Friday, July 06, 2007

The Churchill Series – July 6, 2007

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

This post deals with the same topic I discussed yesterday: readers’ comments and what those comments suggest about series readers.

The thing that most impresses me about series commentors is how well they handle their knowledge or lack of knowledge when commenting. By that I mean, when commenters don’t know something they freely admit it and ask information-seeking questions. When they do know something, they invariably comment in a helpful, fact-based and “to the point” manner with no discernable “look at me” thrown in.

Some examples of what I mean: I recently mentioned that Churchill, because of an injury years before that limited his range of right shoulder use, had used a Mauser pistol at the Battle of Omdurman instead of a sword, which was the weapon used by British cavalry officers at that time.

A short while later a commenter noted that the type of Mauser Churchill used could be adapted with the addition of a wooden stock, thus allowing the pistol to be steadied by the shooter’s bracing it against his shoulder. The commenter said:

It is also interesting to know that the Mauser automatic used by Churchill at Omderman was a broomhandle Mauser with a shoulder stock, the perfect weapon to have one hand guiding the horse and the maximum bracing for the gun (the shoulder and the grip on the pistol). It was chambered in .30 Mauser, regarded in its day as a hot pistol load. For those not gun aficianadoes, the stock functioned as a holster and had a slot that allowed the pistol to be attached to the rear of the grip.
Sure enough, when I went to this site that’s exactly what I learned. (Churchill’s even mentioned in the article)

The commenter/reader was right and helped clear up something I hadn’t mentioned in the series post: in his account of Omdurman in My Early Life, Churchill speaks of riding toward where he knew the battle would take place with his Mauser in its “wooden holster.”

I had thought it odd that Churchill’s pistol holster would be made of wood until, thanks to the reader, I learned about its double use, something I assume Churchill believed his readers would know when he published My Early Life about 1930.

Two very recent examples of the kind of reader comments I’m talking about can be found on the thread of the July 2 post in which I suggested Churchill was sometimes foolhardy in the face of physical danger. The two comments follow in full:

First comment:
I'd previously mentioned the character in Winds of War stating: “Winston is a perpetual undergraduate about getting into combat. He's a great man, but it's one of his many faults." The same criticism was leveled against Edward R. Murrow for exposing himself to danger (during the Blitz and going on bomber runs) needlessly. Not bad company.

By the way, I sometimes feel you're doing the 'series' just for me, so it's nice to see others commenting.
And the second comment:
[At the time Churchill took the Americans to a rooftop to witness a bombing raid on London it was]ten months before Pearl Harbor, [and] the American reps may well have still been under the influence of isolationist politics of the "he kept us out of war" sort.

Churchill did have a history of theatrically exposing himself to danger. But he also had a far more important reason for rubbing those diplomats' noses in the Blitz: to demonstrate that the Germans were returning to their WW I habits of mass attacks against civilians, and to create two witnesses who couldn't very well say in future that the war news was overblown.

Perhaps their personal descriptions to FDR assisted in first setting up Lend-Lease, and then assisting wholehearted cooperation with Britain in opposing the German-Japanese axis militarily after Pearl Harbor.
The truth may be that what I saw as foolhardiness in the face of danger was a calculated attempt by Churchill to impress upon the Americans not just what the war was about, but British resolve to see it through to the end.

And yes, as far as courage in WW II is concerned Churchill and Morrow constitute very, very “good company”

Based on the comments I do get, I believe this about series readers: you are a remarkably informed group and interested in becoming more informed. How many people now the type of Mauser Churchill used at Omdurman? How many Americans today know much about Ed Morrow, including that he once flew on a bombing raids? Or that Churchill before Pearl Harbor took great pains to impress every American he came in contact with of British resolve in the face on Nazi attacks?

There are many other such examples I could cite. You may recall, for example, the two recent comments in response to the post concerning the Enigma and code-breaking work at Bletchley. I didn't get into detail here on those comment because I know so little about computers, but the comments impressed me with their obvious expert knowledge.

I hope you’re all back on Monday after having enjoyed a nice post-Fourth weekend.