August 20, 2009
A friend recently gave me a great doorstop of a book, Sir Martin Gilberts eighth and final volume of the biography of Winston Churchill. Its 1366 pages. I thanked my friend profusely for his gift even as my wife asked what else I needed to study about Winston Churchill.
Apparently, theres a great deal to learn. Start with that title: Never Despair. Volume VIII covers Churchills life from 1945 to his death in 1965. Churchill lost the election for Prime Minister in July, 1945. He was at the Potsdam Summit with the new U.S. President, Harry Truman, and the old Soviet ruler, Josef Stalin. Churchill left midway to go home to London for the election returns. He was confident of a Conservative Party victory. After all, had not he, Winston Churchill, not just brought the British people through the most terrifying experience in their long island history? Was he not the one privileged to give the lions roar when Britain stood alone against all the evil fury of Hitlers Luftwaffe? Churchill never said I told you so. Free people hate being told that. But everyone knew that it was good old Winston who was right all those years about Hitler and his wicked Nozzies. Sixty thousand Britons died in those terrible bombings of British cities in a conflict Churchill had dubbed the unnecessary war.
How could British voters give such a great man the boot? But they did. Churchills opponents in the Labour Party racked up an historic victory that year. Churchills Conservatives were not just beaten, they were thrashed. When his dear wife Clementine said the defeat might be a blessing in disguise, Winston answered with no little bitterness: Yes, but at the moment, it seems most effectively disguised. He wept he was so hurt, so disappointed. He later wrote that he had had a dream in which he saw his own naked body laid out under a sheet. This presentiment of defeat struck him with a sharp pang of death.
Soon, however, he rallied. Barely nine months after his thrashing, he went to America. In Fulton, Missouri, in President Trumans home state, Churchill delivered his historic Iron Curtain Speech. Later, he went to the continent of Europe and proposed reconciliation between France and Germany, a rapprochement that would soon form the basis for Churchills conception of a European Union.
He even found humor in his defeat. Offered a royal honor—a Knighthood of Order of the Garter— by King George VI, something of a consolation prize, he graciously turned it aside saying: How can I accept the Garter from my sovereign when the people have given me the boot? He quickly turned to painting and to writing. He directed the project that became his six-volume World War II memoirs, the only one of the wartime Big Three—Churchill, Roosevelt, and Stalin—to put his own inimitable stamp on history.
He published the majestic, four-volume History of the English-Speaking Peoples, for which he won the Nobel Prize for Literature. After British voters returned his Conservative Party to power, he served a second eventful term as Prime Minister. And this time, swept away by the beauty and grace of the young Queen Elizabeth II, he accepted her offer of a knighthood. On his eightieth birthday, Parliament gratefully voted him a gift of 50,000 pounds.
Before he eventually declined this money, he had fun thinking up ways to spend it. He came up with the idea of endowing an institute for the protection and study of—butterflies! He always loved them so. (To those who think of Winston as that bloody old war monger, consider this).
When he finally laid down his burden of office, his lifes adventure was not yet over. President John F. Kennedy awarded him an honorary citizenship in the Great Republic. He was only the second man in history to be made an honorary American citizen. It must have been especially sweet for Winston to hear Jack Kennedys stirring tribute to him. Kennedy said: When all others doubted Britains survival, [Winston Churchill] marshaled the English language and sent it into battle.
One of those who doubted was Kennedys own father, Joe. Old Joe Kennedy not only doubted, he hated. And he hated no one more than Winston Churchill.
All this Winston Churchill achieved after age 70, after his historic election defeat, after he saw himself dead in a dream. If he had accomplished nothing else in his life, what a life it would have been.
We all know President Obama has no use for Winston Churchill. He booted the bust of Churchill from the White House. It can certainly seem daunting today to oppose Obamas power. After all, he won an historic victory last fall. Arrayed with him are all those powerful groupsa worshipful media, a fawning academia, Planned Parenthood with its own hideous strength. He claims to have the votes to pass some form of government health care takeover. And he wants this very much.
But Winston Churchill taught us never to give in. Never Despair!