Robin Hathaway was working on a mystery set during WWII in the years before she died. She said to me, “You know, if it hadn’t been for Winston Churchill we wouldn’t be here.” I thought I knew what she meant. Churchill and Franklin Roosevelt had worked together to defeat the Germans and the Japanese.
But I knew very little really. I read, at Robin’s suggestion, a one volume edition of Harold Nicholson’s Diaries and Letters (I now own a 3 volume set). Churchill emerges as a man who is able to espouse a cause he believes in, no matter how unpopular.
Then I moved on to Chips: The Diaries of Sir Henry Channon. Chips was an American who became a British M.P. He wasn’t very influential as a parliamentarian, but he threw great parties attended by everybody and he kept diaries. He records many conversations with people who thought Hitler was admirable. The Lindbergs just couldn’t get over the delights of Nazi Germany. Such energy! Joe Kennedy, the US Ambassador to the Court of Saint James, urged Roosevelt not to help the British. He was sure they’d have to make a deal with Hitler anyway. WWI had been a horror for Europe and efforts were made to avoid another conflict at all costs.
Churchill thought appeasement was the very worst of ideas and through stubbornness and oratory was able to convince the British people that life under Nazi domination wouldn’t be worth living. Churchill, known as a politician, actually made his living as a writer, and was able as Edward R. Murrow observed “to mobilize the English language and send it into battle.” (I have to say I felt outraged when Rudolph Guiliani, during the 2004 Republican Convention referred to Dubya as “our Churchill”.)
This is the 50th anniversary of Churchill’s death (a much bigger deal in England than it is here). There are more volumes about Churchill than one could ever read and he wrote many volumes of history himself. He and Robin had in common a love of Treasure Island, and Churchill has a talent for tales of adventure and derring-do. He won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1953.
But to get some notion of what Robin Hathaway and Edward R Murrow were talking about it is perhaps best to listen to one of his speeches:
I am sorry to say that as I searched Youtube for this particular speech, I made the mistake of reading some comments left by Youtube users. I forget that lots of people seem to be innocent of any knowledge of history, particularly if the events in question occurred before they were born. But if people honestly believe that the only difference between Churchill and Hitler is that Churchill was on the winning side, we're in a great deal more trouble than I thought.
© 2015 Stephanie Patterson