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Finest Hour 159

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Finest Hour 159, Summer 2013

Page 17

By Allen Packwood


Daniel Finkelstein in The Times wrote that today’s events could be seen as more than a funeral for an individual, but as a watershed in the passing of the generation whose views and character were forged as young adults in the Second World War. Margaret Thatcher was born in 1925, her successor in 1943, and the current prime minister in 1966. The Evening Standard described a “State funeral in all but name,” carrying a picture of Churchill’s statue in Parliament Square: “Not since the nation mourned Sir Winston Churchill in 1965 has the Queen attended the funeral of a British Prime Minister.”

These comments got me thinking, as someone charged with helping to look after the archives of both Sir Winston Churchill and Baroness Thatcher, about their two funerals, separated by nearly half a century.

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Finest Hour 159, Summer 2013

Page 44

By Michael McMenamin


Summer 1888 • Age 13

“Phenomenal Slovenliness”

Winston’s early enthusiasm for Harrow was not reciprocated by the school. While he was allowed to return home for a visit in mid-July, his housemaster, Henry Davidson, wrote to his mother that “[H]e has not deserved it. I do not think, nor does Mr. Somerville, that he is in any way willfully troublesome; but his forgetfulness, carelessness, unpunctuality, and irregularity in every way have really been so serious, that I write to ask you, when he is at home to speak very gravely to him on the subject.”

Davidson gave examples: the boy was “constantly late for school” and frequently “losing his books and papers.” What frustrated Davidson about young Churchill was that “as far as ability goes he ought to be at the top of his form, whereas he is at the bottom. Yet I do not think he is idle; only his energy is fitful, and when he gets to his work it is generally too late for him to do it well.…I do think it very serious that he should have acquired such phenomenal slovenliness.…He is a remarkable boy in many ways, and it would be a thousand pities if such good abilities were made useless by habitual negligence.”

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Finest Hour 159, Summer 2013

Page 07

Gretchen Rubin (This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.), author of Forty Ways to Look at Winston Churchill (FH 121), quotes Harold Nicolson, an official censor at the Ministry of Information, on the sinking of the German battleship Bismarck on 27 May 1941. From Nicolson’s June 10th diary: “We complain that there are no photographs of the sinking of the Bismarck. Tripp [an officer representing the Admiralty] says that the official photographer was in the Suffolk and that the Suffolk was too far away. We say, ‘But why didn’t one of our reconnaissance machines fly over the ship and take photographs?’ He replies, ‘Well you see, you must see, well upon my word, well after all, an Englishman would not like to take snapshots of a fine vessel sinking.’ Is he right? I felt abashed when he said it. I think he is right.”

Ms. Rubin adds: “I love this story so much (could you tell I got a little choked up, when reading it?). It reminds me that in my own life, I should always try to live up to the highest ideals of my country.”

Cynics would say the sinking, a necessary act of war, would today attract the media like magpies, hovering around to record the human misery (particularly if it were one of our own ships). Our thanks to Suzanne Sigman for bringing this to our attention.

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Finest Hour 159, Summer 2013

Page 43

By Antoine Capet

“‘A Long, Slow and Painful Road’: The Anglo-American Alliance and the Issue of Cooperation with the USSR from Teheran to D-Day,” by Martin H. Folly, Diplomacy & Statecraft 23:3, 2012, 471-92.

The Anglo–American alliance during World War II became less cohesive on the political side than the military. By 1944 there were widening divergences between Britain and the U.S. over how to cooperate with the Soviets. Though they shared assumptions about the motivations of Soviet goals, British and American policymakers not only formulated different approaches, they consistently viewed theirs as more successful than those of their ally. There was an opportunity to coordinate policies during the visit to London of American Undersecretary of State Edward Stettinius in April 1944; but the issue was barely discussed, which is symptomatic of the situation. The British Foreign Office, with the backing of Winston Churchill, wished to forge ahead with pragmatic arrangements with the Russians. Self-satisfaction with their own efforts on both sides meant that the British and American bureaucracies made no serious and sustained attempts to unify their outlook on the Soviets, in contrast to the closeness of cooperation in other areas.


“‘Winston Has Gone Mad’: Churchill, the British Admiralty and the Rise of Japanese Naval Power,” by John H. Maurer, Journal of Strategic Studies 35:6, 2012, 775-97.

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Finest Hour 159, Summer 2013

Page 52

By Erica L. Chenoweth

Yalta 1945: Europe and America at the Crossroads, by Fraser J. Harbutt, Cambridge University Press, hardbound, illus., 468 pp., $42.

The Yalta Conference of February 1945, laden with secret dealings viewed as “the foundational sin of the postwar era” (9), is given a make-over by diplomatic historian Fraser Harbutt, who believes that “Yalta has been hopelessly misunderstood,” a symbol “chameleonic in every sense except its fixation on Roosevelt’s performance”

(13). Harbutt’s unique work pays tribute to a “more enduring aspect of diplomacy where one looks to find logic and patterns rather than emotion and improvisation,” while also looking to serve as corrective to the “Americocentrism” pervading the historical record (xii).

Harbutt reframes Allied relations during WW2 from “East-West,” with Stalin as the outside man, to “Europe-America,” with Roosevelt and his administration decidedly on the fringes. “The war,” he writes, “was steadily integrating the United States and Europe,” but politically “they remained two distinct arenas” (74). Harbutt alternates easily between a narrative style informed by meticulous research and a style more strictly selective and analytical. He encourages the examination of events and circumstances in relation to each other but also to a deeper, underlying historical process. His body of work is informed by the “notion of recurrence within very slowly changing historical patterns” (xiv).

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Finest Hour 159, Summer 2013

Page 53

By John G. Plumpton

Winston Churchill and Mackenzie King: So Similar, So Different, by Terry Reardon. A.J. Patrick Boyer, hardbound, illus., 432 pp., $35.

Canadians are justifiably proud of their role in the great wars of the 20th century. Their contributions went beyond the “call of duty.” But what was their duty?

In 1914 it was clear that Britain’s declaration of war included Canada. Constitutional changes in the interwar years altered that, but most Canadian historians argue that Canada still went to war because Britain was at war.

Terry Reardon concludes that in 1939, Canada declared war by the decision by one man, Prime Minister Mackenzie King. Although King is the Commonwealth’s longest-serving prime minister, he is unknown outside—and even sometimes inside—Canada.

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Finest Hour 159, Summer 2013

Page 50

By Christopher H. Sterling

The Hopkins Touch: Harry Hopkins and the Forging of the Alliance to Defeat Hitler, by David L. Roll. Oxford University Press, hardbound, illus., 510 pp., $34.95, member price $27.95.

Harry Hopkins has faded from the public memory over the years, but during World War II he was never far from Roosevelt’s side in Washington or abroad, unless he was on a long and arduous trip, carrying messages on the president’s behalf, often to Winston Churchill, who dubbed him “Lord Root of the Matter” for his direct style of discussion. Hopkins was always in the news and attracted plenty of negative political and press comment from those seeking to attack the president or his policy positions.

Self-effacing to a fault, Hopkins (1890-1946) was probably FDR’s closest confidant from 1940 to early 1945. Before that he’d served briefly as Secretary of Commerce, and more importantly as head of the massive Works Progress Administration (WPA), the signature recovery agency of Roosevelt’s New Deal. But this book’s focus is on the war which occupied the final years of both men’s lives: they died within months of one another.

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Finest Hour 159, Summer 2013

Page 49

By Richard M. Langworth

Churchill and Company, by David Dilks. I.B. Tauris, hardbound, illus., $35, member price $28.

A Swiss student, Cindy Kläy, recently asked: “According to what I have read, Chamberlain seemed -to hope World War II could be avoided, while Churchill thought war was unavoidable. Who was right? With access to all the history, it is easy to say that war could not have been avoided. But was that so obvious in the 1930s?”

That is a very incisive question. To answer it I referred Miss Kläy to the final chapter of Churchill and Company: “‘Historians are Dangerous’: Churchill, Chamberlain and Some Others.” What may we judge from this? Perhaps that until 1937, Chamberlain and Churchill both hoped or thought war might be avoided—but pursued their hopes differently.

Chamberlain, prudent and pragmatic, thought first that Germany’s grievances could be met short of war. Churchill, equally pragmatic, thought addressing those grievances must be preceded by collective security and major rearmament. Both were frustrated in their hopes, for different reasons. Chamberlain was blamed for Appeasement, which Britons supported through 1938. Yet Britain was rearming under Chamberlain, and even Baldwin. If she were not, there would have not been enough aircraft to win the Battle of Britain in 1940. The question about rearmament was one of degree.

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Finest Hour 159, Summer 2013

Page 46

By Warren F. Kimball

A Nice Cruise Down A Lengthy River You’ve sailed Before

The Last Lion, vol. 3, Defender of the Realm 1940-1965, by Paul Reid and William Manchester. Little Brown, hardbound, illus., 1232 pages, $40, member price $32.

Literature’s long-standing, obsessive self-absorption by authors has crept into the book review game. Few reviewers seem able to write a review of this book without resorting to the first person singular: I knew the author personally, watched him suffer from writer’s block; tried to help, etc., etc., ad nauseam. An egregious example was Deborah Baker’s review in the Wall Street Journal, barely ten percent of which was about the book. The rest was a memoir of her personal relationship with “Bill” Manchester.

Why should Manchester matter? He wrote two volumes on Churchill; then, over a longue durée, he compiled frightfully disorganized notes in preparation for the third and final volume, then sadly died. Why depend on his outdated notes and inadequate research, or follow his arrogant injunctions against so-called academic histories? What Paul Reid has written is his book, whatever the rampant rumors of restrictions by the Manchester estate.

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Finest Hour 159, Summer 2013

Page 54

By Andrew Roberts

Unfinished Empire: The Global Expansion of Britain, by John Darwin. Bloomsbury, hardbound, illus., $35, member price $28.

Such has been the tenacity of the Marxist interpretation of history that twenty years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, books are still being published to explain phenomena like the British Empire in terms of dialectal materialism, bourgeois exploitation of the proletariat, and so on. How refreshing it is, therefore, when as distinguished an historian as John Darwin of Nuffield College, Oxford, writes something as thoughtful, well-researched and persuasive as Unfinished Empire, which explains the half-millennium-long explosion of Britain across the globe in terms that genuinely make sense.

Of course Darwin doesn’t for a moment deny the vital importance of the capitalist ethic in the process, readily acknowledging how the British Empire “was a largely private enterprise empire; the creation of merchants, investors, migrants and missionaries and many others.” Yet there’s no tone of sneering negativity. Indeed in examining the apogee of the Empire, which he puts from the 1830s to 1940, he argues that the British succeeded “because they exploited the opportunities of global connectedness more fully than their rivals.” The exploitation was of global connectedness, not subject peoples.

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