Churchill, A Necessary Leader

By A. G. Moore

Winston_Churchill_in_South_Africa_3
Winston Churchill, 1899, as he made a triumphant appearance after escaping from a Boer prison of war camp.

If there are people marked by history to play large roles in the course of human events, Winston Churchill was surely one of these. It might be said that fate was a constant companion on his remarkable path, but in each instance, when fate offered opportunity it was Churchill who gave the final measure. He was audacious, brilliant and ambitious. His character and experience prepared him ideally for the most important task of his life: to hold the British nation fast when all others had fallen before advancing German forces in WWII.

Winston Churchill’s political career began inauspiciously in 1899 when he ran unsuccessfully for a seat in Parliament. This was not to be his only electoral defeat. Over a career that spanned more than 50 years there were failures and successes. There were missteps and achievements. Some of the qualities that led to the missteps were among those which allowed him to lead steadfastly and dramatically during the grim days of WWII.

Churchill was tempered by war. He was attracted to military action and at times placed himself in the front line of battle when more secure environments were open to him. By the time Churchill had won his first seat in Parliament he’d seen action in the Sudan, the Northern Frontier (in what is today Pakistan) and South Africa. In the last of these campaigns he earned instant international notoriety by negotiating an escape from a Boer prison of war camp after a brief period of captivity (4 weeks). In each of his military engagements, death was a distinct possibility; it was a consequence suffered by many of his companions–but not Churchill.

Throughout his career Churchill’s political decisions were shaped by a mindset that held firm to the idea of British empire and an inclination to favor war over negotiation. Long before WWI, in anticipation of German ambitions, he advocated for the building of a strong navy. He did so, some believe, at the expense of developing a powerful ground capability. His strategy, it is widely suggested, led to a disastrous defeat in the Dardanelles during the first world war.

Just as Churchill did not personally avoid the battlefield, he forcefully argued against those who would appease aggressors. He saw danger in Bolshevism and wanted to take on Stalin long before the Cold War. He was vociferous in criticizing Chamberlain for making concessions to Hitler in 1938 and he argued forcefully for a build-up of Britain’s nuclear capability after WWII.

Churchill’s view of Britain’s colonies more reflected a Victorian colonialism than a 20th century appreciation of self-determination. He fiercely resisted Indian independence and dispatched the Black and Tans to put down Irish republicanism in 1919.

At any point in his long career, if Churchill had faltered and his career had been cut short, there might have been little mention of him in the history books. But fate served the stalwart leader well. After the 1940 fall of France to German forces in WWII, and before the 1941 entry of the US into the war, Churchill marshaled all the instincts that had served him well and not so well in the past. He was poised in that moment to become a man of history, a man of destiny–perhaps flawed in another context but exquisitely prepared to steer the ship of state in a moment when Britain stood alone before the German aggressor.

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If you found this discussion interesting, you might also be interested in one of  Rhythm Prism’s books that deal with colonialism: The Modern British Empire: A Brief History and Exploration and Conquest: Stories of Indigenous Peoples.

The Modern British Empire is appropriate for students who are in middle school or high school.  It contains a study guide that reinforces concepts covered.

Exploration and Conquest is appropriate for all mature readers.  The book  (172 pages) uses pictures to help tell the story of European exploration.  The discussion covers the impact of colonialism on indigenous peoples from four continents and from islands that spread across the wide seas.

exploration-cover-rev-site

cover brit for site

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