O que é este blog?

Este blog trata basicamente de ideias, se possível inteligentes, para pessoas inteligentes. Ele também se ocupa de ideias aplicadas à política, em especial à política econômica. Ele constitui uma tentativa de manter um pensamento crítico e independente sobre livros, sobre questões culturais em geral, focando numa discussão bem informada sobre temas de relações internacionais e de política externa do Brasil. Para meus livros e ensaios ver o website: www.pralmeida.org.

Mostrando postagens com marcador Andrew Roberts. Mostrar todas as postagens
Mostrando postagens com marcador Andrew Roberts. Mostrar todas as postagens

segunda-feira, 11 de fevereiro de 2019

Churchill, by Andrew Roberts - book review by Joao Carlos Espada

Mais uma resenha de um livro do qual já li outras resenhas – aqui postadas, por sinal – e vários trechos, a partir do que está livremente disponível na Amazon-Kindle.
Destaco um trecho, sobre os grandes erros de Churchill, para demonstrar que a nova biografia não é uma hagiografia, como destacado pelo resenhista, o prof. João Carlos Espada, um churchilliano português, diretor do Instituto de Estudos Políticos da Universidade Católica de Portugal, a quem conheci pessoalmente no quadro do Estoril Political Forum, do qual participei em 2017 e 2018.

The biographer provides a long list of mistakes throughout the whole book and, just in case the reader has missed any, there is a full page summary of them on page 966. It includes “his opposition to votes for women, continuing the Gallipoli operation after March 1915, rejoining the Gold Standard, supporting Edward VIII during the Abdication Crisis, mismanaging the Norway Campaign,  browbeating Stanislaw Mikolajczyk to accept the Curzon Line as Poland’s post-war frontier, making the ‘Gestapo’ speech during the 1945 general election campaign, remaining as prime minister after his stroke in 1953, and more besides.

Leiam a resenha abaixo.
Paulo Roberto de Almeida
Brasília, 11 de fevereiro de 2019

Andrew Roberts Takes the Measure of the Populist Aristocrat, Churchill

The obvious questions to be asked by the prospective reader of Andrew Roberts’ 1,105-page biography of Winston Churchill: Why another one? Could there be anything that has not yet been said or written about Churchill? If so, could there be enough to fill such an imposing volume?  
These questions are certainly pertinent and ought to be asked. But they ought not to prevent the reader from critically looking at this book. If one does so—and this reviewer frankly began it with a skeptical eye—one can hardly be disappointed. Churchill: Walking with Destiny is a page-turner, and it is full of new material that has not been previously available to Churchill scholars.
As Roberts acknowledges at the outset, he was the first historian to have “the gracious permission of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II . . . to have unfettered access to the whole of her father King George VI’s wartime diaries.” These of course include King George VI’s notes about his weekly lunches with Churchill during World War II. Roberts makes good use of these highly instructive notes and quotes them throughout the narrative.
Another source not previously used by biographers of Churchill is the recently published diaries of the Soviet ambassador to the Court of St. James, Ivan Maisky. It is indeed surprising the amount of relevant information that Roberts manages to extract from Maisky’s account. There are several other sources that the author was allowed to consult, including the visitors’ book at Chartwell (Churchill’s country house) and the minutes of the Other Club, which was founded by Churchill around 1911. 
On top of all this, Roberts manages to mobilize these tremendous sources (and many others, including the diaries of Mary Soames, Churchill’s youngest daughter, which are now at the Churchill Archives at Cambridge) into a well-paced narrative that is full of exciting passages—which matches  perfectly the venturesome spirit of Winston Churchill.
To Walk with Destiny Is Not to be Infallible 
This biography, moreover, does justice to its subtitle: “Walking with destiny.” We are reminded early on that Churchill, born in 1874, “had believed in his own destiny since at least the age of sixteen when he told a friend that he would save Britain from a foreign invasion.” In the Gathering Storm (1948), the first volume of his war memoirs, he wrote that upon his appointment as prime minister, he “felt as if I was walking with destiny.” Then Roberts lays out his intention in this work: to explore “the extraordinary degree to which in 1940 Churchill’s past life had indeed been a preparation for his leadership in the Second World War.”
This is no hagiography, since Roberts means to show that much of Churchill’s preparation came in the form of making mistakes. The biographer provides a long list of mistakes throughout the whole book and, just in case the reader has missed any, there is a full page summary of them on page 966. It includes “his opposition to votes for women, continuing the Gallipoli operation after March 1915, rejoining the Gold Standard, supporting Edward VIII during the Abdication Crisis, mismanaging the Norway Campaign,  browbeating Stanislaw Mikolajczyk to accept the Curzon Line as Poland’s post-war frontier, making the ‘Gestapo’ speech during the 1945 general election campaign, remaining as prime minister after his stroke in 1953, and more besides.” 
Doing things wrong is what somehow allowed Churchill to be right about “all three of the mortal threats posed to Western civilisation, by the Prussian militarists in 1914, the Nazis in the 1930s and 1940s and Soviet Communism after the Second World War.” 
Be it noted that the idea of “walking with destiny” could be misleading if it were dissociated from the reasons—moral, political, philosophical—that led Churchill to fight the crucial battles he fought. Some of his contemporaries described him as an opportunist and as one who craved fame. Roberts quotes many of these critical, sometimes very critical, appraisals of Winston from his school days to the very end of his life. Roberts acknowledges the self-regarding adventurer in Churchill; but that spirit of adventure was rooted in something else that gave it substance. This moral anchor, as it were, is described by Roberts as being twofold: Churchill’s defense of the specificity of the political traditions of the British Empire and of the English-speaking peoples; and his aristocratic background.
Roberts argues persuasively that Churchill’s aristocratic background gave him a sense of independence and self-confidence. That background, he says, “sits uncomfortably today with his image as the saviour of democracy, but had it not been for the unconquerable self-confidence of his caste background he might well have tailored his message to his political circumstances during the 1930s, rather than treating such an idea with disdain.”
Churchill, he adds, “never suffered from middle-class deference or social anxiety, for the simple reason that he was not middle-class, and what the respectable middle classes thought was not important to the child born at Blenheim [Palace].”
This immediately reminded me of my first visit to that splendid site (which Queen Anne had ordered built for Churchill’s ancestor, the Duke of Marlborough, as a reward for his military feats in 1705) in the early 1990s. I was struck by the magnificence of the place. And my first thought, which I still vividly remember, was that someone born at Blenheim Palace could not easily do as he was told—especially if the orders came from “that man,” the despicable corporal Hitler (or from Comrade Stalin, for that matter).
In other words, I think Churchill’s British (as contrasted with Continental European) aristocratic background gave him a sense of rebellion against arbitrary commands from centralized powers—though not necessarily against the opinions of the common people. In fact, as Roberts rightly emphasizes, Churchill always recommended that one should “trust the people.” Describing the political philosophy of his father, the statesman Randolph Churchill, Winston wrote:
He saw no reason why the old glories of Church and State, of King and Country, should not be reconciled with modern democracy; or why the masses of working people should not become the chief defenders of those ancient institutions by which their liberties and progress had been achieved.
According to Roberts, Churchill’s aristocratic background gave him also, or perhaps mainly, a sense of duty towards the people and the nation. Writes the biographer:
His political opinions essentially stemmed from Disraeli’s Young England movement of the 1840s, whose sense of noblesse oblige assumed eternal superiority but also instinctively appreciated the duties of the privileged towards the less well off. The interpretation Churchill gave to the obligations of aristocracy was that he and his class had a profound responsibility towards his country, which had the right to expect his lifelong service to it.
“Like a true aristocrat, [he] was no snob,” Roberts sagely points out. Recalling that Churchill’s closest friends were taken from a wide social circle, the biographer draws our attention to the remarkable episode retold in Churchill’s My Early Life (1930) of the visit Winston received at boarding school from his beloved nanny, Mrs. Everest, in 1892. The lad walked with her arm-in-arm throughout the school down to the railway station and “even had the courage to kiss her,” completely ignoring and defying his snobbish contemporaries.
This aristocratic dimension of Churchill was associated with some crucial political and moral ideas that he thought were worth fighting, and even dying, for. Preeminent among these was the man’s belief in a common “history of the English-speaking peoples,” and of course this became the title of his last book, published in four volumes in 1955, but in fact started in 1932. Churchill (whose mother was American, one should bear in mind) defined this common heritage at many occasions that Roberts duly acknowledges.
The Honor that Comes of Serving a Great Cause
Perhaps one of the most telling definitions was offered in the course of an address Churchill made at Harvard University in 1943, when he was awarded an honorary degree:
Law, language, literature—these are considerable factors. Common conceptions of what is right and decent, a marked regard for fair play, especially to the weak and poor, a stern sentiment of impartial justice, and above all the love of personal freedom. . . . If we are together, nothing is impossible. If we are divided all will fail. I therefore preach continually the doctrine of the fraternal association of our two peoples . . . for the sake of service to mankind and for the honour that comes to those who faithfully serve great causes.
A remarkable example of this common Anglo-American commitment to liberty and duty (as Edmund Burke put it) can be found in one seemingly small detail in this massive biography. It comes by way of a  personal letter that Churchill’s wife, Clementine, wrote to him in 1940, in which she said:
It seems that your Private Secretaries have agreed to behave like schoolboys and ‘take what is coming to them’ and then escape out of your presence shrugging their shoulders . . . I must confess that I have noticed a deterioration in your manner, and you are not so kind as you used to be. It is for you to give the orders and if they are bungled—except for the King, the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Speaker—you can sack anyone and everyone. Therefore with this terrific power you must combine urbanity, kindness and if possible Olympic calm. You used to quote ‘On ne règne sur les âmes que par le calme’. I cannot bear that those who serve the country and yourself should not love you as well as admire and respect you.
Roberts marvels, and leads us to marvel, that in a moment of great peril for the nation, and all free nations, “the British Prime Minister could be upbraided by his wife for being short tempered.” He adds that it was hardly likely anyone “was saying this to Churchill’s opposite number in the Reich Chancellery.” British ways, at their best, include an accountability that spares no one, however exalted. 

João Carlos Espada is director of the Institute for Political Studies at the Catholic University of Portugal and chairs the International Churchill Society of Portugal. His book The Anglo-American Tradition of Liberty: A View from Europe was published by Routledge in 2016 (paperback, 2018).

sábado, 9 de fevereiro de 2019

Resenha da nova biografia de Churchill por Andrew Roberts - Edward Short

Seleciono um trecho de um discurso de Winston Churchill falando ao povo britânico em meio à devastação, destruição e mortes provocadas pelos bombardeios nazistas durante a Segunda Guerra Mundial: 

I go about the country whenever I can escape for a few hours or for a day from my duty at headquarters, and I see the damage done by the enemy attacks; but I also see side by side with the devastation and amid the ruins, quiet, confident, bright, and smiling eyes, beaming with a consciousness of being associated with a cause far higher and wider than any human or personal issue. I see the spirit of an unconquerable people. I see a spirit bred in freedom, nursed in a tradition which has come down to us through the centuries, and which will surely at this moment, this turning-point in the history of the world, enable us to bear our part in such a way that none of our race who come after us will have any reason to cast reproach upon their sires.

Agora a resenha completa: 

Andrew Roberts’s masterly biography of Winston Churchill

City Journal, February 9, 2019

by Andrew Roberts (Viking, 1,152 pp., $40)

In his massive new biography of Winston Churchill, Andrew Roberts recounts how Major-General Sir James Edmonds, editor of the government’s official war history, helped Churchill compose The World Crisis, his history of the Great War, by supplying him with pertinent maps and documents, after which Churchill, striding up and down his study at Chartwell, his country house overlooking the Weald of Kent, would dictate his account of events to his secretary. For Edmonds, the experience was unforgettable.
I heard what seemed to be a spirit voice whispering to him, but the whispers were his own; he murmured each sentence over to see how it sounded before he dictated it. He took infinite pains to polish up his prose; after two or three typewritten versions, he would have four or five galley-proofs—an expensive business for his publishers . . . He has the soul of an artist.   
As to Churchill’s artistry, Evelyn Waugh had his doubts. While appreciative of Churchill’s desire to have his histories embody a certain “magnificence,” he also thought that his “historical writings . . . though highly creditable for a man with so much else to occupy him, do not really survive close attention.” Why? “He can seldom offer the keen, unmistakable aesthetic pleasure of the genuine artist.” T.S. Eliot was less unfavorable, convinced that Churchill’s “historical style possesses beauties that the charm of no other personality than his could give.” Moreover, he was “honester than Macaulay.” However, Eliot also saw how oratory colored Churchill’s writings, especially his biography of his ancestor, John Churchill, the Duke of Marlborough.
In a style formed by oratory, we must never expect intimacy; we must never expect the author to address us as individual readers, but always as members of a mob. The mob of course may be assumed to possess every intellectual and moral virtue, as mobs addressed by orators usually do; it may even be a select mob. That addressed in the pages of Marlborough is a kind of Whig-Tory amalgam, men of the world of course, used to good manners and to downright plain speaking, virtuous but tolerant of the morals of Restoration times; recognizing the importance of good blood, but a little cynical about ancient pedigrees . . . What is more important, however, than the particular constitution of the audience addressed by Mr. Churchill, is that characteristic of his kind of writing, which consists in constantly pitching the tone a little too high. At the end of a period we seem to observe the author pause for the invariable burst of hand-clapping.
Graham Greene was amusing about Churchill’s fondness for the magniloquent when he said, apropos Operations Torch, the Allied landing in Vichy-controlled Algiers and Morocco in 1942: “I imagine Churchill’s reference to the services of West Africa in the war was ironic.” (Churchill had said that the landing was “a majestic enterprise.”) For Greene, “As far as I can see their contribution has been confined to cowardice, complacency, inefficiency, illiteracy and thirst . . . People say the African is not yet ready for self-government. God knows whether he is or not: the Englishman here certainly isn’t.” Like many others, Malcolm Muggeridge thought that Churchill’s books might have more historical than artistic value—Churchill, after all, was so often the protagonist of the history he interpreted—but he was sure that The Second World War, even “more than The World Crisis will remain an imperishable monument to one who, in an age of littleness, has shown himself to be a great Englishman, a great European, and a great man.”
What sets Roberts apart from other Churchill biographers is not only his revisiting of Churchill’s greatness at a time when so many previously unreleased sources have been made available—especially the diaries of King George VI and the Soviet ambassador in London, Ivan Maisky—but the artistry with which he captures that greatness. One can see this in the verve with which he weaves together the strands of Churchill’s life, without compromising the drama inherent in its chronology. Here, we see Churchill’s abiding preoccupation with empire, his adoption of his father’s Tory Democracy, his love of what he called “the noble English sentence,” his dedication to the art of oratory, his bravery, his ebullience, his wit, his magnanimity, his fascination with history, and his prophetic understanding of the evil of Nazi tyranny, which so many around him wished to see as negotiable.
Roberts is brilliant as well on Churchill and Stalin. Realpolitik is not for the faint of heart, but that Churchill (of all men) should have had to keep mum about the Soviets’ cold-blooded murder of 14,000 Polish officers in 1940 in the Katyn forest outside Smolensk in order to keep Stalin and the Russian army trained on defeating Hitler makes for grimly fascinating reading. Speaking of his relationship with Stalin, Churchill once said, “If my shirt were taken off now, it would be seen that my belly is sore from crawling to that man. I do it for the good of the country, and for no other reason.” As Roberts remarks: “He felt the humiliation, and was widely criticized for it, especially when he shortly had to bully Britain’s brave Polish allies over their post-war frontiers with Russia, but Britain needed the Soviet Union to continue to win huge victories before Operation Overlord was launched in June.” Eliot, incidentally, acted from something of the same motivation when, as a director of Faber & Faber, he turned down George Orwell’s savage satire on the Stalinist state, Animal Farm(1945).
If the historian Robert Rhodes James looked at Churchill’s career before the Second World War and saw only failure, Roberts considers the career in full and shows it to have been one in which failure and greatness went hand in hand. Roberts portrays Churchill in all his complexity and contradiction, and his critical sympathy finds in these human qualities the stuff of greatness. In this regard, Roberts has followed the painters Walter Sickert, Sir John Lavery, and, most strikingly, William Orpen, whose portraits of Churchill bring out his essential complexity. Churchill himself thought Orpen’s portrait the most faithful ever done of him—an arresting preference, considering the meditative doubt and vulnerability that it depicts. But then, Churchill was never averse to good critics. His delight in the acerbic Field Marshal Brooke, with whom he had so many titanic battles in laying out Britain’s military strategy during the war, is a case in point. “When I thump the table and put my face towards him what does he do? Thumps the table harder and glares back at me. I know these Brookes—stiff-backed Ulstermen and there’s no one worse to deal with than that!” On nearly every page of Roberts’s biography, instead of celebratory special pleading or mean-spirited detraction, one finds interpretative depth and richness.
No Churchill detractor has ever written so rigorously critical a book: Roberts relentlessly identifies the substantive objections to his subject and disposes of the merely malicious ones. Indeed, so unsparing are Roberts’s strictures against his hero that it is hard to imagine any future Churchill critic mounting attacks that would match his exhaustive dossier. In this regard, Roberts has taken Churchill’s own distaste for whitewashing to heart. “To do justice to a great man,” Churchill once wrote, “discriminating criticism is necessary. Gush, however quenching, is always insipid.”
Accordingly, Roberts shows that the misjudgments and miscalculations and simple weaknesses of the man were inseparable from his greatness. Failure, after all, is the crucible of greatness. Churchill, Roberts shows, learned from his mistakes and was never averse to admitting them once they became patent. “In the course of my life I have often had to eat my words, and I must confess that I have always found it a wholesome diet,” he famously said. But few biographers have shown as compellingly as Roberts the good use to which Churchill put his resipiscensce. As Roberts argues, “The Dardanelles catastrophe taught him not to overrule the Chiefs of Staff; the General Strike and Tonypandy taught him to leave industrial relations during the Second World War to Labour’s Ernest Bevin; the Gold Standard disaster taught him to reflate and keep as much liquidity in the financial system as the exigencies of wartime would allow.”
Secretary of State for War and Air Winston Churchill (1874 - 1965) standing on the roof of a van to address workers on a visit to the north of England. (Photo by Topical Press Agency/Getty Images)
Photo by Topical Press Agency/Getty Images

He also learned from others’ failures. Whereas Herbert Henry Asquith as prime minister during World War I delegated defense to, first, Admiral John Fisher, and then, Lord Kitchener; and Lloyd George delegated the Somme and Passchendaele to General Douglas Haig, with disastrous results, Churchill was shrewd enough to take control of both the premiership and defense. Winning the war, in other words, would not be delegated—a hard-and-fast principle with which Clement Atlee, Churchill’s coalition partner, entirely agreed. “My own experience of the First World War, and my readings in history,” Atlee wrote after the war, as Roberts points out, “had convinced me that the Prime Minister should be a man who knew what war meant, in terms of the personal suffering of the man in the line, in terms of high strategy, and in terms of that crucial issue—how the generals got on with their civilian bosses.”
That Churchill had spent time in the French trenches with the Royal Scots Fusiliers to expiate his role in the failure of the Gallipoli campaign made him aware of the sufferings of the man in the line. Moreover, he had worked closely enough with generals and admirals in the First World War to win their respect, if not their inveterate agreement. As for his strategic smarts, he recognized how crucial enlisting Franklin Roosevelt and America in the war would be to winning it. What he dubbed the “special relationship,” before and after Russia entered the war, would always be the linchpin of victory. Indeed, no one would have relished this passage from Vera Brittain’s classic account of her stint as a nurse during the Great War, Testament of Youth (1933), more than Churchill:
I was leaving quarters to go back to my ward, when I had to wait to let a large contingent of troops march past me along the main road that ran through our camp. They were swinging rapidly towards Camiers, and though the sight of soldiers marching was now too familiar to arouse curiosity, an unusual quality of bold vigour in their swift stride caused me to stare at them with puzzled interest. They looked larger than ordinary men; their tall, straight figures were in vivid contrast to the under-sized armies of pale recruits to which we had grown accustomed. At first I thought their spruce, clean uniforms were those of officers, yet obviously they could not be officers, for there were too many of them; they seemed, as it were, Tommies in heaven. Had yet another regiment been conjured out of our depleted Dominions? I wondered, watching them move with such rhythm, such dignity, such serene consciousness of self-respect. But I knew the colonial troops so well, and these were different; they were assured where the Australians were aggressive, self-possessed where the New Zealanders were turbulent. Then I heard an excited exclamation from a group of Sisters behind me. “Look! Look! Here are the Americans!” I pressed forward with the others to watch the United States physically entering the War, so god-like, so magnificent, so splendidly unimpaired in comparison with the tired, nerve-racked men of the British Army. So these were our deliverers at last, marching up the road to Camiers in the spring sunshine!
Churchill, as Robert shows, also learned from his successes: “The Great War cryptographic breakthroughs of the Admiralty’s Room 40 taught him to back Alan Turing and the Ultra cryptanalysts; the anti-U-boat campaign of 1917 taught him the advantages of the convoy system; his advocacy of the tank encouraged him to promote the invention of new weaponry, pioneered by General Hobart and the MI(R) Directorate.” As Roberts dryly observes, Churchill “had long understood the superiority of the Mauser over the spear.”
Good jokes of this sort abound in Roberts’s book. When Paul Reynaud, the French prime minister before the fall of France, asked what would happen when the Germans attempted to invade Britain, Churchill replied, “I haven’t thought that out very carefully, but, broadly speaking, I should propose to drown as many as possible of them on the way over, and then frapper sur la tête [knock on the head] anyone who managed to crawl ashore.” When the postwar outcry for more social welfare was at its height, the Tory Democrat in Churchill was categorical: “You must rank me and my colleagues as strong partisans of national compulsory insurance for all classes for all purposes from the cradle to the grave,” he insisted, though he added that everyone should work, “whether they come from the ancient aristocracy or the modern plutocracy, or the ordinary type of pub-crawler.”
As for Churchill the man, Roberts shows that he was more a Regency than a Victorian figure. Certainly, his drinking recalls that bibulous age. When he told a friend that “The secret of drinking was always to drink a little too much all the time,” he might have been speaking from the pages of Thomas Creevey, the Regency diarist, who chronicled the bacchanal intake of such heroic toppers as the Prince of Wales and Richard Brinsley Sheridan. Churchill and his boon companion F.E. Smith would have fit perfectly in that rackety world, though Churchill, unlike Smith, was never the worse for wear for the champagne, wine, whisky and soda, port and brandy that were often his quotidian tipples. Indeed, when Smith tried to lay off the hard stuff, Churchill was supportive, telling his wife Clementine: “He drinks cider & ginger pop & looks ten years younger. Don’t make a mock of this. He looks sad.” As John Campbell’s magnificent biography shows, Smith was one of the few men whose brilliance could match Churchill’s own, though cirrhosis of the liver sent him to an early grave at 58. Another of Churchill’s atavistic traits was his penchant for weeping, something he shared with such Regency figures as Pitt the Younger and Cardinal Newman. If he had a tough skin when it came to criticism, he was a pushover whenever his feelings were engaged.
The cortege at the state of Winston Churchill (1874 - 1965), makes its way down Whitehall, London, 30th January 1965. (Photo by Fox Photos/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
Photo by Fox Photos/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Roberts shows the quality of Churchill’s feeling, which was rarely self-indulgent or merely sentimental. A good example is his trip to Bristol to bestow honorary degrees after air raids had killed or wounded several hundred people in the city. Jock Colville, Churchill’s private secretary, recalled how the prime minister and his party “walked and motored through devastation such as I had never thought possible.” Yet the bombed-out houses had Union Jacks flying in front, and when the people of Bristol gathered round Churchill, they waved and cheered. Throughout the ordeal, Colville recalled, Churchill “kept murmuring to himself ‘Wonderful people . . . wonderful people.’” Afterward, he addressed the Bristoleans through what one eyewitness recalled as “angry tears”:
I go about the country whenever I can escape for a few hours or for a day from my duty at headquarters, and I see the damage done by the enemy attacks; but I also see side by side with the devastation and amid the ruins, quiet, confident, bright, and smiling eyes, beaming with a consciousness of being associated with a cause far higher and wider than any human or personal issue. I see the spirit of an unconquerable people. I see a spirit bred in freedom, nursed in a tradition which has come down to us through the centuries, and which will surely at this moment, this turning-point in the history of the world, enable us to bear our part in such a way that none of our race who come after us will have any reason to cast reproach upon their sires.
When the Oxford Union recently debated the proposition whether “Britain should be ashamed of Winston Churchill,” some might have recalled these words with shame of another sort. Since critics of the imperial Churchill are often fond of comparing him unfavorably with Mahatma Gandhi, it’s useful to have Roberts quote what the least coherent critic of the Raj had to say to the British during the London Blitz: “Invite Hitler and Mussolini to take what they want of the countries you call your possessions,” Gandhi wrote. “Let them take possession of your beautiful island with its many beautiful buildings. You will give all this, but neither your minds nor your souls.”
Though the Tory Establishment, not to mention their Liberal and Labour colleagues, often chose to regard Churchill as a throwback to an irrecoverable past, he was much more forward-looking, indeed prescient, than he was given credit for being. We need only revisit the 1930s, when England, still reeling from the Great War, could not bring herself to face the growing Nazi threat. A good specimen of the country’s settled aversion to war and to preparing to prevent war can be gleaned from the conclusion of Veronica Wedgwood’s acclaimed history at the time, The Thirty Years War (1938), in which she could almost have been acting as Neville Chamberlain’s ventriloquist. “The war solved no problem,” she wrote in her conclusion.
Its effects, both immediate and indirect, were either negative or disastrous. Morally subversive, economically destructive, socially degrading, confused in its causes, devious in its course, futile in its result, it is the outstanding example in European conflict of meaningless conflict. The overwhelming majority in Europe, the overwhelming majority in Germany, wanted no war. . . . They wanted peace and they fought for thirty years to be sure of it. They did not learn then, and have not since, that war breeds only war.
Here was the Munich mentality in all its delusive moral vanity. Opposing it made Churchill enormously unpopular, especially with the country’s political class. Yet unlike so many in public life, Churchill never flinched from unpopularity when principle was at stake. Roberts quotes from one of the speeches Churchill gave around the time of Munich that should be required reading not only for England’s parliamentarians, but ours as well.
What is the use of Parliament if it is not the place where true statements can be brought before the people? What is the use of sending Members to the House of Commons who say just the popular things of the moment, and merely endeavour to give satisfaction to the Government Whips by cheering loudly every Ministerial platitude, and by walking through the Lobbies oblivious of the criticisms they hear? People talk about our Parliamentary institutions and Parliamentary democracy; but if these are to survive, it will not be because the Constituencies return tame, docile, subservient Members, and try to stamp out every form of independent judgment.
When Hitler reneged on the Munich agreement, and war became unavoidable, the pro-appeasement Tory establishment only acknowledged Churchill’s prescience with reluctance. After war was declared, the bastions of that establishment—the House of Lords and the Carleton Club—still resounded with criticism of Churchill, and this for a reason that Roberts pinpoints: “That the majority of Conservatives had been so spectacularly wrong about Hitler was not going to lessen their antagonism to [Churchill]; indeed, it might have made it worse.” Roberts quotes the appeaser Rab Butler to show just how virulent the contempt for Churchill was among his Tory colleagues. At a drinks party after Churchill’s accession, speaking of himself in the third person, Butler remarked:
The good clean tradition of English politics, that of [William] Pitt [the Younger] as opposed to [Charles James] Fox, had been sold to the greatest adventurer of modern political history. He had tried earnestly and long to persuade Halifax to accept the Premiership, but he had failed. He believed this sudden coup of Winston and his rabble was a serious disaster and an unnecessary one: the pass had been sold—by Chamberlain, Halifax and Oliver Stanley. They had weakly surrendered to a half-breed American.
While such opposition from his own party might have discouraged lesser men, it buoyed Churchill. After all, he had been making converts of naysayers all his life (with the notable exception of his father, the mercurial, unstable, brilliant Lord Randolph, who went to his grave never really seeing the point of his gifted son). Once Churchill became prime minister on May 10, 1940, he set about winning the war that his Tory colleagues had refused to allow him to prevent with a certain bellicose gaiety. “You do your worst,” he taunted the Nazis, “and we will do our best.” As Roberts relates, he came to his post with unusual advantages.
Hitler’s attack turned Churchill’s perceived weaknesses into priceless assets almost overnight. His obvious interest in warfare was no longer warmongering, it was invaluable. His oratorical style, which many had derided as ham-acting, was sublime now that the situation matched his rhetoric. His obsession with the Empire would help to bind its peoples together as it came under unimaginable stress, and his chauvinism left him certain that, if they could get through the present crisis, the British would prevail over the Germans. Even his inability to fit comfortably into any political party was invaluable in the leader of a government of national unity.
When the historian in Churchill recalled his assumption of the premiership on that Friday in May, the artist in him commemorated the event in words that even the fastidious literary critic in Eliot must have admired. They remain some of the most moving words in the English language. “I felt as if I were walking with destiny, and that all my past life had been but a preparation for this hour and for this trial. . . . I could not be reproached either for making the war or with want of preparation for it. I thought I knew a good deal about it all, and I was sure I should not fail.”
In “The Literature of Politics” (1955), Eliot reminded his readers that the “question of questions” with which a writer concerned with politics must ultimately answer is this: “What is Man? What are his limitations? What is his misery and what his greatness? And what, finally, his destiny?” Roberts shows that it was precisely Churchill’s readiness to walk with destiny—to cooperate with it, to embody it—that made him understand profoundly, when the liberty of all Europe hung in the balance, what made for the limitations and the misery and the greatness of man.

Andrew Roberts’s Churchill: Walking with Destiny is the best single-volume biography written on the great British leader and exhibits not only an historian but also an artist working at the top of his form. It is a work that cannot be praised too highly.
Top Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images

domingo, 23 de dezembro de 2018

Churchill: o indispensável - biografia de Andrew Roberts (The New Criterion)

Nem todo grande estadista é isento de erros e falhas graves em sua carreira. Ao longo de sua extensíssima trajetória na política inglesa, ocupando diversos postos ministeriais, Winston Churchill teve a "oportunidade" de cometer inúmeros e graves erros, que custaram a vida de muita gente, como se encarrega de lembrar seu biógrafo mais recente, Andrew Roberts: 

As Roberts reminds us, Churchill was unsuccessful in a number of those positions, but never incompetent. He acquired a vast administrative and legislative experience and by that time had been considered for decades one of Britain’s greatest orators. Roberts enumerates a long list of Churchill’s serious errors in public life, before and after his elevation in 1940. These include his opposing the vote for women; his handling of much of the Gallipoli operation and perhaps the entire concept (which led to 250,000 casualties in a failed effort to break open the Dardanelles in 1915); his treatment of Ireland and India; his keenness for reversion to the gold standard; his support of Edward VIII in the abdication crisis, his mismanagement of the Norway campaign; his assistance of Greece in 1941; his gross underestimation of the military strength of Japan; his faith in Italy as “the soft underbelly” of Hitler’s Europe; his advocacy of peripheral campaigns in the Dodecanese, Norway, Trieste, and Sumatra; and his deporting the alleged Soviet deserters back to Russia at the end of the war (another 1.2 million executions on Stalin’s gruesome ledger).

Mas, ele também escreveu um bocado, o que me parece um traço excepcional de inteligência: 
... wrote thirty-nine books, countless articles, and five thousand major speeches— totalling eleven million written words and perhaps fifteen million spoken words—and won the Nobel Prize for Literature.
Paulo Roberto de Almeida



Winston Churchill at his desk in the Cabinet Room at 10 Downing Street, London, in 1942. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

The indispensable man

Like all of Andrew Roberts’s histories, Churchill is massively researched and exquisitely written.1 The author’s sharp sense of humor is often in evidence and warmly complements Churchill’s own. As a chronology of an exceptional life, this is a very fine book that bears comparison with the generally best-regarded single-volume lives of Churchill by Roy Jenkins and Geoffrey Best. (It would not be fair to anyone to bring in Sir Martin Gilbert’s eight-volume official biography, with many accompanying volumes of relevant documents.) Disclosure requires that I mention that Andrew Roberts is a good friend of many years, and that we have written many positive reviews of each other’s books. If I were not conscientiously able to write a good review, I would have declined the assignment.
Churchill’s complicated relations with his parents, rather unloved upbringing (except for his nanny, the admirable Mrs. Everest), tempestuous school career—throughout which he defied sadistic school masters who caned him fiercely but to no effect—are all fairly well known, but this author adds touches that are the fruit of surpassing research. It was generally known that Winston Churchill’s mother, Jennie Jerome of New York, had had an affair (like many other attractive women) with the then–Prince of Wales, later King Edward VII. It was not so well known that she had an elevator installed in her home to convey the ample royal caller effortlessly to her private quarters (after the death of Winston Churchill’s father, Randolph, in 1895, aged forty-five).
Churchill’s early life and fast-moving career are familiar to many, but nowhere better described than in Roberts’s book: the dashing soldier and war correspondent (often simultaneously) in India, South Africa, on the Nile, and in Cuba; the astounding self-acquired knowledge of British, American, and classical history, and English and classical literature; and the ability, which he retained well into his eighties, to recite verbatim vast swaths of stirring prose and poetry. His talent for publicity and his confident and aggressive personality landed him quickly in politics, and into the House of Commons in the waning days of Victoria. Churchill knew everyone who served as British monarch from Victoria (r. 1837–1901) to the present; every leader of his Conservative Party from the Marquess of Salisbury, in office 1880–1902, to Margaret Thatcher, who relinquished the leadership in 1990; and every president of the United States, though a few very casually, from Theodore Roosevelt to Richard Nixon, a period covering 1901 to 1974. He was a prominent figure and household name in Great Britain and much of the British Commonwealth, and ultimately the whole world, for sixty-five years. When he finally earned the long-sought office of prime minister, in the most dangerous circumstances in the country’s history, on May 10, 1940, it was after thirty-nine years in Parliament and nine different cabinet positions, including the Exchequer, Home Office, colonies, trade, war, munitions, air force, and the largest navy in the world in both world wars (though it was surpassed by the United States in 1942).
As Roberts reminds us, Churchill was unsuccessful in a number of those positions, but never incompetent. He acquired a vast administrative and legislative experience and by that time had been considered for decades one of Britain’s greatest orators. Roberts enumerates a long list of Churchill’s serious errors in public life, before and after his elevation in 1940. These include his opposing the vote for women; his handling of much of the Gallipoli operation and perhaps the entire concept (which led to 250,000 casualties in a failed effort to break open the Dardanelles in 1915); his treatment of Ireland and India; his keenness for reversion to the gold standard; his support of Edward VIII in the abdication crisis, his mismanagement of the Norway campaign; his assistance of Greece in 1941; his gross underestimation of the military strength of Japan; his faith in Italy as “the soft underbelly” of Hitler’s Europe; his advocacy of peripheral campaigns in the Dodecanese, Norway, Trieste, and Sumatra; and his deporting the alleged Soviet deserters back to Russia at the end of the war (another 1.2 million executions on Stalin’s gruesome ledger).
As a veteran politician and cabinet member, Churchill exercised serious governmental responsibilities for twenty-seven years before becoming prime minister and minister of defense. He served a total of sixty-three years in Parliament, forty-two years in government or as the leader of the opposition; engaged personally in five wars, sustaining many injuries and a few wounds; wrote thirty-nine books, countless articles, and five thousand major speeches—totaling eleven million written words and perhaps fifteen million spoken words—and won the Nobel Prize for Literature. To say it was a monumental career would be, even by British standards, an understatement.
Roberts makes the point that the uneven career Churchill had in most of his ministerial positions counts for little when compared to the fact that he was among the first who saw that Germany was a serious turn-of-the-century rival, that Nazism was a mortal threat, and that Stalinist communism would emerge as an almost equal threat to the whole West. This could be challenged to some degree—there was no shortage of prominent Britons who saw the Wilhelmine threat. And Western opinion, with massive incitement from the United States, picked up the Red Scare pretty quickly. Churchill’s sublime and critical moment—a short thirty months between a long career of controversy that seemed almost to have played itself out and a lengthy, bittersweet but majestic and revered twilight—was when he was the only, the indisputable, and the absolutely irreplaceable man to take the headship of the British Commonwealth as the Nazi war machine erupted into France, the Netherlands, and Belgium, and holding it until the Russians and Americans had each been savagely attacked. By the end of 1942, the British had defeated the Germans and Italians in North Africa, the Russians had defeated the Germans at Stalingrad, and the Americans had defeated the Japanese at Coral Sea, Midway, and Guadalcanal. There was no longer any danger of a German invasion of Britain or a Japanese invasion of Australia.
By his gigantic organizational and galvanizing efforts in 1940 and 1941, Churchill had roused his people and the Commonwealth to a mighty effort that not only won the Battle of Britain in the sky but also the first Battle of the Atlantic. What is more, he had assisted President Roosevelt in changing American opinion from outright isolationism to a desire to give all aid, short of going to war, to the British and Canadians. It enabled Roosevelt to conduct the greatest arms buildup in world history, so that when he broke a tradition as old as the republic and sought a third presidential term in 1940, the unemployment rate was low in the United States, there was peacetime conscription, and aircraft and shipbuilding construction programs of world-unprecedented proportions were underway.
Up to 1940, Churchill had been a great but somewhat quixotic romantic. Then he suddenly became the only man who could prevent Hitler, his then-ally Stalin, and the Japanese from taking over the entire Eurasian landmass.
Up to 1940, Churchill had been a great but somewhat quixotic romantic. Then he suddenly became the only man who could prevent Hitler, his then-ally Stalin, and the Japanese from taking over the entire Eurasian landmass. Without him, in a conflation of two of Roosevelt’s great 1940 addresses, “We in this hemisphere would be living at the point of a gun . . . fed through the bars [of our prison] by the unpitying masters of other continents.” By his at-times almost hypnotic oratory—and replacing the previous prime ministers Ramsay MacDonald, Stanley Baldwin, and Neville Chamberlain, who completely exasperated Roosevelt and Stalin with their weakness—Churchill enabled Roosevelt to see how Hitler could be overcome. He knew as well as Churchill did, and as early, that if Hitler consolidated his control of Central Europe, within two generations Germany would be as great a power as the United States and a mortal threat to it, especially when in league with Japan, which could not challenge the United States for control of the Pacific on its own.
Churchill had to keep Britain afloat and fighting until Roosevelt was ready to go to war and could find a pretext to provoke one. Roberts could have given greater attention to such variances to American neutrality as Roosevelt extending U.S.territorial waters from three to 1,800 miles and ordering the U.S. Navy to attack on detection of any German vessel while the United States sold Britain and Canada anything they wanted with the understanding that they would pay for it when they could through the Lend-Lease Act. Now Roosevelt could envision assisting the United Kingdom to stay in the war while the United States became fully prepared to enter it.
What could not be immediately seen, but Roberts might have mentioned, was that Hitler thought Roosevelt was cranking up to go to war with him, as his ambassador in Washington, Hans-Heinrich Dieckhoff (a very competent man, despite being the brother-in-law of Hitler’s imbecile foreign minister, Joachim von Ribbentrop), had warned him. (Roosevelt pulled his ambassador from Berlin after the Kristallnacht massacres in November 1938. Hitler did the same and the countries did not exchange ambassadors again until 1951.) It was the recognition that Roosevelt was going to go to war with him eventually that drove Hitler to attack Russia, so that the Anglo-Americans would have to remove the Nazis from a completely entrenched position throughout Europe, with Russia conquered and banished across the Urals. The German attack on Russia might have been more successful if Roosevelt had not cut off all oil shipments to Japan, which at the time imported 85 percent of its oil from the United States. This required Japan either to cease its invasion of China and Indochina, which Roosevelt knew they would find too humiliating to do, or to attack to the south, especially the Dutch East Indies (Indonesia), which Roosevelt had advised them he would consider an act of war. When Japan moved its army on the Siberian border south to attack the Dutch East Indies, Roosevelt alerted Stalin, who moved twenty divisions from the Far East along the Trans-Siberian Railway for the final defense of Moscow and Leningrad.
The greatest “what if” of all is what would have happened if Hitler, having been delayed in Russia by the coup in Belgrade that the British and Americans had organized, and by the shambles Mussolini had created in attacking Greece, had poured ten more crack divisions into Egypt and had taken the Iraqi oil fields and made them available to the Japanese (provided they didn’t provoke the Americans), and then coordinated with Japan to attack at both ends of the Soviet Union in the spring of 1942. Hitler, however, had no patience and thus did not coordinate anything with Japan and instead assaulted Russia after the spring of 1941. This left Japan to imagine that its pride and dignity required it to attack the United States, a nation at least three times as powerful as itself. After a year of Allied mobilization and counterattacks following Pearl Harbor, the Axis was doomed. From then on, the battle was for the shape of the post-war world, and since neither Roosevelt nor Stalin (correctly) thought the British Empire had any chance of enduring much longer, power passed steadily to them.
Churchill, even after the end of his turn as the irreplaceable man who resisted the rise of Nazism and held the fort until the Axis gambled everything on the defeat of Russia and America, remained a glorious and formidable ally to the end. But he was less powerful than the others, and his forces were in secondary theaters. The British had 750,000 troops in the Middle East, several hundred thousand in India, about ten divisions in Burma, and ten more in Italy. The Americans provided 95 percent of the men, ships, and planes for the Pacific Far East, about 40 percent in Italy (a theater they never wanted to be in), and over 70 percent in Western Europe, where Britain had sixteen divisions to America’s seventy-five. (Churchill claimed an additional six Canadian divisions in France and Italy, but Roosevelt, who had a house in Canada and knew the country well, was aware that the Canadians, though close to the British, were an independent country, and Eisenhower allotted Canada its own army.)
Among its few shortcomings, this book doesn’t really mention Churchill’s plan to assist the Finns against the Russians from 1939 to 1940 (getting into war with Russia would have been an unspeakable disaster) and doesn’t precisely identify the geopolitical drift of events as the war progresses. Roberts has exhaustively read the notes of all the meetings between Roosevelt, Churchill, and Stalin (all three official versions are now available) and the diaries of such key personalities as Alan Brooke, the Chief of the Imperial General Staff. Roberts is aware that Churchill’s and Brooke’s skepticism about the D-Day landings was very strong and could only be quelled and overcome by a general offensive by Roosevelt of remarkable virtuosity, which included staying in the Soviet legation in Tehran and satisfying himself before the conference began that Stalin would support the cross-Channel landings. Churchill was still imagining he could draw Turkey into the war, as he had Italy and Romania in World War I (to their great subsequent regret). Brooke was convinced, and Churchill may have suspected, that Roosevelt had been gulled by Stalin into invading France, because Stalin thought the Germans would drive the Brits and Americans into the sea again, as they did at Dunkirk and in Greece and Crete, giving him a clear run through Germany and perhaps to Paris. Roosevelt also thought Stalin might believe that, but he saw that with overwhelming Western Allied numbers of men, tanks, artillery, and aircraft, the Germans would never be able to stabilize the Western Front.
Roberts tries to maintain the theory that Churchill and Brooke were master military strategists, but the truth is slightly more complex. They were resourceful tactical improvisers, shifting weight from one foot to the other until the Russian and American massed armies and the immense American naval and air fleets became available. Apart from the honorable but almost catastrophic assistance to Greece in 1941 that nearly cost Britain Suez and Middle East oil, Brooke and Churchill kept the balls in the air with agility and panache. After that, they never recognized that if a serious second front weren’t opened without undue delay, Hitler and Stalin could reconcile their differences, as they had in 1939. (There were German–Soviet talks in Stockholm in the summer of 1943, as Stalin was happy to mention at Tehran.)
And as Britain had not had an election since 1935, Churchill took little notice of the possibility that if Roosevelt did not go a long way to winning the war by November 1944, he might not be reelected. Churchill largely missed the political side of being a war leader. Roosevelt warned him at Tehran, speaking as the winner of five straight large elections—two as governor of New York and three as president—that if he didn’t present his voters with a dazzling view of the post-war world, he could be defeated. He argued that voters have little gratitude and vote for who they think will do more for them post-election. Roosevelt believed that Churchill’s post-war vision was flawed in its support for an unaltered class system toiling on in defense of Empire and would not fly with voters. (Roosevelt had just presented a massive benefit plan for returning American veterans that promised to usher them all into the post-war middle class.) He also was skeptical of the popular appeal of Churchill’s belief that something like the European balance of power of the previous four hundred years could be resurrected.
This book does, however, give a superb account of the dormant anti-Churchill forces that acquiesced during his premiership—but only temporarily. Churchill the mighty historic lion did not command the entire respect of the old Tories and the hard Left, and the snipings of Chips Channon, Sir John Reith, and even Lord Beaverbrook, are well recorded. All recognized his stature and courage and oratorical powers, but those who had disdained Churchill before the war largely continued to do so, even if only in malicious schoolgirl whispers to each other.
This book succeeds better than any other in debunking the theory that Churchill was seriously depressive—though he naturally did have moments of discouragement—as well as the related theory that he was an alcoholic. He drank consistently and rather heavily all his adult life, but was very rarely intoxicated. In this narrative it becomes clear how Churchill came to be regarded as a talented and formidable but erratic man, after the terrible mistakes of the Gallipoli Expedition, his rather unsuccessful term as chancellor, and the abdication fiasco. At first, his railings against the Nazis seemed to be more of his quixotry. Yet it was obvious from his first day as prime minister that he was the perfect man to mobilize the Commonwealth, convince the Americans that he was worth supporting, and hold his own while what was an Anglo-German war from May 1940 to June 1941 became a world war with the addition of Russia and America to Britain’s side against Germany and Japan. Churchill, de Gaulle, and Stalin all said to their entourages on the day of Pearl Harbor that there would be hard fighting, but that the Axis had no chance of defeating such a mighty coalition. Roberts stretches it a little when he claims that Roosevelt told his cousin Margaret Suckley in June 1942 that victory was “not necessarily” certain. What Roosevelt clearly meant, and which Geoffrey Ward supports, was that it was conceivable that if everything continued to go badly, there might be something less than a complete victory. He never doubted that the Allies would win.
From that point on, Churchill’s role, though noble, gradually becomes sad. He loved the British Empire; it was, as Roberts writes, to some degree his religion. But India was on the verge of independence; the Middle East was a powder keg; Canada, Australia, South Africa, and New Zealand were independent (though friendly) countries; and little of the rest of the Empire except Gibraltar, Malta, Singapore, and Hong Kong had any strategic value. His enmity towards the Americans at times is also something of a revelation. The Churchill–Brooke–Montgomery hostility to Eisenhower is particularly striking. Eisenhower largely planned and commanded the greatest military operation in world history, was an outstanding soldier-diplomat, was never identified with a losing battle or poor strategic initiative or command decision, and would probably have got his armies across the Rhine without the Germans being able to mount their Ardennes offensive but for Montgomery’s catastrophic Market Garden debacle, which—though this book doesn’t tell us—cost the American airborne forces more dearly than the British. The Churchill–Brooke–Montgomery demand for a charge up the Adriatic and through the “Ljubljana Gap,” which the Americans claimed did not exist, was bunk, as Roberts implicitly acknowledges. Their opposition to “Dragoon,” the Southern France landings six weeks after D-Day, was also unjustified. The Dragoon forces crossed the Rhine in September 1944 and captured 150,000 German troops fairly effortlessly.
Roberts is right that the “naughty piece of paper” on which Churchill and Stalin demarcated their spheres of influence in post-war Europe in Moscow in October 1944 saved Greece from the communists, but omits mention that Stalin later demanded control of Hungary and that not only Poland, but also Czechoslovakia was not discussed at the meeting. Stalin predictably took this as a blank check, despite the pious guarantees of free elections and autonomy he had promised for Eastern Europe at Yalta (as the Americans and British promised and fulfilled in Western Europe). Roberts is correct to dismiss the tired charges that Churchill and particularly Roosevelt handed Eastern Europe to Russia, but is too gentle on Churchill for his incitement of precisely that inference. Churchill told King George VI that between the Russian bear and American elephant, only the “British donkey knew the way home.” The American position was that if the atomic bomb didn’t work, they wanted Russia to take a share of the anticipated million casualties in subduing the home islands of Japan, as Stalin was certainly going to take what he wanted from Japan and the Far East anyway. Roosevelt’s plan was to use an atomic monopoly and the enticement of a huge economic aid package to produce Soviet compliance with its Yalta obligations. (He died on April 12, 1945, and the atomic bomb was not successfully tested until July.) Roosevelt was already withholding all of the 6.5 billion dollars of aid that he had dangled in front of Stalin because of Soviet conduct in Romania and Poland.
It was disingenuous of Churchill, who pressed for the demarcation of occupation zones in Germany, to demand from Truman that the European Advisory Commission zones be ignored and that the United States’s central army group take Berlin. Truman knew nothing about it, but made the mistake of referring it to the Army Chief of Staff George C. Marshall, who passed it on to Eisenhower as theater commander. These were strategic decisions that the president, however suddenly and recently thrust into the position, should have taken. Eisenhower said that he would of course follow orders but did not see why the lives of American, British, Canadian, and French soldiers should be expended in taking territory that they had intended to hand over to the Soviet Union anyway, unless it was Truman’s intention to tear up the occupation zone agreement. Truman was advised not to do that because of the possible need for Soviet collaboration against Japan. Churchill had wanted the occupation zone agreement because he was afraid that with only fifteen divisions in Germany, against more than seventy American and more than one hundred Soviet, Britain would have a tiny occupation zone. This very thorough book should not have followed the customary aversion of British historians to mentioning the eac occupation zone agreement. The chairman of the European Advisory Commission was British: Sir William Strang, the third-ranking Foreign Office official after Eden and Cadogan, who had been part of the Munich delegation and the ill-fated mission to Moscow just before the Nazi–Soviet Pact. His apologia for the zone agreement in his memoirs is possibly the lamest such excuse offered by any substantial memoirist of the entire war (without it, he wrote, Stalin might not have entered Germany).
Roberts makes it clear that Churchill’s 1945 election defeat that stunned the world, including Stalin, was not so surprising to the members of Parliament, including Churchill and his chief opponent, the incoming prime minister, Clement Attlee. The Conservatives had no program except their war record. As the Labour Party government’s incumbency proceeded, resentment at the continuation of wartime rations and taxes and the slow reconstruction of Britain from bomb damage gradually overcame the electorate’s gratitude for universal health care. The loss of India and Palestine, which grieved Churchill, was a matter of public indifference, as there was little affection for Indians, Pakistanis, Arabs, or Jews in Britain and the majority thought, as Liberal and Labour leaders had tended to, that the Empire was a fraud and a distraction from which Britain did not benefit at all.
Though Churchill made a few speeches calling for European cooperation, he never intended that Britain should be part of it, and he did nothing in either of his terms of government or in opposition to do anything about it. Before the rise of Konrad Adenauer in West Germany and the return of Charles de Gaulle to power in France, Churchill’s prestige among European statesmen was rivaled only by Stalin, who was generally a terrifying figure in Western Europe. But he abdicated the leadership of the revival of the major Western European powers entirely to Adenauer and the Italian leader Alcide de Gasperi, and ultimately to de Gaulle, mistakenly placing all his bets on the Commonwealth and the American alliance.
Churchill finally got his well-earned victory lap with his general election win in 1951, at the age of seventy-six. He had a tranquil Indian summer; his big success was in ending rations. No more chunks of the Empire fell away, though the Mau Mau revolt was underway in Kenya and Britain had to commit to an independent Malaya to gain the defeat of the local communists (a lesson the French in nearby Indochina conspicuously failed to take on board). Churchill’s chief interest, especially after the death of Stalin in 1953, was to attend a conference with Eisenhower and Malenkov. He had met so often with the world’s greatest leaders, and had, as he acknowledged, based so much of his career on “my tongue and my pen,” uttering several of the greatest speeches in the history of the world, that he was, in the autumn of his days, attempting to substitute his eloquence for the fading influence of his country. As the chief architect of Britain’s survival, he can certainly be forgiven for not seeing clearly the decline of its influence.
Roosevelt, too, was a great orator, but he was also a Yankee cynic, made, perhaps, more unsentimental by having to overcome a severe handicap to make his political career, what Churchill called in his parliamentary eulogy of Roosevelt “an extraordinary effort of will-power over physical infirmity.” And he had, as Churchill also said in the same address, “raised the strength, might, and glory of the Great Republic to a height never attained by any nation in history.”
Churchill preferred the 1952 Democratic presidential candidate, Adlai E. Stevenson, whom he scarcely knew (Stevenson had been Roosevelt’s Assistant Secretary of the Navy and the Governor of Illinois), to Eisenhower, whom he feared, incongruously, would be a “warmonger.” Eisenhower, as the Supreme Allied Commander in Western Europe, had been much more wary of needless casualties, and of bumbling into conflict with the Russians, than Churchill. He had negotiated extensively with Stalin in Moscow just before the surrender of Nazi Germany. Roberts hints at, but doesn’t exactly lay out, the obsolescence of Churchill’s perceptions of the international correlation of forces. He was groping for a middle way between the American and Russian superpowers, counting on the Commonwealth, a moral standing in Europe because of the British role in defeating Nazism, and the special relationship with America to forge that third path. He believed, as always, in personal negotiation to delineate national interests and did not recognize the extent to which democracy, which he had done more than anyone except Roosevelt to save and promote, was now in an epic contest with a totalitarian power throughout the world. He had declared the descent of the “Iron Curtain” in a speech sponsored by President Truman in his home state of Missouri in 1946, but seemed now not to understand that there was no room for intermediate states if they wished any influence. People whom he had opposed but then embraced, such as India’s Nehru and Yugoslavia’s Tito, could posture as neutrals, but effectively all power in the world reposed in Washington and Moscow, and, to a slight extent, Beijing.
The last volume of Churchill’s wartime memoirs, titled Triumph and Tragedy, was assumed to refer to victory over the Nazis and the advance into Europe of the communists, but to some extent it also referred to Churchill’s life. He loved Parliament and affairs of state, but was a Conservative in foreign and military policy and empire and a Liberal or even Labour man in social and industrial questions, so he was never altogether happy in any party. And nor were they with him. This caused him, unjustly, to be mistrusted. He was eloquent, and occasionally prophetic, about Britain’s relations with Europe, the United States, and the advanced Commonwealth countries, but he never got the balance exactly right—other than when the future of civilization rested on him and Roosevelt almost alone. He triumphed personally and was almost certainly the most admired man in the world in his last twenty years; and he had played an unsurpassably heroic role in the destruction of the satanic evil of Nazism, having been called to the task when Hitler’s “infected and corroding fingers” were almost at Britain’s throat.
He was, without apparently thinking in these terms, the chief architect of the most artistic and dignified transition in the history of the world: from the leading power to the chief ally of the new leading power, with little lost prestige in the act—an astounding triumph. Yet for Churchill himself there was great sadness in the end of empire and of the sophisticated, intricate great power diplomacy of Richelieu, Pitt, Palmerston, and Bismarck, as well as in the entry into a stark new world of immeasurable power, including the power to annihilate life, with only two players. He also regretted the transformation of great power politics to a combination of traditional nationalism with the competition of ideologies. Against Moscow’s professed equality of all against the evils of rapacious capitalism, Roosevelt’s heirs in the elaboration of American national security policy posited “the free world” fighting godless communism; never mind that most of the alliance were dictators, and Churchill, unlike Roosevelt and de Gaulle, was not really a practicing Christian. Churchill had seen the evils of Bolshevism, but he loved negotiating with Stalin. The status of Britain and the nature of great power rivalry were changing. There was in this an element not of tragedy, but of sadness for Churchill. He had trouble coming to grips with it, as Roberts describes, and trouble realizing his own genius in moving his country from the greatest of powers to the third greatest, while retaining immense credibility with its successor. All this can be seen, clearly and affectingly, in this book, but could have been more precisely stated in key places.
The summit Churchill so ardently wished for took place at Geneva in 1955, a few months after he had left office. Eisenhower presented an imaginative proposal for “Open Skies,” mutual reconnaissance by air, as a tension-deescalating and confidence-building measure. Its time came many years later. The factional struggles after the death of Stalin were still raging and the Soviet delegation consisted of a group of competing factions, represented by Khrushchev, Marshal Zhukov, Molotov, and Bulganin. All they could agree on was to reject everything the Americans proposed. Churchill did not entirely understand the Kremlin’s belief that it had a chance to promote world Bolshevik Revolution, and that the United States, whose isolationist tendencies Churchill had fought from 1914 to the Korean War, was now bent on containing and overpowering the Red Menace, without military force if possible, but by recourse to it if necessary. Thus, in confusion and disappointment, did Churchill finally withdraw from public responsibilities, though he was universally admired. (He waffled about admitting Germany to nato and initially disapproved of heavy-handed American intervention in Guatemala, until Eisenhower warned him off.)
Andrew Roberts vividly portrays Churchill’s gradual sail into the sunset at the end of a magnificent and very long career. After a long preamble of controversy and fluctuating fortunes, Churchill had served like his heroes from his reading of the classics, Leonidas and Horatius, or even Themistocles, and he had survived and been acclaimed as a great orator in the Demosthenean and Ciceronian traditions, and a great writer in the footsteps of the historians Herodotus, Livy, and Plutarch. He ended by writing history in which he was himself a world-historic protagonist. Roberts does justice to this extraordinary man, rivaled only by Franklin D. Roosevelt as the greatest statesman democracy has produced since Lincoln. There are occasional areas that might have been highlighted or shaded a bit differently. But this is a brilliant work, by a very fine historian, on a permanently heroic and always fascinating figure.

Conrad Black is the former publisher of the London Telegraph newspapers and The Spectator.
This article originally appeared in The New Criterion, Volume 37 Number 4, on page 4
Copyright © 2018 The New Criterion | www.newcriterion.com 
newcriterion.com/issues/2018/12/the-indispensable-man