War Games

Churchill's War by David Irving, Avon Books 1991 (first pub. 1987) Dept. FP, 105 Madison Avenue, New York, NY 10016 $12 95 ISBN 0-380-76314-1

D DAY CELEBRATIONS this year (1994) provided an opportunity for our democratic rulers to tell us what a fine thing democracy is and how grateful we should all be that we still have it, like good health. A common way of bringing sceptics back into line is to quote Churchill at them to the effect that it is the worst system going except for all the alternatives. "The men who shed their blood were defending our democratic rights" opines the Daily Express on June 8th in celebration of D Day; and it is Winston Churchill who has gone down in history as the man who "saved democracy". How grateful should we really be? At what cost did Britain save democracy? Given that it was Churchill whose single-mindedness kept Britain on the "no surrender" course, when others derisively referred to as "appeasers", would have welcomed a negotiated peace, we need to know what "made him tick". What was Churchill fighting for? Whom was Churchill fighting for? Democracy? Freedom? Britain? This book does not attempt to answer these questions directly but it helps us towards an understanding of the possible answers by showing us what kind of a man Churchill was and the background to his rise to power. At the same time we are given a very readable (also very depressing) account of Churchill's brilliant, if eccentric and sometimes flawed management of the war, a war which Mr. Irving strongly believes was, as far as Britain and Germany were concerned, more a vendetta of Churchill's against the nazis than anything else, and even this vendetta was a pretext rather than a cause. Churchill wanted war with Germany from the very beginning, long before Munich or Prague or Dantsic. It was a war which he not only longed for, but when he got it, he was determined to persue to the bitter end heedless of cost. Mr. Irving gives us a lively account of Churchill's anti-German machinations before war broke out and his subsequent war leadership up to the time that the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. were fighting on Britain's side and the "tide had turned". What emerges is a fascinating psychological portrait of a man who is usually described glibly as just "the great war leader". But from this account we see that Churchill's military strategy was not always felicitious, indeed it was often flawed by prejudice and stubborness. But he knew what he wanted: victory over Germany and the total destruction of national-socialism, even if that meant a war in which millions upon millions had to die, still for him it was worth it in order to defeat the "most monstrous tyranny the world had ever known".

Churchill was a master of language and it is David Irving's argument that Churchill's intoxication with the power of his own rhetoric goes a long way to explaining his psychology as well as his success. "He <> ventured forth across the slippery glaciers of the most tangled language with the surefootedness of a mountain goat." Unhappy at the microphone, his famous speech to the House of Commons ("we shall fight on the beaches...") was actually reread for wireless by an actor impersonating the Prime Minister! Apparently no one listening to "Churchill" speaking on the B.B.C. that evening was any the wiser. His dislike of speaking in a studio or over the wireless was shared by his arch-enemy, who was also a public speaker of genius: Adolph Hitler. Churchill and Hitler both needed live audiences to bring out their rhetorical best. One wonders how either would have performed in modern style television "question time" programmes. For both men drama was of the essence and the television on studio would surely have made them all too human for the impression they strove to give- of being something more than human, something huge but representative, men chosen by destiny to fulfil a great task, superhuman beings who nevertheless had the common touch. This book brings out many other character traits of Britain's "grand old man" at war which uncannily recall those of the German Fuehrer -- his alternating bouts of energy and sudden depression and apathy, his astonishing grasp of detail, especially military detail, his prediliction for daring schemes of attack, which occasionally boarded on the hair-brained and led to several fiascos: Gallipoli, Narvik, Dakar, now as then not widely known in Britain as the defeats which they undoubtedly were. Churchill's contempt in principle for the cautious or defensive approach in war, his impatience with criticism, his love of his own voice, his single-mindedness, his long-range ambition coupled with a shrewd sense of seizing opportunities, his nervous impatience and not least, his mastery of oratory which he used to enthuse his countrymen for the sacredness of a cause which for many would not bear rational scrutiny, all these traits were also Hitler's. The suspicion of Chamberlain and Lord Halifax, that Churchill was fundamentally reckless, is borne out in this book. In effect, whatever else we think of them and however else we may choose to judge them, Churchill and Hitler were both reckless. Their mutual loathing is evident from the references they made to one another in their speeches but they both thrived on hatred, it got their adrenilin going. When questioned about his support for Stalin, Churchill responded with characteristic humour, "If Hitler invaded Hell, I would at least make a favourable reference to the Devil" (p.590). Without any enemy to fight, life for both Hitler and Churchill would have been grey, drab, pointless. Both preferred to be hated than to be ignored.

This account of Churchill paints the picture of an overgrown schoolboy. Hitler fulfilled the role of school bully and settling his hash was going to be jolly good sport. Hitler and his "nasties" had a "criminal scheme" to take over the world. Churchill was the man to foil Hitler and his dastardedly gang. If Hitler's fantasy of war came out of a Wagner opera, Churchill's war was war seen through the perspective of comics like Hurricane and Valiant. If it weren't for Hitler and the war what would have become of Churchill? Bulldog Drummond always perked up at mention of the name of his criminal rival Karl Peterson; Churchill's reaction to the name of Hitler seems to have been the same. You hate the beastly Hun, but what a bleeding bore life would be without him. Churchill, if Mr. Irving is to be believed, was not so much a war leader as a war monger. He enjoyed war. The Boer War was "the last enjoyable war" he remarked to his private secretary Coleville in September 1940. "War is a game to be played with a smiling face" (quoted, Dictionary of National Biography). The Blitz was "more acceptable" to the British temperament than a war where they did not feel they were playing a full part. Mr. Irving argues at length and with a stack of evidence and first-hand sources to back him up, that the bombing of London and other British cities and not least the bombing of civilians was deliberately provoked by Churchill, who was convinced that the war could be won if Hitler could be lured into a massive and increasingly indiscriminate bombing campaign against British cities. Churchill wanted the Blitz and welcomed it when it finally came. De Gaulle was astonished in the summer of 1940 by Churchill's waving his fist at the sky over London and crying "Why won't they <> come?" To the Hungarian ambassador, Gy”rgy Barcza, he is recorded as having said, "You are on good terms with Hitler. You could do me a little favour. The British are still not aware of the danger they are in, the seriousness of their situation. We'll have to do something to wake them up. Would you tell Hitler to start a little bombing over London-that should wake up the most indolent Englishman!" (p.336).

German bomb attacks posed little personal threat to the Prime Minister. Unbeknown to everyone but a handfull of top Allied leaders, the Luftwaffe's Enigma code had been cracked by British Intelligence, which meant that Churchill always knew in advance when and where German bombers would strike next. "On the afternoon of Thursday November 14th 1940, Churchill, just before taking off from Westminster for the country in anticipation of a massive raid on the capital, was handed a message. As the car gathered speed Churchill slit open the buff envelope, gasped, and at Kensington Gardens told the driver to turn back." (p.463, from the driver's own account to the author). The raid was to be the (in)famous attack on Coventry. The Prime Minister could remain in London. In that famous raid the Luftwaffe lost one plane; 550 people were killed. Later this raid was to be used as the principle pretext for the terror bombing of Germany. Air raids on Germany took a toll of a not some hundreds or thousands but a million lives, and, as Norman Stone among others have subsequently pointed out (see The Spectator 4th June 1994,) prolonged rather than shortened the war. Churchill had little feeling for the deaths which his policy (no less clear breach of the Geneva convention than Stuka attacks on refugees in France in 1940) would cause. The destruction of German cities reached a scale of which even today many people, and especially the British, have been kept largely unaware. To the extent they are aware however, they generally approve, and if they do so, some of the credit must go to Churchill's oratorical powers.

Stress was a pick-me-up for Churchill. Without stress he became sluggish and depressed. As a war leader he was in his element. He thrived on risk, action, struggle. Mr. Irving describes this as a type well known to business psychologists: the "harried over achiever" men and women who are addicted to stress and action and who do not function at their best without it. Stress gives him the high, the physiological arousal, that others derive from alcohol, caffeine or nicotine.... Leaders among these harried over-achievers are the "Type A" group, men who engage in chronic, continuous struggle against circumstances and against other people. Long before war began, Churchill wanted war. The argument has always been, of course, that he was one of the few people who "saw through Hitler", who was "one of the few who realised that Hitler wanted war" and that war was inevitable if Hitler remained in power. If Churchill was thus prophetic, perhaps it is so because he had recognised in Hitler a kindred spirit.

Hitler's speeches and writings harp on the idea that life is a struggle for survival. Throughout his life he displayed a fascination for war and military campaigns. It was the same with Churchill. But right though he may have been about Hitler in many ways, Churchill was anxious to hide one important fact, namely that Hitler at no time suggested or even hinted at war with Britain (in marked contrast to Russia). On the contrary, he repeatedly emphasised that he wished to avoid war with Britain. After the Battle of Britain, "men will say, this was their finest hour" in Churchill's memorable speech, and it was a fine hour for the British airmen and the Polish, French, Irish and other volunteers, who had humbled the arrogant Goering and the over-confident German Luftwaffe, Britain was in a strong position to discuss peace terms with Germany. Bankrupt though she was, her air-force and navy were undefeated, the Commonwealth was behind her, the only "defeat" she would have had certainly to accept was the German territorial claims in the East. What is more, an undefeated Britain, friendly towards, but not uncritical of Germany, would have made its voice heard during the invasion of the Soviet Union, pleading in favour of a policy which took full advantage of the anti-Russian sentiments of millions of Ukrainians, Latvians etc. But Churchill was not in the least interested in that kind of peace. Besides, he knew that Germany would not negotiate with him, that a peace treaty would be the end of his political career. The British people were never allowed to suspect that the first part of the war was really another war from the war which began with Operation Barbarosa in 1941. After 1941 the patriotism and gutsiness of the British people was being exploited for purposes which had nothing to do with national honour, freedom or even democracy. British troops and British credit was used to save the Soviet Union and get America out of a depression, and not least, take revenge for offended Jewry. After the Battle of Britain, Germany had been made to think again. Hitler promised Britain an honourable peace. Promises are cheap, but in this case, Hitler's actions backed them up. Operation Sealion never got off the drawing board. Irving shows how Churchill was careful to maintain the illusion of impending invasion, when he already knew that Germany was planning to attack the Soviet Union. Nothing Hitler undertook, before or after Britain had declared war on Germany, suggests that he was in any way prepared or willing to fight a long war with Britain. Everything suggests that he had planned for war with the Soviet Union; but war with Germany is what Churchill, rightly or wrongly, was determined to have, a war without quarter, without truce, without pity, a total war. When Goebbels made his famous bellicose speech in the Berliner Sportpalast in 1943 ("Do you want total war?") he was three years behind Churchill ("I have nothing to offer you but blood, toil, tears and sweat..You ask what is our policy? I will say: it is to wage war, by sea, land and air, with all our might and with all the strength that God can give us; to wage war against a monstrous tyranny, never surpassed in the dark, lamentable catalogue of human crime. That is our policy.").

Peace feelers made by Germany to Britain were all rejected out of hand by Churchill. There could be no peace with the "Hitler gang" nor peace with Germany under any kind of negotiated settlement. He would fight until national-socialism was totally destroyed or die in the attempt. No sacrifice was too great for this task. In other words it was quite pointless for Germans to overthrow Hitler for the purpose of achieving peace. With or without Hitler, the Hun was going to get a "bloody good thrashing". A better way of uniting the German people behind Hitler can hardly be imagined. The British public, never politically astute at the best of times, lapped it up. "It's those bloody Germans again". The Conservative Churchill was backed up after 1941 by Britain's Left, who had the gall to denounce Germany for not respecting democracy, while their idol Uncle Joe, in contrast to Hitler, had not once had to face the inconvenience of that most democratic of rituals, namely a General Election. Mr.Irving, who emerges in this account, not so much as a "fascist" historian (which he is alleged to be) than a British imperialist one, argues that part of the price of Churchill's war was the British Empire. American military aid cost us very dear and Land Lease was only forthcoming after Britain had sold off all her securities and shipped her gold reserves to the United States. The U.S. demanded payment for war materials in hard cash and on the nail. As early as 1940 Britain was bankrupt. Roosevelt's strategy seems to have been to have let Britain fight for democracy by selling and pawning what she had to the United States. Churchill well knew that without American assistance it was impossible for Britain to fight on effectively: his choice was between a negotiated peace and accepting whatever terms the U.S. exacted for supporting him. There was never a doubt as to what his choice would be. Roosevelt knew this and squeezed Britain till the ribs cracked. By 1945 it was clear to the politically informed that Britain's Empire was doomed, that the loss of Empire was to be part of the price of victory against the man who had consistently praised the British Empire to the end of his life. German propaganda concentrated on Churchill's personal responsibility for terror bombing, by contrast British propaganda encouraged hatred of Germans in general and nazis in particular. Noel Coward's Don't Let's be Beastly to the Germans is a good example of this kind of anti-German hate propaganda, produced with Churchill's blessing. In Germany by contrast, there was seldom propaganda against the British as a people, only against the Empire and the "Churchill clique".

While Churchill swore eternal enmity against the Germans, the bankrupt American economic system and the bankrupt Soviet economic and political system were saved from a well-deserved collapse. The Soviet army fought on spam brought through the German blockade by British convoys, without the drain on the German military forces in North Africa, and on the Luftwaffe in the West, the Soviet Union, despite all German political blunders, would have been destroyed. Even during the war in Britain, the fiction of a benevolent Russia which had saved Britain (surely the reverse is closer to the truth) was nurtured. Britain gave America the military secrets and scientific know-how, including that relating to the invention of the Atomic Bomb, without which the U.S. could never have replaced Britain as a world Empire. Ironically, Churchill himself was a died-in-the-wool imperialist, his speeches filled with references to defending not only Britain but the British Empire. Once again the dominion states like Canada and Australia answered the call to the flag but it was to be the last time. France's humiliating defeat and Britain's bankruptcy gave Roosevelt the opportunity to "clean up those old Empires" as Mr. Irving puts it. At the Tehran Conference he confided to Stalin, "I want to do away with the word Reich in any language; and not just the word." Formerly the world's major creditor, Britain became an international pauper. According to one White House aide, Cordell Hull, U.S. support for Britain's war effort was "a knife to open that oyster shell, the Empire".

Was it all worth it? The answer must be yes if one is convinced, like Churchill, that nazism was the ultimate in evil, in a class of its own, not comparible in its ghastliness even to the Khmer Rouge or Stalin's Russia. In the thirties, when Churchill began to agitate for war against Germany, it was far from self-evident to many that national-socialism was so evil that it would be worth sacrificing the British Empire in order to destroy it. But today that belief has acquired something of the sanctity of Holy Writ, even on the right. Today Churchill's beloved empire is the butt of jokes but his anti-nazi rhetoric lives on. Churchill belonged to a strange species of ultra-conservative (de Gaulle was another) who in the name of the most traditional values, not least loyalty to their imperial tradition, prepared the way for the new world, a world in which the old colonial empires were denounced and despised but the communist empires were seen as "progressive". Anti-communist through and through, Churchill saved the Soviet Union for another half- century, a bull-dog imperialist, he made any hope of salvaging even a part of the British Empire impossible. Was there no alternative for Britain to Churchill's war? That is another story. This one tells of the man whose task it was to fight the good fight and pay the price, on behalf of all of us, and the price of ultimate victory was very dear, including as it did an Empire or two, one of them called the British Empire, of which of all people Mr. Churchill was so inordinately proud. Of course we have still got "democracy" and that must be a very good thing indeed if the price we paid is anything to go by.

Dominic Hampshire

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