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Letters by a modern St. Ferdinand III about cults

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Plenty of cults exist - every cult has its 'religious dogma', its idols, its 'prophets', its 'science', its 'proof' and its intolerant liturgy of demands.  Cults everywhere:  Corona, 'The Science' or Scientism, Islam, the State, the cult of Gender Fascism, Marxism, Darwin and Evolution, Globaloneywarming, Changing Climate, Abortion...

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Saturday, August 15, 2009

Max Hastings: "Churchill as Warlord 1939-1945" - Sept '09.

"Churchill: the flawed giant who saved our nation - and our world"

by Max Hastings

On Sunday, September 3, 1939 - 70 years ago next month - Britain declared war on Germany in fulfilment of its pledge to aid Poland, invaded by the Nazis. 'I know now that it will come to me to deal with Mr Hitler,' Winston Churchill told a cousin a few days earlier. He perceived his own hour of destiny at hand. [Original link here]

That same afternoon, he was summoned to Downing Street by Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain. For most of the decade Churchill had been a scourge of the Tory government. From 'the wilderness' of the Commons back benches, he denounced the folly of appeasing the dictators.

Only amid the crisis of war did his party overcome its bitter resentment to offer him office. He became once more First Lord of the Admiralty, the post he had occupied through the first year of World War I.

The early months of the greatest struggle in human history became known as the 'phoney war'. It seemed to many British people ridiculous and humiliating that though the country had committed itself to fight Hitler, it lacked the means to do so.

Poland was crushed in three weeks, without a French or British finger being lifted to save it. The two allies feared even to bomb Germany, lest they provoke devastating reprisals from the Luftwaffe.

On the Franco-German border, 94 French and nine British divisions confronted Hitler's army. But in neither Paris nor London was there the slightest will to launch an attack.

All through the icy, snowbound winter of 1939, the rival hosts lingered in their bunkers and trenches. The RAF's pilots risked their lives to drop propaganda leaflets on Germany. These provided Hitler's people, in the contemptuous words of Bomber Command's later chieftain Air-Marshal Sir Arthur Harris, with 'six years' supply of free toilet paper'. The Royal Navy conducted desultory operations against German U-boats and surface raiders.

But the war languished, while Hitler waited upon spring to launch his onslaught in the west. British and French civilian morale slumped. Many people were bemused to be at war, yet not at war. More than a few said they hoped a deal for peace could be patched up with Hitler.

To one man, all this was intolerable. Churchill, a warrior to the roots of his soul, believed that the business of war was to engage the enemy. He bombarded the Cabinet and the Admiralty with proposals for dramatic interventions: the dispatch of a battlefleet to the Baltic, mining of the Rhine, attacks on the Western Front.

As each of his schemes was rejected, he fulminated and suggested another. His colleagues rolled their eyes in dismay. Many Tories had never liked Winston, who had twice changed parties and whose misjudgments had been many and large: the 1915 Gallipoli disaster, his 1934 battle against Indian self-government, his support for Edward VIII in the 1936 Abdication crisis.

Back in 1914, the historian A.G. Gardiner wrote an extraordinarily shrewd and prescient assessment of Churchill, which ended equivocally: '"Keep your eye on Churchill" should be the watchword of these days. Remember, he is a soldier first, last and always. He will write his name big on our future. Let us take care he does not write it in blood.'

Much of the old ruling class resented Churchill's recall to office, and disdained his bellicose BBC broadcasts to the nation. A grumpy Tory MP named Cuthbert Headlam wrote in October: 'I notice that the cheap press is beginning another campaign to make him PM. It is not the time for this sort of thing.'

Tory grandees were dismayed, even disgusted, that Churchill so obviously thrilled to his own part in the greatest conflict in human history. 'Why do we regard history as of the past and forget we are making it?' he later exulted to Australian prime minister Robert Menzies.

This glee caused the author James Lees-Milne to write fastidiously after it was all over: 'Churchill so evidently enjoyed the war that I could never like him. I merely acknowledge him, like Genghis Khan, to have been great.' Yet Lees-Milne and like-minded critics missed a vital aspect of Churchill's attitude to conflict.

He thrilled to the cannon's roar, and had himself rejoiced to hear it ever since he was a young subaltern on the North-West frontier of India in the 1890s. Yet never for a moment did he lose his sense of dismay about the death and destruction which war visited upon the innocent.

'Ah, horrible war, amazing medley of the glorious and the squalid, the pitiful and the sublime,' he wrote as a correspondent in South Africa in January 1900. 'If modern men of light and leading saw your face closer, simple folk would see it hardly ever.'

Hitler cared nothing for the sufferings which his actions imposed upon mankind. Yet Churchill, while he never flinched from the necessity to pay in blood for the defeat of Nazi tyranny, sought only to enable the guns to be silenced, the peoples of the world restored to their peaceful lives.

Nonetheless, Britain's politicians, generals and admirals might be forgiven their impatience with Churchill in the winter of 1939. Many of his warfighting ideas were wildly unrealistic, given the country's shortage of trained soldiers, ships, planes, tanks and every other means of taking the offensive.

The old men did not doubt Churchill's genius and above all his supreme gifts of oratory. But they feared that this 'child of nature', as his later chief of staff 'Pug' Ismay called him, might in his wild impulsiveness, his yearning for glory, lead the nation to disaster.

Yet the British public increasingly warmed to Churchill. They saw in him a real leader, contrasted to the weak, fumbling Neville Chamberlain.

A Lancashire housewife named Nella Last wrote in her diary: 'If I had to spend my whole life with a man, I'd choose Mr Chamberlain, but I think I would sooner have Mr Churchill if there was a storm and I was shipwrecked. He has a funny face, like a bulldog living in our street who has done more to drive out unwanted dogs and cats than all the complaints of householders.'

Ironically, it was a Churchillian folly which translated him from the Admiralty to Downing Street, to embark upon his historic odyssey as prime minister.

In the early spring of 1940, the war was still going nowhere. Sporadic naval battles alone showed that Britain was fighting. Churchill urged a landing in Norway to halt iron ore shipments to Germany. He cared nothing that this would breach Norwegian neutrality.

Ministers and admirals were still dithering over his plan when Hitler pre-empted them. On April 9 the Nazis overran Denmark and German troops began landing in Norway by air and sea. Churchill eagerly embraced the chance to fight. 'The First Lord (who at last sees a chance of action) is jubilant,' wrote Downing Street private secretary Jock Colville.
An elderly Churchill gives the V for Victory sign

Urged on by Churchill, and despite chronic confusion of plans and orders, British troops began to disembark in Norway. The Royal Navy engaged the enemy in the North Sea, where both sides suffered painful warship losses.

On land, the allies were soon in desperate straits, pounded at every turn by the Luftwaffe's bombers and outmanoeuvred by German troops.

In London, senior officers were exasperated by Churchill's mismanagement. 'One of the fallacies that Winston seems to have gotten into his head is that we can make improvised decisions to carry on the war by meeting at 5pm each day,' wrote the head of the Army, General Sir Edmund Ironside.

'War cannot be run by the Staffs sitting around the table arguing. We cannot have a man trying to supervise all the military arrangements as if he were a company commander running a small operation to cross a bridge.'

By the end of April, it was plain that the allies faced defeat in Norway. Churchill himself bore much of the responsibility. He had asked of Britain's armed forces far more than they were capable of delivering.

But Neville Chamberlain was prime minister. It was he who, in the eyes of the British people, had presided over a disaster. On May 7, 1940, the House of Commons met to debate the Norway debacle. Chamberlain sounded bitter, petulant, beaten.

When a vote was called the following night, 33 Tories voted against their own party, and a further 60 abstained. Though Chamberlain retained a parliamentary majority, it was plain that his Conservative government had lost the nation's confidence. This was not merely the consequence of the Norway fiasco, but because through eight fumbling months most of its ministers had exposed their lack of stomach for war.

An all-party coalition was indispensable. Labour would not serve under Chamberlain. Winston Churchill became Britain's prime minister following a meeting between himself, Chamberlain, Foreign Secretary Lord Halifax and Tory Chief Whip David Margesson on the afternoon of May 9, at which Halifax declared his own unsuitability for the post, as a member of the House of Lords who would be obliged to delegate direction of the war to Churchill in the Commons.

In truth, some expedient might have been adopted to allow the Foreign Secretary to return to the Commons. But Halifax possessed sufficient self-knowledge to recognise that no more than Neville Chamberlain did he possess the stuff of a war leader.

The historian David Reynolds has observed that when the Gallipoli campaign failed in 1915, many people wished to blame Churchill. After Norway nobody did.

'It was a marvel,' Churchill wrote in an unpublished draft of his war memoirs. 'I really do not know how I survived and maintained my position in public esteem while all the blame was thrown on poor Mr Chamberlain.'

The British people showed themselves much wiser than the old ruling class, by applauding the change as most of the grandees did not. They understood that Winston Churchill, alone among their politicians, was the man for the hour.

He himself may have perceived his good fortune that he had not acceded to the premiership in earlier years, or even earlier months of the war. Had he done so, it is likely that by May 1940 his country would have tired of the excesses which he would surely have committed, while being no more capable than Chamberlain of stemming the tide of fate on the Continent.

Back in 1935, Stanley Baldwin explained his unwillingness to appoint Churchill to his own Cabinet: 'If there is going to be a war - and who can say there is not - we must keep him fresh to be our war Prime Minister.'

Baldwin's tone was jocular and patronising, yet there proved to be something in what he said.

Churchill kissed hands with King George VI on his appointment to office on the evening of May 10, just a few hours after Hitler launched his devastating blitzkrieg against France and the Low Countries.

Thereafter, in the eyes of the world, Churchill's name became inseparably identified with the history of World War II, as it remains in this 21st century.

Churchill's oratory defined the allied cause. He contributed more than any other human being to causing the 1939-45 conflict to be remembered as 'the good war'.

Around the world, he remains overwhelmingly the most famous Briton, living or dead, the embodiment of his nation's past greatness, its commitment to democracy and freedom.

Like most students of the war, I have always been fascinated by Churchill. One night not long ago, I dreamed of meeting him. His manner and appearance were plausible enough, and dated our encounter around 1910. But our fantasy conversation was implausible, because when I talked he listened.

I have found the journey through telling the tale of Winston's war one of the most fascinating and rewarding of my life. Even after 70 years, it is extraordinary how much remains to be said: about his relationships with the British people, with the Americans and Russians, with the British Army. He himself, of course, towers over the story in all his joyous splendour.

If we attempt the difficult feat of imagining Britain's war without Winston Churchill, it would be drastically diminished. It was his supreme achievement to wield the powers of a national dictator without sacrificing his commitment to democracy.

The story of Churchill at war includes all manner of follies and misjudgments, because he was a mortal man. But these are pimples on the mountain of his achievement.

His tale will never lose its capacity to move us to awe, laughter, tears, astonishment. Mankind will never forget his moral example, which will define political leadership for the rest of time.

Hitler created World War II. The struggle later became dominated by the might of Russia and the United States. But no one human being could claim greater credit for the destruction of the vast evil of Nazism than Britain's prime minister.

This cataclysmic event became, in the eyes of the world and posterity, Winston's war.

Extracted from Finest Years: Churchill As Warlord published by HarperPress on September 3, 2009, at £25. To order a copy for £22.50 (inc p&p) call 0845 155 0720.

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