Tuesday, July 24, 2007

The Last Lion

This summer in anticipation of a future trip to England and France I have been rereading William Manchester's biography, The Last Lion: Winston Spencer Churchill, Alone 1932-1940. As part of this future trip we will be visiting Churchill's beloved home at Chartwell in Kent to the south of London. In the HBO movie, "The Gathering Storm," in it's most dramatic scene, Churchill looks out the window of Chartwell and tells his wife that a Nazi German army marching on London, from the English Channel, would pass through Chartwell.

In my opinion Winston Churchill was the greatest man of the 20th Century. I feel privileged to be able to visit his home with at least one of my children. When my children were younger, at bed time I would forsake the usual bedtime stories, and I would read to them from Winston Churchill's own books.

Manchester has written a great biography. Stewart Brant says:

It's a painful dissection of appeasement-rabid England in the '30s--talk about ignoring signals and trying to buy off reality with more fervent ideology. Manchester's opening chapter on Winston's workday at Chartwell is one of the finest pieces of biography writing anywhere

The biography covers the years between World War I and II when Churchill was out of power and "Alone". He had held just about every cabinet post in the British Government. He was now out of power and a backbencher in the Parliament. He was a lone voice warning of the danger of Hitler and the Nazi's. England after World War I wanted peace and was willing to ignore the dangers signals to keep the peace. Churchill was isolated by the elites in England and was derided as a "war monger." He spent much of his time at Chartwell but kept in touch with friends in the government agencies that had access to the intelligence reports on the fact that Hitler and the Germans were re arming. After Hitler invaded Poland Churchill could no longer be ignored and was put in the cabinet as First Lord of the Admiralty,(head of the navy) a job he had held in World War I. When his appointment was announce a message was sent out to the British Fleet, "Winson is back... Winston is back." A few months later as France was falling to the Germans the British turned to Churchill as Prime Minister. It was the worst of times as England was now alone to face the Nazi Juggernaut!

Manchester finishes his biography as follows:

They had seen a strong Germany as a buffer against bolshevism, had thought their security would be strengthened if they sidled up to the fierce, virile Third Reich. Nazi coarseness, anti-Semitism, the Reich's darker underside, were rationalized; time, they assured one another, would blur the jagged edges of Nazi Germany. So, with their eyes open, they sought accommodation with a criminal regime, turned a blind eye to its iniquities, ignored its frequent resort to murder and torture, submitted to extortion, humiliation, and abuse until, having sold out all who had sought to stand shoulder to shoulder with Britain and keep the bridge against the new barbarism, they led England herself into the cold damp shadow of the gallows, friendless save for the demoralized republic across the Channel. Their end came when the House of Commons, in a revolt of conscience, wrenched power from them and summoned to the colors the one man who had foretold all that had passed, who had tried, year after year, alone and mocked, to prevent the war by urging the only policy which would have done the job. And now, in the desperate spring of 1940, with the reins of power at last firm in his grasp, he resolved to lead Britain and her fading empire in one last great struggle worthy of all they had been and meant, to arm the nation, not only with weapons but also with the mace of honor, creating in every English breast a soul beneath the ribs of death.