Sign up for our free Churchill newsletter:
Eisenhower and Churchill: The Partnership That Saved the World, by James C. Humes


Richard M. Langworth

Eisenhower and Churchill: The Partnership That Saved the World, by James C. Humes. New York: Prima Publishing, 2001. A Forum Book, with a foreword by David Eisenhower. 268 pages, published at $25. Member price $19.

Many books have been published on Churchill and the military - Fisher, Alanbrooke, de Gaulle, Montgomery, the Admirals, the Generals. It is surprising that a book on Churchill and World War II's supreme commander, flung together as they were by circumstance and geography, has been long in coming. There was, of course, Peter Boyle's The Churchill-Eisenhower Correspondence (FH 69:27 and 71:26); but until now there has been no book on the two individuals.

This is not a detailed analysis of the byplay between two key leaders, like Kersaudy's Churchill and de Gaulle or Kimball's Forged in War on Churchill and Roosevelt. Rather it is a paean to both, juxtaposing their biographies up to 1942, then delving into their relationship in the supreme ordeal of World War II.

David Eisenhower's foreword establishes the rationale: "No two men did more than Winston Churchill and Dwight Eisenhower to combat the twin evils of tyranny: fascism and communism...if Churchill was the voice of freedom, Eisenhower provided the implementing tools." Fair enough, as far as it goes, but the subtitle still seems excessive. If there was any partnership that "saved the world" it was that of Churchill and Roosevelt, who made the plenary decisions - Eisenhower in WW2 may have formulated tactics, but strategy was that of the Presidents and Prime Ministers. Even then, what they saved was the West - as Norman Lash put it in his Churchill-Roosevelt book, and as Churchill and Eisenhower later sadly admitted. Ask the Romanians, the Poles or the Estonians about saving the world.

By way of full disclosure, this writer has been a friend of James Humes for a quarter century; if I pulled my punches, critics would claim a buddy system. So I will not, knowing that Mr. Humes will perfectly understand what I trust is constructive criticism. The book lacks, above all, that very quality: criticism - not that such works need always be critical. But when two protagonists come down on opposite ends of an issue, as Churchill and Eisenhower often did between 1942 and 1956, one of them must be right and the other wrong; so a book about them really requires judgments.

The great issues that separated Churchill and Eisenhower, at least when equals (as world leaders in 1952-56) get little space here. The 1956 Suez Crisis, shortly after Churchill left office, gets barely a paragraph. It deserves a chapter, since it involved Churchill's last act as a world statesman. Sir Winston's eloquent letter to Eisenhower, imploring the President not to sacrifice Anglo-American rapport over "Anthony's action in Egypt," was first revealed in Macmillan's memoirs in 1971 (see next page). Macmillan believed that this, and Ike's reply, began the process of rapprochement that he had to complete when he became Prime Minister in 1957. This exchange deserves to be pondered by any book about Churchill and Eisenhower.

Likewise, many of Eisenhower's earlier letters to Churchill as Prime Minister are almost painful to read; Humes should have offered an appreciation, from his vantage point as a Presidential speechwriter, of how much they represented Ike's views, and how much the Dulles State Department's. Eisenhower's considerate treatment of Churchill on WSC's final extended visit to America in 1959 should have had more ink. There is almost nothing about the cut and thrust of Churchill's post-Stalin efforts to reach what he called a "final settlement" with Russia, Eisenhower's adamant refusal, and the irony by which Eisenhower reversed himself just as Churchill was despondently retiring. Nor is there anything here on why Churchill privately preferred Eisenhower's opponent in 1952 and 1956‹why he remarked after the 1952 American election, "I am greatly disturbed. I think this makes war much more probable." The history of all this remains to be written.

Humes devotes considerable space to the war and ably outlines the issues over which Churchill and Eisenhower agreed and argued during 1942-45. The chief arguments were over the invasion of the south of France ("Dragoon"), Roosevelt's Teheran promise to let the Red Army enter Berlin first, and the sidelining of the Italian campaign so as to devote maximum resources to the Normandy invasion ("Overlord"). On each of these issues Ike was in favor, Churchill against - though Humes provides several statements suggesting that Eisenhower was as clear-eyed about Soviet intentions as Churchill. If that is so, the book needs exonerating evidence to show how Ike's preferred policies and strategies were overruled by his superiors.

There are some eye-openers in this book that you may not expect, including several excerpts from Ike's letters professing devotion to his absent wife. "Lots of love - don't forget me," went one letter, when it has been fairly well established that he (temporarily, to his credit) forgot her. Another is Eisenhower's apposite and eloquent speech at the ceremony Churchill arranged for him at the Guildhall in June 1945. Like Churchill, Humes notes, Eisenhower wrote that speech himself, and The Times compared it to the Gettysburg Address, which certainly sounds un-Timesian. The speech was a model of humility and of Anglo-American brotherhood, and one rarely reads such words by Britons to Americans, except by Winston Churchill.

There are a lot of real clangers. Among these are the assertions that Chartwell had been sold during the war; that Churchill spurned the postwar honors of Norway, Denmark, Belgium and the Netherlands; that WSC wanted the North African landings instead of Normandy; that one of the D-Day beaches was called "Neptune"; that de Gaulle's military rival was named Gen. "Gerow." Earlier chapters claim that Lord Randolph Churchill would not have entered politics had he not been snubbed by the Prince of Wales in the Aylesford affair, and that he died of syphilis; that Churchill was born in the palace of the Ninth Duke of Marlborough; that as Minister of Munitions in World War I, Churchill "flew to France every day to examine where supplies were needed"; that Eisenhower named Camp David after his father; that the Democrats regained control of Congress from the Republicans in 1956; and that Churchill's Dardanelles debacle in World War I was a disappointment comparable to Eisenhower's "never getting to go to France and see battle."

Every one of these assertions is demonstrably wrong - as is the old canard that Churchill planned his own funeral, which Humes calls "Operation Hope." The funeral was planned by the "Hope Not Committee," presided over by the Duke of Norfolk, and never included Churchill.

The book is bedizened with Churchill quotations, most of which are said to have been made to Eisenhower when they patently were not. "I both drink and smoke and am 200% fit" was said privately in WSC's first meeting with Montgomery. Another quip about Monty - "In defeat, indomitable; in advance, invincible; in victory, insufferable" - was certainly not said to Eisenhower. If said at all (there is some dispute) it was likely expressed with a smile to Monty himself, when its stark frankness had lost the ability to wound.

Other quotations are misquoted so as to come out worse than the original. Churchill did not tell Ike, in the war, "Well, General...You are speaking to the result of an English speaking Union." What he said was in reply to Adlai Stevenson after the war, when Stevenson asked if he had any message for the English-Speaking Union: "Tell them you bring them greetings from an English-Speaking Union."

When Wilfrid Paling, MP, called Churchill a "dirty dog," WSC did not reply, "My reaction to his charge was that of any dirty dog toward any palings." It was: "Does the Hon. Member know what dirty dogs do to palings?"

Churchill's famous remark when someone (but not Lady Astor) referred to Chamberlain as "The Prince of Peace," was not, "I thought the Prince of Peace was born in Bethlehem, not Birmingham, England" - WSC was too good for such wordy rejoinders. What he said was: "I thought Neville was born in Birmingham." Why edit the great man's words when it invariably renders them less effective than the way he expressed them?

The book provides an illuminating look at the remarkable parallels in the early lives of Churchill and Eisenhower. It focuses on Eisenhower's homespun, plain spoken honesty, and argues convincingly that the General may have known there was more to Churchill's strategic concepts late in the war than Ike's superiors would admit - always assuming, of course, that the reader agrees with Churchill. But it needed proofing by someone conversant with the saga to comb out inaccuracies and fix the quotations.