The Complexities of Winston Churchill

Two quotes from essays by Geoffrey Wheatcroft in the New York Review of Books, June 9, 2016

The only thing that worries me in life is – money,” Winston told his brother Jack. “We shall finish up stone broke.” That was in 1898, but he could have gone on saying it for more than forty years to come.

Churchill, Great and Mean, June 8, 2016

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ChurchillIn My Early Life, his most engaging book, he writes a romantic reverie about cavalry warfare in the good old days, cast aside in “a greedy, base, opportunist” manner by chemists in spectacles and chauffeurs pulling at the levers of aeroplanes….

War, which used to be cruel and magnificent, has now become cruel and squalid…we now have entire populations, including even women and children, pitted against one another in brutish mutual extermination.

Ten years after writing that, Churchill led the way in cruel, brutish, and exterminatory war-making against women and children, partly thanks to his uncompromising personality, partly thanks to what was seen as the logic of the situation. Three years after he hoped for “devastating, exterminating” attacks on civilians, he was shown blazing German towns filmed from the air, and exclaimed, “Are we beasts? Have we taken this too far?” And two years after that he tried (not very creditably) to dissociate himself from the destruction of Dresden by Bomber Command. He was the same man – the same immensely complex man – in 1930, 1940, 1943 and 1945. He was the same man still when, in his last speech as prime minister before his final retirement in 1955, he wondered sadly, “Which way shall we turn to save our lives and the future of the world?”

Churchill and his Myths, May 29, 2008



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