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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...

Tempus Fugit Memento Mori - Time Flies Remember Death 

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Friday, August 28, 2009

Churchill: An ego-maniac in love with war?

Yes. But Churchill was emphatically the Greatest Briton

by Max Hastings

Next week sees the 70th anniversary of the outbreak of World War II. One man towered above all others at this perilous moment in Britain's fortunes - Winston Churchill. In a major two-week series for the Mail, distinguished war historian Max Hastings casts new light on the warrior-statesman. Here, in part 11, he gives his final verdict on Britain's brilliant, but flawed, war-time leader...

On the afternoon before VE Day in 1945, the chiefs of staff of the Armed Forces gathered at Downing Street for a moment of celebration with the prime minister. Winston Churchill himself set out the tray and glasses, then toasted his Army, Air Force and Navy commanders as 'the architects of victory'.

They were less generous in their appreciation of him. In his diary, the Army chief, Field Marshal Sir Alan Brooke, who had fought many policy battles with his master, wrote with some bitterness of Churchill: 'Without him England was lost for a certainty. With him England has been on the verge of disaster again and again.'

A hero's welcome: Winston Churchill is greeted by troops in 1943

Churchill was never everyone's cup of tea and some people recoiled from him, dismayed and even disgusted that he so conspicuously 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 exulted.

This glee caused such a man as the aesthete and diarist James Lees-Milne to write 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.'

Lees-Milne and other critics missed an important aspect of Churchill's attitude to conflict in general, and World War II in particular. He thrilled to the cannon's roar and rejoiced in its proximity to himself.

Yet never for a moment did he lose his sense of dismay about the death and destruction that 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 young newspaper correspondent in South Africa in January 1900.

Forty-five years later, his view was unchanged. In Berlin, he saw for himself the impact of the defeat he had brought on Germany and was filled with compassion. 'The misery of the whole world appals,' he wrote to his wife Clementine, his heart 'saddened'.

Amid such phrases, allegations crumble against Churchill 'the war lover'. Hitler, by contrast, was indifferent to the sufferings his policies imposed upon mankind.

Yet Churchill never flinched from the necessity to pay in blood for the defeat of Nazi tyranny. His sole purpose was to enable the guns to be silenced, the peoples of the world restored to their peaceful lives. Inevitably there was a price to pay and part of his greatness was that he did not shrink from it.

Winston Churchill watches a British artillery barrage on enemy positions north of Florence, Italy

Humiliation he couldn't see coming: Winston Churchill watches a British artillery barrage on enemy positions north of Florence, Italy

In 1942, he marvelled that 'in the struggle with the greatest military power, armed with the most deadly weapons, barely 100,000 of our people have been killed'. Compared with the slaughter in Russia, it was a drop in the ocean.

Such a cool assessment of what would, in other times, have been deemed a shocking 'butcher's bill' helps to explain his fitness for the nation's leadership.

Robert Menzies, the Australian prime minister, envied Churchill's realistic attitude to war. 'He is wise. War is terrible and it cannot be won except by lost lives. That being so, don't think of them.' Churchill, with his combination of compassion and ruthlessness, was the man for the times.

Churchill had won the war, but his contempt for the humdrum affairs of peace turned Britain against him

Yet, back in 1938, he had seemed a man out of his time, a patrician imperialist whose vision was rooted in Britain's Victorian past. By 1945, while this remained true, and goes far to explain his own disappointments at the new world he found himself in, it had not prevented him from becoming the greatest war leader his country had ever known.

His name rang across the world like no other Englishman's had in history. Believing Britain great, for one last brief season he was able to make her so. To an extraordinary degree, what he achieved between 1940 and 1945 defines the nation's selfimage, even into the 21st century.

He wielded more power than any other British prime minister had known or would know again. But he exercised the privileges of a dictator without casting off the mantle of a democrat. His chief of staff, General 'Pug' Ismay, once found him bemoaning the bother of preparing a speech for the House of Commons, and clearly apprehensive about its reception.

The soldier said: 'Why don't you tell them to go to hell?' Churchill turned in a flash: 'You should not say those things. I am the servant of the House.'
Ahead of the game: Winston Churchill foresaw the menace of the Soviet Union and began making plans to go to war with Russia

To others he described himself 'a privileged domestic, a valet de chambre'. It should be a source of wonder and pride that such a man led Britain through the war, more than half-believing this.

It was entirely appropriate that he led a coalition government, for he was never a party man. He existed outside the framework of conventional politics, and never seemed any more comfortable with the Conservative Party than it was with him.

It was once said he would no more think of consulting the party than the chauffeur would of consulting the motor car.

As for his war direction, it is not difficult to identify his strategic errors and misplaced enthusiasms, the sort of thing that so upset Brooke and coloured his judgment of his boss. Yet no warlord, no commander, in history has failed to make mistakes. It is as easy to catalogue the mistakes of Alexander the Great, Caesar and Napoleon as those of Churchill.

Moreover, when his war leadership is measured against that of Roosevelt or Stalin, not to mention Hitler, Mussolini or the Japanese prime minister Tojo, his failures and shortcomings shrink dramatically.

The outcome justified all. The defining fact of Churchill's leadership was Britain's emergence from World War II among the victors. Most of his own people acknowledged this.

Historians have a duty to identify blunders and shortcomings, to present evidence for the prosecution. But before the jury retires, it is necessary to focus upon essentials.

Churchill towers over the war, standing higher than any other single human being at the head of the forces of light. Without him, Britain's part would have seemed quite small by VEDay. Anyone who attempts to imagine Britain in World War II without his presence will find it sadly shrunken in stature. Even Brooke was moved to complain: 'Dull Cabinet without PM.'

Winston Churchill and Josef Stalin at Yalta in 1945: Flattery got the PM nowhere

If Churchill's rhetoric and personality had been less remarkable, if he had not been so lovable, some of his military decisions might have been more harshly judged by his contemporaries and posterity.

As it was, he was able to weave spells in the House of Commons and in his writings, which deflected even the best-merited criticisms.

Through his oratory, he possessed the ability to invest with majesty the deeds and even failures of mortal men.

More than any other national leader in history, he caused words to become not mere assertions of fact or expressions of intent, but acts of governance. 'His countrymen feel he is saying what they would like to say for themselves if they knew how,' wrote Lord Moran, his doctor. 'He speaks for the nation.'

In reality, Churchill did not command the respect and trust of all the British people all of the time. But he empowered millions to look beyond the havoc of the battlefield, the squalor of their domestic circumstances amid privation and bombardment, and to perceive a higher purpose in their struggles and sacrifices.

His rhetoric also played a significant part in causing the struggle against Hitler to be perceived by posterity as 'the good war'. He explained the struggle as no one else could, in terms mankind could comprehend and relate to, now as then.

He cherished aspirations that often proved greater than his nation was capable of fulfilling. But it seems inconsistent to applaud his defiance of reason in insisting that Britain must fight on in 1940, and then to denounce the extravagance of his later demands upon the nation and its Armed Forces.

The service chiefs often deplored his misjudgments and intemperance. Yet his instinct for war was far more highly developed than theirs. If they were often right in pleading that the time was not ripe to fight, left to their own devices they would have been intolerably slow to fight at all.

Goodwill: Churchill (left), Franklin D. Roosevelt (centre) and Stalin (right) with their advisers at the Yalta Agreement talks which was instrumental to the partitioning of Germany and the inception of the United Nations

Britain produced few outstanding military commanders in World War II, a reflection of the institutional debility of the British Army that also afflicted its tactics, choice of weapons and battlefield performance.

During the war years, his commanders far more often disappointed his hopes than fulfilled them. He was forever searching for great captains, the new Marlboroughs and Wellingtons. Neither the Army nor its chieftains fulfilled his warrior ideal, and it was never plausible that they should.

Much of the story of Churchill and World War II is of a leader seeking from his nation's torpid military culture greater things than it was capable of achieving. He inspired it to accomplish more than it dreamed possible, but never as much as he wanted.

At the same time, it must be said that, had Britain produced legions of warriors such as those of Germany and Japan, this country would have ceased to be the kind of liberal democracy the war was fought to preserve.

Most great national leaders are cold men. Churchill's contemporary, the U.S. wartime president Franklin Roosevelt, was, for all his capacity to simulate warmth. But despite monumental egoism, Churchill displayed immense human sympathy.

For this, he had his indomitable wife, Clementine, to thank. She provided a service to the world by her manifold services to her husband, foremost among which was to tell him truths about himself.

Accommodating a lion in the drawing room would be disruptive to any family. Without ever taming Winston, Clementine managed and tempered him as far as any mortal could, while sustaining her husband's love in a fashion that moves posterity.

Whatever he might have been without her, it would surely have been something less than he was.

History must take Churchill as a whole, blemishes and all. If the governance of nations in peace is best conducted by reasonable men, in war there is a powerful argument for leadership by those sometimes willing to adopt courses beyond the boundaries of reason, as Churchill did in 1940-41.

His foremost quality was strength of will. This was so fundamental to his triumph in the early war years that it seems absurd to suggest that he should have become more biddable, merely because in 1943-45 his stubbornness was sometimes deployed in support of misjudged purposes.

He was probably the greatest actor upon the stage of affairs the world has ever known. Familiarity with his speeches and anecdotage about his wartime doings does nothing to diminish our capacity to be moved to awe, tears and laughter by the sustained magnificence of his performance.

He was the largest human being ever to occupy his office. If his leadership through World War II was imperfect, it is certain that no other British ruler in history has matched his direction of the nation in peril, nor, please God, is ever likely to find himself in circumstances to surpass it.

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

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