Churchill's War, vol. ii

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The Spectator

London, August 18, 2001




Churchill's 'Temple of Peace'

From Mr Andrew Roberts

Sir: I wonder how many more times it needs to be stated that Winston Churchill did not envisage Britain joining the United Europe of which he spoke in a series of speeches between 1946 and 1951 at Zurich. the Albert Hall, Strasbourg and elsewhere?

In his review of Geoffrey Best's and David Irving's books on Churchill (Books, 11 August), Professor Vernon Bogdanor -- indulging his talent and passion for intellectual perversity, for all I know -- made the incorrect claim that Churchill wanted Britain to join Europe because he realised 'that Britain could no longer be a great power on her own'.

In fact, Churchill was perfectly clear and consistent in saying that he saw Britain as being in a separate pillar from United Europe in what he called 'the world Temple of Peace'. At the Albert Hall on 14 May 1947, he said that in the future:

United Europe would form one major regional entity. There is the United States with all its dependencies; there is the Soviet Union; there is the British Empire and Commonwealth; and there is Europe, with which Great Britain is profoundly blended. Here are the four main pillars of the world Temple of Peace. Let us make sure they will all bear the weight that will be imposed and reposed upon them.

Since profoundly 'blended' is so bland as to be meaningless, any Eurosceptic could sign up for that statement even today, if one substituted Russia for the Soviet Union and excised the now defunct British empire.

Bogdanor complains that 'currently fashionable opinion persists in seeing Churchill as a Eurosceptic'. If so. for once it is right.

Andrew Roberts
London 5W3

From Lord Skidelsky

Sir; In his review of two books on Churchill, Vernon Bogdanor accuses me, together with John Charmley and Maurice Cowling, of 'resurrecting' the view that 'Britain was mistaken to declare war against Hitler'.

The reference to this alleged belief of mine is my biography of Oswald Mosley, published in 1975. What I actually did in that book was to give an account of Mosley's peace policy in the 1930s, based on the idea of a self-contained empire. massive rearmament, and a 'free hand' for Hitler in Eastern Europe, and conclude. 'We will never know whether such a policy could have avoided war, because it was never tried.' 1 nowhere say, or imply, that in 1939 Britain should not have gone to war.

The modern revisionist case is different. It is that in 1940, or perhaps 1941, Britain should have tried for a negotiated peace with Hitler. I have explicitly rejected this view. Reviewing John Charmley's Churchill: The End of Glory in the National Review (15 November 1993), I wrote of his contention that Churchill was the main obstacle to a negotiated peace; 'Most of this is non-sense. . . . The impossible and ghastly nature of Hitler's ambitions . . . is ignored.

And in the third volume of my life of Keynes (2000), a book which Bogdanor has presumably read because he reviewed it. I wrote, '1 do not accept the argument implied in the work of some revisionist his-torians like John Charmley ... that

[Britain] should have made peace with Hitler's Germany. It takes two to parley, and Hitler, as well as being a moral barbarian, lacked every genuine attribute of statesmanship. He left others with no choice but to conquer him or be conquered by him.'

This view is perfectly consistent with the conclusion that the war cost Britain its position as a Great Power.

Robert Skidelsky
House of Lords, London SW1

From Mr William Terrell

Sir, Most people who endured Hitler's war would agree that becoming an American satellite was preferable to a Europe controlled by Hitler. But it is fair to ask whether or not those two choices were the only ones. When Hitler attacked Russia in July 1941, Britain's strength and military capacity were steadily increasing and being increased by lend-lease.

At the same time the Japanese threat to the empire in the east was too patent to be ignored. British material aid to Russia could only be a marginal influence in the titanic clash of Continental armies. Even half of the I ,000 fighter aeroplanes sent to Russia before the end of 1941 would have prevented the conquest of Malaya and Singapore. But Churchill's choice of strategy preferred the dramatic gesture of aid, including the newly arriving lend-lease supplies, to another monstrous tyranny.

He gambled that Japan would not attack, a gamble that the then very apparent risk did not justify. There can be no doubt that had he given the same attention to the Far East as he did to other theatres, the British empire would not have been destroyed at Singapore, and that at the Tehran conference he would not have represented a donkey between a bear and a buffalo. The futile dispatch of HMS Prince of Wales and Repulse was an unacknowledged admission of the mistake that had been made.

To say this is only to record that the greatest of human beings can make mistakes. Sixty years on, Churchill's strategy in 1941 has left Britain less in command of her own destiny than she was 60 years after the achievements of Wellington, Chatham and his own Marlborough. It needs also to be asked to what extent he was prejudiced, by having an American mother, into believing that American interests were always identical with those of Britain. In fact the most substantial long-term achievement of American foreign policy during the 20th century wits the elimination of the British empire and the downgrading of Britain to a second-rate power. But it would appear that even today these truths are too raw to be acceptable.

William Terrell
London SW6

From Mr George Stern

 Churchill's War, vol. ii Sir; In his review of Churchill books by Geoffrey Best and David Irving, Vernon Bogdanor concentrates on refuting Irving's revisionism -- and adds some pro-EU pro-paganda -- but he tells us very little indeed about the book.

I. too, dislike living's revisionism. but I don't read the book for that. I read it for the huge number of vivid quotations from (usually unpublished) contemporary documents. To take one of thousands, before entering a House of Commons committee room, WSC carefully lights up a cigar remarking, 'Never forget your trademark!'

All this brings Churchill to life in a way that the hagiographies which Bogdanor rightly criticises don't -- and in a way which, to me at least, makes Churchill more attractive overall rather than less.

George Stern
London N6

Mr Irving's Reader's Letter to The Spectator WAS NOT PRINTED

Related files on this website:

Bogdanor: "That damned elusive PM"
Free download of Churchill's War, vol. ii

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