Sir Winston Churchill was the imposing figure of World War II. He was the one who did the most to shape our idea of what really happened in those terrible years of conflict.
He is one of the main reasons why we like to think it was a 'good war'.
The passion and the parables of his war are now better known than those of the Bible. Instead of the triumphal walk to Jerusalem, the Last Supper and the betrayal in Gethsemane, the Crucifixion and the Resurrection, we have a modern substitute: Winston the prophet marginalized in the desert, living on cigars and champagne instead of locusts and wild honey, but despised, exiled and prophetic anyway.
Winston Churchill, Prime Minister 1940-45, Churchill inspects a & # 39; machine gun & # 39; during an inspection of the invasion defenses near Hartlepool, July 31, 1940
As a child, I studied many patriotic accounts of the war, my favorite being a comic strip produced by the weekly The Eagle, called The Happy Warrior. This cast Churchill as a kind of superhero who was somehow always right in the midst of an endless succession of disasters that mysteriously ended in a final triumph. It would be many years before I understood how wrong this treasured image was, and it is still painful for me to recognize it.
So do millions of others. Because to treat Churchill with justice is to portray him as a fallible human being. Without a doubt, he saved Britain and probably the world when he rightly refused to parley with Hitler in 1940. Nothing can take this away from him. But Winston Churchill was not a superman and could make serious mistakes.
His vanity and self-deception, issues that go through his conduct of the war, had a very high price. But such thoughts are dangerous. They destroy the legend to which we all want to cling.
Peter Hitchens says that Churchill is one of the main reasons why we like to think it was a 'good war'.
Take, for example, your trip home across the Atlantic on board the HMS Prince of Wales after your first meeting with US President Franklin D. Roosevelt in August 1941. The summit at Placentia Bay in Newfoundland, which the British expected It attracted Americans to war, it had been a damaging failure. His disappointing result was revealed to the public while Churchill was still on his way home through the stormy Atlantic infested with submarines, on one of the most recognizable warships in the world.
Churchill, however, boasted of the possibility of an encounter with the enemy. Presuming as always, in spite of the danger, he persuaded the nervous Captain John Leach to divert his precious and irreplaceable ship and launch steam once and twice at full speed directly in the middle of a convoy heading east.
An eyewitness reminded the Prime Minister & # 39; about our bridge … waving his hand in the air, forming a V with the index fingers of his right hand … cheering as madly as any of the men who were cheering him & # 39;
This is uncomfortably reminiscent of Siegfried Sassoon's bitter verse, The General, in which two soldiers of the Great War agree that their commander is a cheerful and ancient card, as they approach Arras with his rifle and backpack. But Sassoon ends the verse by noticing that the jovial officer did the two & # 39; in the attack on the one who sent them.
Winston Churchill certainly did it for hundreds of his shipmates aboard the Prince of Wales shortly after arriving home. He sent the ship and those on board in mortal danger, and completely against the advice of the experts. By ordering them on a useless mission to Singapore, he caused the loss of two great ships, the deaths of hundreds and the long and arduous captivity of hundreds more.
The combination of the sad reality of the mission, the defeat and the military madness, and the childish posture of Churchill, is surprising. And this contrast between heroic history and the often grim fact is at the heart of the "Good War" myth. Our humiliation on the part of the Japanese in Singapore, thanks to the bad preparations and the complacency, destroyed our reputation of invincibility in the Far East and in the end it cost us all the Empire.
British Conservative politician Winston Churchill (1874 – 1965) toured his Woodford constituency the day before the general election on May 25, 1955.
Singapore was far from being Churchill's only error of judgment.
He risked the safety of the inevitable Atlantic convoys by diverting planes to the cruel and militarily ineffective bombing of German civilians.
His concern for fighting in and around the Mediterranean deprived the Atlantic Fleet of ships and men and severely weakened the Navy's ability to fight submarines. Many of us to this day are angry and upset to learn that Churchill's war leadership was often fiercely contested by professional wrestlers and was criticized in secret sessions of Parliament.
British Prime Minister Winston Churchill (1874 – 1965, left) during a visit to a Royal Air Force hunting station
We would prefer to believe that he was the immaculate hero and the military genius we grew up in to believe. Because if any part of the legend is in doubt, then all the secular faith that is based on it is in danger as well.
One of Churchill's most bitter narratives of bombast and error is found in the book Someone Had Blundered, Bernard Ash's account of the last weeks of HMS Prince of Wales and Repulse, the elder but swift battlecruiser that accompanied her to Singapore. and then to the bottom of the China Sea. Both were sunk by Japanese planes on December 10, 1941, off the coast of Malaya, only four months after Churchill greeted him so cheerfully from the Prince of Wales Bridge.
Churchill's fanciful belief was that the presence of large ships in eastern waters would act as a deterrent for Japan. The idea was naval nonsense. For Japan, overwhelmingly superior to Great Britain in the area, in air, naval and air power, the decision only gave them more objectives. Meanwhile, when General Arthur Percival fought for more men, tanks and planes in the summer of 1941, hoping to reinforce Malaya against a Japanese assault he had planned in detail, they simply told him that none were available. This was not true
Former Prime Minister of Great Britain, smoking a cigar and making a victory sign
Churchill was instead sending tanks and planes to Stalin. In total, as the danger to Malaya became increasingly obvious, Britain supplied 676 fighters and 446 tanks to Russia, which, in fact, had many tanks of its own by the end of 1941.
On February 15, 1942, British and Australian forces surrendered in Singapore and 85,000 men entered a horrible captivity, in what was the single largest single defeat of British weapons in history.
It caused a permanent collapse in British power and reputation in the East from which we could not recover later. In a few years, India was independent and soon after, the rest of the Empire. Australia and New Zealand, since that time, grew closer to the United States and farther from Britain. On the contrary, Churchill voluntarily compromised the scant land and sea forces for the defense of Britain's position in Egypt. But it is very difficult to explain why Churchill saw this as vital. The Suez Canal was closed for most of the war anyway. The German threat to the oil fields of Iraq and Iran came through the USSR, not Egypt. However, in August 1940, at the height of the Battle of Britain, one third of the tank force in Great Britain was ordered to Egypt. This surprising fact suggests that Churchill never took seriously the threat of a German invasion of Britain, although he made great use of the supposed danger for the purpose of moral construction.
British Prime Minister Winston Churchill (right) with William Hood Simpson (1888 – 1980), commander in chief of the 9th US Army. UU
A distinguished historian of war, AJP Taylor, argued that this decision to reinforce Egypt entangled Britain in the Mediterranean without good reason. Without doubt, the Suez Canal was an artery of the Empire in times of peace, but after Italy entered the war in the summer of 1940, the Mediterranean would be closed to British ships for the next three years.
The deviation of Churchill from the naval forces to the Mediterranean brought us close to losing the Battle of the Atlantic in the spring of 1943; in fact, Churchill would later admit that the closely balanced fight against submarines was part of the war that had genuinely caused him to lose sleep
But it was Churchill who sent men, money and material away from that crucial conflict to embark on ill-planned adventures, including the bombing of German cities
Sir Winston Churchill wearing a variety of decorations photographed in the review in Hyde Park
The next intervention of Great Britain, in Greece, also began for reasons of prestige, not of necessity. It was supposed to encourage the other free nations of the world. Instead, it became a Dunkirk in miniature, with evacuations from Greece and Crete, costing valuable warships that could not be saved.
He failed both militarily and in his goal to put heart in the free nations. In another important criticism of Churchill's priorities, Taylor argues that it was German air power, and the lack of Great Britain, that destroyed the British forces in Crete. He says: "Three squadrons of fighters would have saved Crete, but none were available due to the obsession with strategic bombers."
This obsession was encouraged by Churchill's chief scientific adviser and close friend, the German Frederick Lindemann, later Lord Cherwell, an unlikely companion of the cigar-and-champagne-smoking prime minister. Lindemann was an abstemious vegetarian, non-smoker, with no known sexual relationships with anyone, who lived with egg whites, Port Salut cheese and olive oil.
But Lindemann was also a ruthless man and a fierce warrior from Whitehall, terrifying in the committees. It was Lindemann who wrote the now famous minute of "accommodation" that greatly impressed Churchill. In it, he argued that bombing all the major cities of Germany could destroy 50 percent of the houses.
Sir Henry Tizard, one of the most experienced and experienced government scientists, argued that Lindemann's estimate was five times higher. A postwar bombing survey revealed that Lindemann's estimate was, in fact, ten times higher. The survey also showed that bombing civilians had been remarkably ineffective against the German war effort, while the precise bombardment of fuel and armaments plants, when attempted, was immensely effective. This story, not very well known, undermines the shallow and meaningless cult of Winston Churchill as the infallible Great Leader, a cult to which, surely, an adult country no longer needs to cling.
Every thinking person needs, almost 80 years later, to examine the myths surrounding Churchill's bombardment strategy. The general response of perfectly friendly, gentle and well-educated Britons is to say illogical things about the Blitz.
They will say, correctly, that the Germans deliberately killed many British civilians in their own homes. With all reason, they will excoriate the cruelty of the attack against Coventry, horrible and inexcusable. But they are often unaware that the Coventry carnage was small compared to what the RAF would later do to German cities of similar size.
They will rightly condemn the bombing of Germany by British cities as a form of uncivilized war. And then they will absurdly and irrationally use this as an excuse or justification for Britain to do almost exactly the same thing.
If it was uncivilized for the Germans to do it, it was uncivilized for us to do it. Many also believe that the Dresden firestorm, which by the most reliable calculation left 25,000 dead, was more or less unique, a single episode of overly enthusiastic action in a generally contained campaign.
They do not know that there is, in fact, a long and distressing catalog of German cities where British bombers deliberately destroyed human life on a frightening scale.
There is no doubt that much of this bombing was to appease Josef Stalin, who booed Churchill for not opening a second front and fighting against Hitler's armies in Europe. Bombing Germany at least assured him that we were doing something. When Churchill promised plentiful bombings in a meeting with Stalin, the Soviet leader came together to demand the destruction of houses and factories.
In the end, the bombing offensive would be extremely costly for human life and the national treasury. Young brave and capable, and a very expensive technology, were thrown into the flames with little material
Winston Churchill walks in a mermaid costume, film crew beyond
effect. In 1942, for example, the RAF killed 4,900 Germans, two Germans for each expensive bomber (and its valuable and difficult crew) lost. A large part of the 37,192 tons of bombs dropped on Germany that year completely missed its objectives. During the entire RAF bombing offensive, the crews suffered a casualty rate of 44%. This was comparable to the carnage of the worst battles of the Great War.
The only solid argument that these attacks advanced in the war effort is that they diverted planes and artillery from the eastern front towards the defense of the German homeland. This is perfectly true. But a more effective bomber offensive against real military and economic targets, especially fuel plants, would have done the same and would have been more useful in winning the war. Such an offensive finally happened very late in the war and did a huge and rapid damage to the German war effort.
The bombing campaign also forced Britain to divert scarce and costly resources from the construction of its D-Day army and the Battle of the Atlantic.
The military high command of the Allies did not see the night bombing of Germany as particularly important. What was it for? The Americans could not understand his purpose. There is little doubt that the air war was chosen primarily as a substitute for a second front, for political and propaganda reasons, but not by the military. A moral justification remains elusive.
The easiest way to avoid this problem is to say, correctly but irrelevantly, that the Germans behaved much worse. But does German fear excuse the bad things done by us? I'm not sure what moral rule book supports this belief.
As the years go by, a real justification becomes harder to find, however, the bombing is still strongly defended.
Surprising as it may be, there is a postsdata even more worrisome. Those who defend the bombing of German civilians generally subscribe completely to the cult of Churchill and the veneration of the Battle of Britain as the supreme moment of the Better Hour.
I think that such people would agree that the invention of radar and its deployment in the defensive system & # 39; Chain Home & # 39; On the eve of the war it was an unmixed blessing that possibly saved this country.
Winston Churchill imagines smoking a cigar while boarding a cometary plane at the London airport
But if Churchill had been in power a few years earlier, there would have been no radar, because his favorite, Frederick Lindemann, would have halted his development.
The & # 39; Committee Tizard & # 39; (officially the Committee for the Scientific Study of Air Defense) began to meet in secret in January 1935. Tizard kept it small and focused, and chose its members with great care.
They quickly decided that radar was the only thing to back up. And they began the concentrated, brilliant and exhausting work on it (and in persuading the Armed Forces that it was what they needed), which would put Britain at an advantage in its development at a vital moment in world history.
And yet, Lindemann had become involved, and almost ruined it, demanding priority for his own schemes. The Civil Service managed to put Lindemann aside, and so the radar was saved. But if Churchill had been in power then, the radar might not have developed in time. Just thinking about the possibility that we could have entered the war so easily without radar makes me shiver.
When we contemplate this great saga, perhaps the greatest event in the history of mankind since the fall of the Roman Empire, we can not be impassive. The war went mad in the lives of my own parents and eclipsed until his death by his memories and consequences.
My generation must also be deeply moved by it. But we have had more time to think, and our responsibility is for the future.
The novelist Olivia Manning, who lived through some of the most bitter experiences of that war, concluded her series of brilliant autobiographical novels about war with these words of sympathy and hope for the surviving characters: "Like the lost figures left on stage final". of a great tragedy, now they had to order the ruins of the war and bury in their hearts the dead nobles. "We, the ones who came after, are now those lost figures that remain on the stage, until we understand the true nature of that great tragedy, which we seem unwilling to do, I do not believe we can, in our hearts, bury the Worse still, much worse, we can be tempted again in wars that can ruin us completely, because we have been tricked into thinking that these wars are good.
I never knew until I was old how hard the purchased peace had been. I never understood until I was old how much my own parents had paid for it, and how ungrateful it had been me and many of my generation.
It is with your memory in mind that I conclude this unhappy story. Peace, precarious peace, depends more now than ever on our fantasies of chivalry and benevolence, and of ceasing to hide from us the savage truth.
Abbreviated excerpt from The Phoney Victory: The World War II Illusion by Peter Hitchens, published by I.B. Tauris, priced at £ 17.99. Price of the offer £ 14.39 (20 percent discount) until September 23. Apply at mailshop.co.uk/books or call 0844 571 0640 – p & p is free on orders over £ 15.