Thursday, May 03, 2007

The Churchill Series - May 3, 2007

(One of a series of weekday posts on the life of Winston S. Churchill.)

In his recent review of Lynne Olson’s Troublesome Young Men The Rebels Who Brought Churchill to Power and Helped Save England(Farrar, Straus & Giroux), Newsweek editor and author Jon Meacham writes:

[May 10, 1940, the day Churchill became Prime Minister,] was a hinge of history. It is neither sentimental nor simplistic to say that Churchill's ascension and refusal to surrender as he awaited America's entry into the war is one of the great achievements of this or any age. Things were one way before Churchill became prime minister, and another way afterward.

It is also true, however, that the story of appeasement and of Britain's slow path to war in the 1930s is more complicated than the usual narrative suggests. Churchill was not alone in his opposition to Hitler during what he called his wilderness years, and therein lies the strength of Lynne Olson's brisk, engaging new book, "Troublesome Young Men."

Olson, a former White House correspondent for The Baltimore Sun, has given us a fascinating snapshot of the Tory "rebels," as she calls them, who ultimately opposed Neville Chamberlain and helped elevate the then-unbeatified Churchill.

Olson's characters shared school ties, country houses, London clubs and, in at least one scandalous instance, a woman who was simultaneously the wife of one and the mistress of another. Their names have little resonance now: Harold Macmillan's is familiar, but those of the others - Robert Boothby, Leo Amery, Ronald Cartland, Robert Cranborne - have receded into the shadows.

Olson's book should help correct that, for these men were early defenders of freedom in the face of Nazism and English appeasement, often taking stands that put them at odds with men and women they had known all their lives and turned them into political targets. Neville Chamberlain - so seemingly upright and straitlaced in old photographs - tapped telephones, conducted surveillance and played dirty tricks on opponents within his own party. …

In the shadow of Churchill's leadership it can be difficult to recall just how ascendant Chamberlain was for so long, and how unlikely it seemed that Churchill, or anyone else, might dislodge him. Many Britons, if not most, viewed appeasement as a diplomatic, even moral, triumph. Memories of the carnage of the Great War were too fresh. …

This new book reminds us that there are others besides Churchill who deserve our thanks for seeing us through freedom's defining storm, those years when everything was at risk, when everything seemed lost, and yet light triumphed over darkness.
Olson’s book sound like it’s worth a read. I’ve ordered it.

Have any of you read it yet? Your assessments?

In a month or so I’ll post my “review” of the book; and again invite your assessmants.