By Chet Yarbrough
This is the middle volume of the three volume set about Winston Churchill, begun by William Manchester and finished by Paul Reid. The first volume (published in 1983) dealt with Churchill’s childhood, education, and family. In Manchester’s first volume, Churchill grows into middle age with youthful “Visions of Glory”. Considering Churchill was 58 at the end of the first volume, how much life could be left? Manchester explained– a lot. Winston Churchill earned a reputation among politicians and the public as a sage for the ages. It was 1932, the year of Hitler’s appearance on the national stage.
This second volume illustrates how one person, after passing life’s youthful years of exuberance, can impact the course of history. “Alone 1932-1940” suggests even a 58-year-old may be at the threshold of a new beginning. Churchill defied age as aggressively as he defied Hitler.
Years before the world recognized Hitler’s threat, Churchill rang a warning bell. Churchill foresaw WWII as England and the world slept. A rising tide of nationalism, and totalitarianism gave birth to Nazism and Stalinism. Churchill was ignored by England’s Prime Minister, the King, and Parliament for eight long years while Hitler’s deceit and lies duped Europe and threatened war.
Churchill descended into a valley of ignominy in 1932-1940. He was a pariah in the eyes of government leadership, of which he had been a part of most of his adult life. Vilified by Prime Minister Chamberlain and ridiculed by Joseph Kennedy, the U.S. ambassador to England, Churchill was considered a warmonger and unfit for high office.
Though Manchester does not include Joseph Kennedy’s diatribes against war, Kennedy amplified the narrow vision of capitalist’ belief that everything is negotiable. Kennedy believed Hitler was good for Germany. Both Kennedy and Chamberlain believed Hitler was only focused on reviving the German economy. Prime Minister Chamberlain, like Kennedy, was a former successful business manager. Chamberlain praised Hitler for his business acumen.
Today’s American President mistakenly assesses Putin like Joseph Kennedy and Chamberlain did Hitler, before WWII.
Chamberlain and Kennedy shared a common intellectual belief that Hitler’s Germany could be handled like any competing business enterprise. Manchester writes that Chamberlain believed Hitler was a man of his word; that Hitler would stand by his agreements, like any contracting business person. Chamberlain and Kennedy argued that rumors of Nazi atrocity were chimeras of disgruntled competitors to discredit Germany’s economic resurgence.
Few believed that Germany was preparing for war. Few believed Germany was creating concentration camps for slave labor.Few believed Hitler’s “Mein Kampf” was an outline for an Aryan nation intended by its monomaniacal author. Few believed Hitler really meant to exterminate the weak, infirm, and non-Aryan races.
However, Churchill was one leader that recognized Hitler’s determined, immoral, and demonic drive to create an Aryan nation to dominate Eastern and Western Europe. Manchester describes Chamberlain as a strong willed Prime Minister and business leader that sought peace at the price of honor. Even at the end of Hitler’s broken promises, when Poland was invaded, Chamberlain considered himself a hero for peace. Despite Chamberlain’s betrayal of Czechoslovakia and near concessionary cave-in at Hitler’s invasion of Poland, Chamberlain believed be had kept England and Europe safe from war. Chamberlain died ignominiously, soon after Churchill became Prime Minister. Manchester enlightens the uninformed about England’s dithering before a declaration of war. But, Churchill understood that Russia was a real-politic’ player if Europe hoped to contain German aggression. Churchill tried to influence parliament and Chamberlain to adopt a treaty with Russia to surround Germany if war became inevitable. Chamberlain chose to delay an agreement with Russia by using low level ambassadors from England to negotiate a treaty. Hitler recognized the danger of being surrounded and used Ribbentrop, the Reich Minister of Foreign Affairs, to negotiate the Molotov-Ribbentrop treaty. The treaty divided the spoils of Poland in return for Russia’s neutrality. While Chamberlain dithered, Hitler consolidated his plan for war.
Churchill is not characterized as perfect by Manchester. Manchester notes that Churchill, in most respects, was a man of the nineteenth century. Manchester notes some of Churchill’s patriarchal and colonial beliefs. When confronted by subordinate’ opinions, Churchill could be unreasonably dismissive. Churchill treated women like servants unless they were a part of his family. Churchill fought India’s drive for independence because he believed India would collapse without England’s support. Churchill abhorred Mahatma Gandhi’s pacifism and suggested it only worked because of English restraint and civility.
Churchill exhibited some of Hitler’s rhetorical skills and unwavering drive to make bad as well as good military decisions. Churchill, like Hitler, expected to win at whatever cost was incurred.
On balance, Manchester convinces one that Churchill’s energy and determination held Germany at bay during the most disastrous years of World War II. Despite his aristocratic upbringing, Churchill identified with working class England and wept openly for soldiers and families that were bombed into oblivion by the German Luftwaffe. After finishing “The Last Lion: Alone 1932-1940”, one realizes the depth of gratitude a free world owes Churchill and England for their roles in WWII.[contact-form-7 id=”7380″ title=”What did you think about the review?_copy”]