Wednesday, January 23, 2008

The Churchill Series - Jan. 23, 2008

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

Following the attacks of September 11 Finest Hour, The Churchill Centre's quarterly, republished an essay by Churchill's official biographer, Sir Martin Gilbert, which the Centre first published a decade before.

The Centre said it was republishing the essay, "Churchill For Today," “because of its particular relevance in 2002.”

It's as true now as it was six years ago that Gilbert’s essay has “particular relevance.” Here are excerpts, followed by a link to the entire essay.

"Why study Churchill?" I am often asked. "Surely he has nothing to say to us today?"

Yet in my own work, as I open file after file of Churchill's archive, from his entry into Government in 1905 to his retirement in 1955 (a 50-year span!), I am continually surprised by the truth of his assertions, the modernity of his thought, the originality of his mind, the constructiveness of his proposals, his humanity, and, most remarkable of all, his foresight.

When, in 1919, Churchill called Lenin the embodiment of evil, many people thought it was a typical Churchillian exaggeration. "How unfair," they exclaimed, "how unworthy of a statesman." …

From the first days of Communist rule in Russia, Churchill did not doubt for a moment that the Communist system would be a blight on free enterprise and a terrible restraint on all personal freedoms. …

Nevertheless, Churchill was always an optimist with regard to human affairs. One of his favourite phrases, a Boer saying that he had heard in South Africa in 1899, was: "All will come right." He was convinced, even during the Stalinist repressions in Russia, that Communism could not survive. Throughout his life he had faith in the power of all peoples to control and improve their own destiny, without the interference of outside forces....

[In 1950,] at the height of the Stalin era, these were Churchill's words, in Boston: "The machinery of propaganda may pack (peoples') minds with falsehood and deny them truth for many generations of time, but the soul of man thus held in trance, or frozen in a long night, can be awakened by a spark coming from God knows where, and in a moment the whole structure of lies and oppression is on trial for its life." …

Once a war had been thrust on any nation, Churchill was a leading advocate of fighting it until it was won, until the danger of subjugation and tyranny had been brought to an end. He was equally certain that, by foresight and wisdom, all wars could be averted: provided the threatened states banded together and built up their collective strength.

This is what the Western world failed to do in the Chamberlain era: Churchill always regarded the Second World War as the "unnecessary war" that could have been averted by a united stand of those endangered by Hitler. Forty years later, in the Reagan-Thatcher era, Churchill's precept was followed. The result is that under their successors the prospects for a peaceful world were much enhanced. …

In every sphere of human endeavour, Churchill foresaw the dangers and potential for evil. Many of those dangers are our dangers today. He also pointed the way forward to our solutions for tomorrow. That is one reason why his life is worthy of our attention.

Some writers portray him as a figure of the past, an anachronism, a grotesque. In doing so, it is they who are the losers, for he was a man of quality: a good guide for our troubled decade and for the generations now reaching adulthood
Gilbert's essay is here.