British naval vessels in the Yangtze River; anti-Communists in Korea, Hong Kong and Shanghai hung pictures of the wounded ships in their homes to celebrate Britain’s humiliation.

Asian nationalists had little else to celebrate. The Communist imperialists in China had reached the borders of Indo-China. Burma was in turmoil, Malaya restive. Indonesians and Dutch had finally patched up a hopeful peace. India seemed to be groping its way toward stable nationhood. But the Communist menace hung over all the East, the gravest long-range threat to the world’s peace.

In March 1946 Churchill performed one of his greatest services for Western civilization in a speech at Fulton, Mo. He flourished his membership card in the union of practicing prophets: “Last time I saw it all coming and cried aloud to my own fellow countrymen and to the world, but no one paid any attention.” He said: “There is nothing [the Russians] admire so much as strength, and there is nothing for which they have less respect than for weakness, especially military weakness . . . If the Western democracies stand together in strict adherence to the principles of the United Nations Charter, their influence for furthering those principles will be immense, and no one is likely to molest them. If, however, they become divided or falter in their duty and if these all-important years are allowed to slip away — then indeed catastrophe may overwhelm us all.”

The Leadership of Freedom.

The Fulton speech defined the main issue hanging over the world as the half-century closed. Out of Fulton came the Marshall Plan, Western Union, the military aid program, the decline of the Communist threat to Western Europe, and the spirit of defiance that inspired the great airlift to Berlin in the teeth of the Russian blockade.

Harry Truman had been with Churchill at Fulton. He agreed with what Churchill said — but Harry Truman did not make the speech. He was another kind of politician, unsurpassed at guessing what the people wanted — as he was to prove in a memorable surprise on Nov. 2, 1948. Truman’s kind of leadership might not be able to mobilize the free world against ambushes ahead. Now that the center of power had shifted to Washington, a Churchill was needed there. But no Churchill was visible on the U.S. horizon, In 1941 he had warned: “Nothing is more dangerous in wartime than to live in the temperamental atmosphere of a Gallup poll, always feeling one’s pulse and taking one’s temperature. I see [it said that] leaders should keep their ears to the ground. All I can say is that the British nation will find it very hard to look up to leaders who are detected in that somewhat ungainly posture.” Leadership in the cold war called for more than Harry Truman’s exquisitely sensitive, ground-gripping ear.

As the half-century ended, Churchill was getting ready for his 13th British general election. He would fight it — as he had fought all his other great battles — on the issue of freedom. Churchill likes freedom. He has been with freedom on some of its darkest and brightest days.

*In 1908 Churchill married Clementine Hozier “and,” he reported, “lived happily ever afterwards.” Mrs. Webb noted that Churchill’s bride had no fortune, “which is to Winston’s credit.” Mrs. Webb had inherited money and, like other similarly fortunate 20th Century characters (including Franklin Roosevelt), she had a deep-seated prejudice against the accumulation of money by any other means.

*Writing in 1930, Churchill was to pay the Kaiser a compliment which was also a somber comment on the 20th Century: “Time has brought him a surprising and paradoxical revenge upon his conquerors . . . The greater part of Europe . . . would regard the Hohenzollern restoration . . . as a comparatively hopeful event . . . This is not because his own personal light burns the brighter . . . but because of the increasing darkness around. The victorious democracies in driving out hereditary sovereigns supposed they were moving on the path of progress. They have in fact gone further and fared worse.”

*Even Churchill, no pacifist, understood the revulsion to the trenches. In the midst of a World War II blitz a friend spoke disparagingly of pacifism; Churchill quoted pages of Sassoon to him.

*Clemenceau’s vintage flavor and color have been all but forgotten. After the war a French court asked him to suggest a sentence for a man who tried to assassinate him. Clemenceau was first inclined to let him go free, but then he had a second thought: “We have just won the most terrible war in history, yet here is a Frenchman who at point-blank range misses his target six times out of seven. I suggest that he be locked up for eight years, with intensive training in a shooting gallery.”

*Herbert Hoover, in lightsome vein, said that “the aspirations of the American people seem to have advanced from two chickens in every pot to two cars in every garage.” Some Republicans adopted this as a serious slogan. After the depression the phrase came home to roost as a bitter joke. But it was no joke in 1949 when U.S. automobile registrations were estimated at 35,750,000. California had 3,350,000 cars, about 20% more than the number of families in the State.

*An interlude in Churchill’s Cassandra years was his defense of King Edward VIII in the 1936 abdication crisis over Wallis Simpson. When the abdication was decided upon Churchill walked weeping from Buckingham Palace. He wrote Edward’s speech: “At long last . . .”

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