We seem to have an inexhaustible passion for WWII in all our worlds from the scholarly to the movies. No Hollywood year is complete without at least one or two anti-Nazi blockbusters. And now Max Hastings has found himself a previously unplowed corner of the field for his Winston’s War.
Never was a book more aptly titled. What you see in the title is what you get–WWII as Winston Churchill experienced it, or at least as one watching
Churchill might imagine his experiencing it.
Churchill is, of course, Britain and WWII to folks of my generation, and the phrases he has contributed to the language–blood, sweat, and tears; finest hour; iron curtain–are legion. Hastings talks in his afterword about convincing his publisher that there might be something new worth printing about the PM after all the tens of gallons of ink that have been poured by and about him over the decades. It’s a good question, and I wish I could say that, yeah, here’s a cornucopia of info I never knew or imagined. Unfortunately, not.
I’ve read enough about the Churchillian/Stalin/Roosevelt interactions in other books that I found no revelations here on that score. It’s still the sorry tale of two sick old men (R&C) being bamboozled by a ruthless Stalin at the top of his brutal game. Churchill’s baggage of failed military adventure dating back to the Boer war when he became PM at 66, and being no more effective with his tactics in this encounter. There were, however, a couple of gems. One of them about Churchill. The other not.
If not for him, it’s dubious that England would have made it through 1941 without falling to the Nazi’s. She had neither the materiel nor the skills nor the manpower to resist, and her morale was in the dumps. As Hastings or someone he quotes puts it, Churchill made language a tool of governance in a way and to an extent that no other leader in history ever has. I’d never thought of it that way, and I thank Hastings for the insight. After the Americans came into the conflict in 1942, at least according to Hastings, C’s influence began steadily to wane. What there was of his military prowess became less and less relevant, and Britain’s role decreased in proportion to the increasing military might of America’s and Russia’s.
The other perspective is this: So long did Britain and the U.S. delay their entry into the fracas, that it was actually the Russians who played the major role in defeating Hitler. They killed more Germans, captured more land, and lost more men–by an enormous margin all three–than the other allied powers combined. I’d never thought of it that way. I thank Hastings for that one, too.
Give Churchill credit for one thing–He had Stalin figured out and tried to do something about reducing his domination of Eastern Europe during the war’s last days. But it was too little, too late, and he’d already come up with enough hare-brained schemes and comments that his true and trenchant insights got lost in the muddle.
All in all, though, this was a dry and repetitive read for me. Not a lot of info, no juice at all.