Churchills during World War II and its aftermath
The growing rapacity of German gluttony forced Hitler to take over Austria in 1938 and threaten Czechoslovakia. In Britain this produced a national crisis which resulted in Prime Minister Neville Chamberlains meeting Hitler in September 1938 at Berchtesgaden. Chamberlain returned from the meeting announcing peace in our time which was abruptly smashed when Hitler invaded Prague in March 1939. Soon after given Western weakness and hesitation to work with the Soviet Union Stalin formed a pact with the Nazis guaranteeing Russian security and the partitioning of Eastern Europe between the Bear and the Hun. There was nothing to stop Hitler from destroying Poland and then turning his malevolence towards the West.
Public anger which had exploded after the subjugation of Prague had forced Chamberlain to give the improvident pledge to guarantee Polands security. Militarily and rationally this was an impossibility. The British did not possess a large enough standing army to lend help to Poland to stem a German advance and the logistics of transferring military relief to Poland was never calculated. Only the Navy was possessed war making power and there was little the Navy could do to defend Poland. She was invaded on the first of September and the Second World War began. Churchill was immediately recalled into power as First Lord of the Admiralty – the very same post he had assumed control of 25 years previous on the eve of the First World War.
From day one of the war Churchill was the true Leader of Britain. Chamberlain was defeatist and broken hearted remarking bitterly how his lifes work was now tragically sundered. He did not have the capability to rouse a nation and persevere to the bitter end. Winston as Naval War Lord was not only attacking the enemy on the seas but combating defeatist elements at home and trying to prod the blind neutral nations into action. Only Churchill could utter with true conviction and spirit, Now we have begun; now we are going on; now with the help of God, and with the conviction that we are the defenders of Civilisation and Freedom, we are going on, and we are going on to the end.
The Royal Navy was the only strong force that Britain possessed and from the opening bell the naval squads were on the offensive. Churchill worked at least an 18 hour day. Plans were drawn for a blockade of the German coast, convoy arrangements were made; mine-sweeping was instituted, enemy raiders harassed and submarines sunk. By the end of 1939 the Royal Navy had sunk half of all German submarines. However the war was only in its infancy. Great battles loomed.
On May 10 1940 the Germans began their vicious assault on the West. The Hun streamed into Holland and Belgium. That night the King of England sent for Churchill and asked him to form a government. Thus began the creation of the Churchill legend and his enshrinement into history. The story of the British war effort under Churchill falls into two distinct categories – the struggle to survive and the establishment of the alliance with the USA and Russia and the ultimate destruction of Germany and Japan.
The battle to survive covers the twelve or so months that Britain fought Germany completely alone in 1940-1. This period covered the dazzlingly quick disappearance of France under the heel of the Gestapo in June of 1940 to the German attack on Russia in June of 1941. This grim year brought horrible highlights; the partition of France, the formation of the pro-Nazi French Vichy government, the battle of Britain, the blitz on London, the beginning of the North African desert war, the defeat of Greece, and the British Commando raids along the Norwegian and French coasts.
It was during this sombre episodic current of ruin that Churchill became the most inspirational Leader of the Western world in the 20th century. He portrayed the towering, implacable fierceness of a proud nation, and of liberty, and expressed every free mans tenacity to fight in words that no other could have summoned forth. Winstons knowledge of military matters and his close operational vigilance over all affair animated and excited the British war effort with a boldness that astonished. British prestige in this desperate hour reached its highest ever pitch. The world over prayed for its salvation and success.
The immense energy and illimitable skill that throbbed and turned in his heart and mind was at last released from its bondage and given full scope of use. Churchill no longer knew the frustration of ideas that could not be brought alive, vitality that could not be expended, or ingenious approaches that could not be tested. The supreme challenge was met by a man of supreme stature. The Government was turned upside down. Routine was destroyed. Twenty four activity the rule with Churchill as the master organiser. All knew their place and role. Churchill immediately established a small War Cabinet to make effective and quick decisions. At first the membership was four which grew during the war to seven. This tiny all powerful directing force was supported by sixty or seventy other ministers of all parties who formed the core membership of the Coalition government but responsible only for their own departments. As Churchill pointed out, it was only the members of the War Cabinet, who had the right to have their heads cut off on Tower Hill if we did not win.
Never before in modern history did one man have so much power. Churchill was everywhere. He not only controlled the government but the operational side of the conflict as well. He was not only the Kings First Minister but Leader of the House of Commons and, even more important Minister of Defence also. The military Chiefs of Staff instead of reporting to their own ministries reported instead directly to Churchill. The Joint Planning Committee – a body of professional staff officers of all three services – worked under Churchill as part of the Ministry of Defence rather than under the Chiefs of Staff. Thus by permission of the War Cabinet and Parliament Churchill became the penultimate democratic Leader.
No one can study Churchills part in the war without being staggered by the colossal output of interests, dictations, orders, speeches, broadcasts, plans, promotions and prunings. In military matters he covered an almost incomprehensible range of activity. When Britain stood alone and the nation was bracing itself for the storm of invasion Churchill was racing about the government demanding attack plans, offensive action and targets of British incursions. He demanded the end of the passive war. Thus the commando raids were born. He participated during the war in every operational plan and strategy demanding full technical elaborations and missives to be sent to his attention. During the war, the American General Eisenhower later testified, Churchill maintained such close contact with all operations as to make him a virtual member of the British Chiefs of Staff; I cannot remember any major discussion with them in which he did not participate.
Churchills power was dependent upon the War Cabinet. It is a tribute to his skill of persuasion that unlike Roosevelt or Stalin, who were by their constitutions absolute military leaders of their nation, Churchill exercised his authority only by the permission of the War Cabinet who were willing to grant this authority only so long as Winston commanded the confidence of Parliament. Much of Parliaments confidence was bolstered by Churchills impassioned, humanised and soaring orations. No man or women in the British Commonwealth who heard on June 4 1940 that France was being devoured by the German beast, will forget the tingling of emotion and courage when Churchill uttered in a strange, hoarse voice: We shall go on to the end, we shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and the oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our island, whatever he cost may be, we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender, and even if, which I do not for a moment believe, this island or a large part of it were subjugated and starving, then our Empire beyond the seas, armed and guarded by the British Fleet, would carry on the struggle until in Gods good time, the new world, with all its power and might, steps forth to the rescue and the liberation of the old.
Another Leader may have uttered, We will do what is necessary to win this war and persevere in its struggle until it is won. This government believes in the ultimate ability of our nation to come through to victory. Or something to that effect. Very few would have evinced the crescendo of emotional We shalls in a peroration. Churchill gave the roar to the British lion and heart to the British public. Romance, history, philosophy and leadership all running in the cloud-burst of Churchills speeches and leadership of the war effort. But though he carried his role with pride, prompt execution and relish in no way implies a cold heart or an acceptance of wars carnage. The suffering that he saw, and he saw a lot with his own eyes as he inspected damage through Britain, on more than one occasion pushed him into tears. When Churchill saw a small shop in ruins and wondered out loud to his private secretary the anguish that the owner must feel to have his whole life exploded and ruptured so completely, he became so visibly upset that he resolved at that moment to compensate all damaged property with state payments. Thus the policy of war damage for private assets came into effect. If Churchill enjoyed the waging of war he certainly suffered from the anguish it induced and endeavoured to share its destruction with the common man and woman.
The second phase of the war lasted from the infamous Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour on December 7 1941 until the end of the war. Until 1944 the British and Russian armies bore the brunt of the struggle against the demented German race. From early 1944 onwards the Americans assumed a greater share and responsibility of the war effort and began to relegate the British to a supporting role in the drive to victory. Roosevelt and Churchill met nine times during the war establishing a strong if short lived friendship. The Americans including Roosevelt were incorrectly convinced that Churchill and the British wanted to expand their Empire.
This calamitous suspicion allowed the Russians more freedom in Eastern Europe than the British would ever have tolerated. As early as 1943 with victory a matter of time and logistics Churchill implored the American leadership not to let Soviet ambition run unimpeded in Eastern Europe. The American reply was incredibly purblind and vague. It appears in scouring the documents and American communiqus that they trusted the Soviets to behave themselves more than their close allies the British ! Eisenhower and many of his chiefs remarked in letters and in meetings that they could not understand why the British constantly mixed politics and military affairs.
To the British this represented reality and the best hope to avoid another world war with the Soviets after the defeat of Germany. Churchill and his advisors even preached that upon the wars closing everything necessary should be attempted to revive Germany as a bulwark against the pending Soviet menace. The Americans felt that such targets as Prague, Berlin and Vienna were unnecessary military ventures that would endanger the lives of their men. If the Soviets wanted to shed more life in attacking these seemingly remote locations than the Americans were content to let them. The British just shook their heads in dismay unable to impress the Americans with their superior logic. Victory was attained but it set the stage for the Cold War.
The fact that the British survived the early years of the war when Germany swept all before it and that the British evaded a complete national disaster at Dunkirk and defeated the Nazis in the air during the Battle of Britain, issued during the remainder of the war and for a short period after it, an inflated sense of self destiny and strength and even an isolationist mentality. The collective suffering and emotional agony endured by the entire British nation also gave express an imbued spirit of egalitarianism. The depth of this communal desire was the most profound in British history and exercised a new faith in social planning and cohesion. During Churchills premiership in the war the most celebrated social reconstruction document of the period was the report by William Beveridge which outlined a radical scheme of comprehensive social security, financed from central taxation. This new state aided social plan included maternity benefits, child allowances, universal health and unemployment insurance, old age pension and death benefits – an entire cradle to grave policy. From 1940-45 Britain moved more rapidly to the left than at any time in history a move marked by the important positions Labour ministers occupied in the war government.
At the end of World War II in 1945, Britain was still one of the Big 3 powers, indeed it was ranked as a great power, an illusion that held until about 1963. The British still had their empire in 1945 and in the ensuing years they could still produce great artists and Nobel prize winners, but much to the chagrin of Churchill and the leadership class British glory was long past. The rapid decolonisation of most of its empire — India, Pakistan, Burma, Sri Lanka — and parts of Africa shedded from British finance much unneeded expense and worry, and solidified Britains secondary role in world affairs subordinate to the USA and Russia.
Success in conflict notwithstanding the British electorate in the 1945 general election shockingly kicked Churchill and the Conservatives from office by an overwhelming share. For the third time the Labour party was called forth to govern. Churchill after leading the democracies to attain the supreme glories and garlands of success instantly found himself shorn of privilege and casted into opposition. It was a role he obviously did not appreciate. For Churchill defeat was only explained by the plain fact that people believed his government to be a war council, unprepared for the extended restructuring of society that peace demanded. Labour presented a sharper and more intelligent platform and catalogue of change. The Conservatives were quite content to rest upon Churchills name and ignore the organisation and deliverance of a viable alternative to the Labour programme.
Whilst Churchill harried the Labour government and began the rebuilding of the Conservative party to respond to public and peace-time pressure he began the personal memoirs of the great struggle and in the absence of anything else offered by the other leaders – Stalin, Roosevelt, Truman, or Hitler – Churchill was able to dictate on the best terms and in the most convincing language possible, his and Britannias exalted position in the struggle against evil. It was an incomparable success, ensuring that in times forward, historians would favourably compare the works of Thucydides and those of Churchill. Both men represented and recorded their times and events on an unparalleled scale.
What Churchill was able to offer the reader was a glimpse into the details of historys most horrible man-made disaster. The wicked folly of the conflict was evident at the wars end. Whole nations lay in ruins. Towns, cities, industrial plants and transportation facilities were erased. Food and life essentials were unavailable to great migratory populations. Cynicism and disillusionment in Europe and elsewhere bred the shift to the political left. Marxism replaced Fascism as an acceptable form of social order. Communism erupting from poverty, spread like an open wound across Asia and Europe. With the complete eradication of Nagasaki and Hiroshima the nuclear age dawned. Moral questionings loudly divided those in the West over the usage of weapons of such finality – especially against a prostrate Japan. Dropping two bombs three days apart on a nation that was in the process of trying to negotiate an exit from the war seemed to many morally reprehensible. It was an inauspicious beginning to the scientific era.
The United States and Russia emerged from the rubble of the war as opponents. Russia was mauled and mutilated by the war with over 20 million dead and whole sections of her country raped. The USA stood at wars end possessing a massive ego and the greatest economic supremacy in history. The big two were joined by the little third – Great Britain – and the three during the war and after drove the discussions regarding the build up of the United Nations. Most vexing to the Allies in the construction of the United Nations Assembly was whether members were obliged to surrender part or all of their own independence to the new body in order to maintain peace. How would it be possible to invest such a supranational body with enough force to enforce decisions ? How would the large powers relate to the smaller in the decision making of such a forum ? At Moscow in 1943 the Big Three resolved many of these issues and in Washington in 1944, joined by China, hammered out the shape of the new international body. At the Yalta conference in 1945, the Big Three came to terms on the matter of securing for each of the major powers the right to veto decisions of the new international body. This allowed the creation of the UNO charter at San Francisco in April 1945 which clearly identified the principles and responsibilities of the new organisation. Fifty one founding nations signed the document and in September 1945 the UNO opened its headquarters in New York.
Comprising the UNO were principally the Security Council, the General Assembly, the Economic and Social Council, the International Court of Justice, and the Secretariat. Most power resided in the Security Council which was given the task of maintaining the peace. Five permanent members sit in the council; the United States, the Soviet Union, Great Britain, China and France and six other nations are elected for two year terms as non-permanent members. The permanent members retained veto power with all resolutions needing the consent of the five permanent nations before passing.
In contrast to the Security Council the UNO General Assembly was shaped by all the member states each wielding one nation one vote rights. International problems are to be solved in an open forum and mandates need to be passed by majority vote. This effectively gives the smaller nations more voice in international affairs. The Secretariat acting as the permanent secretary of the UNO concerned itself with internal operations with its Secretary General the highest profiled member of the UNO, exerting wide diplomatic powers emanating from the prestige of the office.
Thus the founding of the UNO was an expression of hope by the survivors of the Second World War. Quickly this vision was marred and jaded by political ineptitude and quivering resolve by the UNO in major affairs. There was little effective work during the Cold War that could be resoundingly accomplished. This war which was contested by two sides that viewed the other as monolithic or controlling inimical forces, could never have been settled via diplomatic channels. The mental straitjackets of both sides; with the Soviet Union believing that the capitalist West controlled by a few monied financiers who desired the destruction of communism and especially the Soviet Union and which would never grant the Russians fair credit in defeating Hitler; and the West believing that Russia controlled the communistic movement world-wide and that communism and especially Russia wanted to overthrow the better functioning liberal states, could only end with the breakdown of one of the combatants. The demise of Marxism gave spring to the hope of a liberal-democratic world.
The major events since 1945 can be summarised in a short list;
– The Collapse of Communism
– The Triumph of Capitalism
– The beginning of the High Tech Era
– The Decline of the USA and the re-emergence of Europe, Japan and China
– The Fragmentation of parts of the world into tribes
– Ecological dislocation
– Growing disparity between the have and have-not nations
– Emerging militant Islamism
– Questioning over the role of the UNO
The most momentous and important event however has been the spread of globalism. Economically, morally, and spiritually people are viewing themselves regardless of race, kin, geography or circumstance as belonging to the entire human race and not a limited defined tribe. Though tribalism in some areas of the world is taking hold even within these identified units a greater consciousness is emanating out to the rest of the globe that though distinct there resides a desire and need to be integrated into a global framework. Economics, peace and ecological salvation commonsensically dictate this. So do the various images from space capturing a small blue ball in the surroundings of space. Somehow this humbles even the largest of egos. So even as, in some parts of the world, balkanisation is shattering mature states, the pieces will still be forced to bond not only together but somehow they will need to align themselves to the greater puzzle that resides outside their narrow borders. It is only by collective effort that the solutioning of poverty, ecological rapine, and the stoppage of war can be peacefully effected.
Churchill died just after the Cuban missile crisis during a bitter period of Cold War strife, which almost pushed the world into a nuclear confrontation. Though he felt certain of liberal-democracys triumph he did not see the maturity of his concept. And though he sustained an undying faith in the ability of man to overcome his worst problems we can be sure that without using the leadership skills presented through his example we will have a very difficult time indeed.
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Churchills during World War II and its aftermath }