Friday, October 10, 2008

October Book of the Month

Houghton Mifflin Company, 1948

Winston Churchill authored a four volume series about WWII that was a continuation of his story about WWI. Churchill felt that his narrative of these two 20th-century conflicts covered an account of a second Thirty Years War. The Thirty Years War was one of the great conflicts of early modern European history covering the years 1618-1648 when all of Europe was at war. Now, for the thirty years beginning in 1914, Europe and the entire world were at war. The period between the 20th-century clashes had been a time for rearmament by the enemies of democracy. Once again, peace was simply the interlude between wars.

These writings comprise one of the rarest series of books in the history of mankind as they are an inside account of the epic struggle that threatened the democratic foundations of Western Civilization. Churchill surmised that he was the only man ever recorded who had passed through the First and Second World Wars of the 20th Century in a high British Cabinet Post. He saved every scrap of significant material for the books that he knew he would produce. His active involvement in these two crises would validate for the world his ability to write about the great military and political events of the time from the personal experiences of an individual with authority. Churchill adhered to a policy of never criticizing unless he had previously expressed a public opinion or warning.

Interestingly, Churchill did not deem this series to be history but merely a contribution to history. These thirty years of personal action and public advocacy were his life effort and he was comfortable to be judged upon them. He gives his testimony according “to the lights I follow” not to what “may be popular or self-aggrandizing.”

Knowing that many captured enemy documents were being disclosed as he was laboring, Churchill announces to the reader that he writes and relies upon events, as he knew them, when all was obscure. He thus opines that a new aspect could be drawn concerning his personal actions during the War in the years to come but he was fine with that possibility. Churchill did not fear the history that would be written about him or the War as, after all, he had led his country through some of its darkest moments. When defeat and destruction of Western Civilization was at stake he acted to save mankind, as he knew it; they could write as they interpreted it; he was fearless!

Churchill’s personal search in authoring this manuscript was for a truth that would give guidance to creating a future world of peace and security to be governed in accordance with the “needs and glory of man”. As he was penning this series, the world was reeling from Communism and its insidious drive for worldwide domination. Churchill felt that we were in the grip of even worse perils than we had surmounted. He perceived an awful unfolding of the future, a Cold War to be exact. But, not even Churchill could have surmised that this totalitarian movement would perpetrate 100 million civilian deaths before it collapsed in utter disgrace.

Churchill recites the time when President Roosevelt was publicly asking for suggestions about what the war should be called. He said at once “The Unnecessary War” as in his view there was never a war easier to stop. Book One, From War to War, 1919-1939, is aptly titled The Gathering Storm and Churchill states the theme of the volume as “How the English-speaking peoples through their unwisdom, carelessness, and good nature allowed the wicked to rearm”.

Churchill’s above stated theme would seem to be a lesson for the ages as Western Civilization has never fully learned, appreciated, or followed this recurring theme to its logical end. Even though cognizant and fully engaged with the world about the wide disagreement among ideas, principles, and people that has often led to open warfare, Western democracies always seem to be caught unaware. Presently, the Bush Doctrine does have preemption as one of its several core principles; but it has been roundly criticized by many of our Western allies and our own domestic political parties. Thus, always the eternal question, “Will we be hoisted by our own petard and subjected to another extremist attack because of our unwisdom, carelessness, and good nature?” History says yes!

I am writing this review 30Sep08 seventy years to the day of one of the great historic events in the life of most of the readers that evokes feelings of sorrow and grief leading to the War. Churchill has labeled it “The Tragedy of Munich” and it is the story of Chamberlain and his deal with the devil, Hitler. In 1938, Chamberlain was in complete control of British foreign policy and the Cabinet was deeply disturbed but obeyed his wishes.

Chamberlain had begun a series of direct meetings with Hitler that astonished the Czech leaders as it had weakened their negotiations with Germany over the Sudeten. Hitler was demanding the annexation of the Sudeten areas to the Reich. Churchill stood adamantly against the partition of Czechoslovakia under pressure from England and France and wanted no part of this particular bid by Chamberlain to avert conflict. He felt such action would amount to the complete surrender of the Western Democracies to the Nazi threat of force. Churchill’s view was that such a collapse assisted by the West would bring neither security nor peace to England or France.

Churchill noted “…a belief that security can be obtained by throwing a small state to the wolves is a fatal delusion.” That simple but important historic lesson has often gone unheeded inevitably leading to a disastrous outcome. Chamberlain declared, “I believe it is peace in our time” and Germany soon attacked Czechoslovakia precipitating WWII. Marshall Keitel later established the unfortunate truthfulness of the “fatal delusion” that had created a false peace. He stated that Germany would never have attacked Czechoslovakia in 1938 if the Western Powers had stood by their ally.

Additionally, the Chamberlain tragedy flowing from Munich led to Hitler becoming the undisputed leader of Germany and the military conspirators planning his overthrow began to lay low. The stage was thus set for Hitler’s grand design for a war to rule Europe. Churchill had consistently and long predicted such an outcome while engaging in heated opposition with his many political opponents. Churchill suggests that “The Tragedy of Munich” provided one helpful guide; namely, that a nation must keep its word and to act in accordance with its treaty obligations to allies. This guide he calls “Honour” and honour points the path to Duty that will lead a country to avoid an unnecessary war, as was his characterization of WWII.

As one reads this series, the great intellect of this dominant figure of the 20tth century reflects the light of its brightest star. He wrote and spoke until his words became synonymous with the best in the English language and that adds enjoyment for the reader. Churchill’s action and words made him the embodiment of the Allied cause, and every C-133 member would know him for the magnificent speeches he made during times of peril. Now, they can know him for his professional prose, as they have become a permanent contribution to English literature.

Any C-133 member searching for a winter of pleasant reading about an account of WWII and the major events that have shaped our way of life will revel in Churchill’s command of the English language and his grasp of history. This four volume series is unique in that it is written by a man who played a major role in saving Western Civilization and thus preserving the world, as we know it. They are an excellent of example of why peace is more complex than war and often beyond the reach of humanity’s best efforts. In fact, many of our present political leaders would do well to read Churchill’s prescience writings for their enduring wisdom.

As a final note, Churchill had his first night of restful sleep in years the day America entered the War. Because of our mammoth manufacturing capability, he declared the War was won. It would just be a matter of time before the destructive tyrants of the world; the enemies of democracy would be soundly defeated. Enjoy!

Reviewed for the C-133 blog
by Richard Spencer
39th ATS, DAFB, 1962-1965


Debra said...

What a great choice! I have long been intimidated by this series, but you have given me the courage to try to read it this winter. Many thanks!

Rick Spencer said...

The 1oct09 edition of the WSJ has a marvelous review of recently released The Thirty Years War: Europe's Tragedy. Go here to read:

Note that I mentioned it in the first paragraph of the October, 2008 review of Churchill's writings. The author questions the reasons for the War opining that religious fanaticism was not the over-riding issue but meddling by France and Sweden prolonged it for decades.