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R. Emmett Tyrrell
R. Emmett Tyrrell Jr.
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Churchill and Company

Comment

Washington — The year 2012 is about to expire. It was a blank in my judgment — poof and it is gone. We have the same sorry vacuity in the White House, bereft of knowing how to run the government. Just now he is off to Hawaii to loll in the sun, having left behind questions as to how to avoid our "fiscal cliff." Yes, he wants to raise taxes on the top two percent, but how do we reduce the deficit and finish off the tax bill? He has headed for the beach — and practically no one remarks on the amateurism of it. The president is a poseur.

Not much more can be said for the rest of the leadership in Washington, in Congress, in the media, strutting down the halls of government. As year chases year, I have come to the conclusion that this whole town is abundant with poseurs or worse. The blandness of the Washington and New York City scenes is maddening to anyone familiar with American history, a history filled with great figures.

That is why I am lost in the personae and drama of "The Last Lion: Winston Spencer Churchill, Defender of the Realm, 1940-1965" by William Manchester, deceased, and Paul Reid, very much alive. The story chronicles Churchill waging World War II, alone at first but with the addition of enough great Americans and other great English-speaking people to make it a book about them as well as the assortment of mediocrities, rogues and heinous dictators that remind readers of how lucky we are to live in lands where the love of freedom keeps us civilized.

Halfway through the 1182-page tome, I encountered the estimable Brian Lamb on C-SPAN interviewing Paul Reid, the unconventional author of "Defender of the Realm." Manchester, author of the first two volumes of "The Last Lion," got off to an enviable start with this Churchill trilogy but went into physical decline before doing much more with the third volume than elementary research. He picked his friend Reid to finish off the work, and we can be glad Manchester had an eye for talent. Reid has done Manchester proud.

In his interview, Reid serves up a tempting outline of his book — watch it and my guess is you will want to read the book. Reid has made minor mistakes in his laborious work, for instance, calling Winchester College a university and saying the Welshman, Aneurin Bevan, was the administrator of Britain's National Health Service. Nonetheless, I shall say it here and not be ashamed: Though Reid is not a professional historian, he has rounded out the portraits of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Churchill, Adolf Hitler and Joseph Stalin more completely than any other writer I have read.

Moreover, he does the same with lesser figures, George Marshall, Admiral Ernest King, Anthony Eden, in fact almost the whole cast of characters that lined up with Churchill to fight World War II. And I am not leaving out the idiot Dr. Goebbels and the fumbling Hermann Goering, Hitler's propagandist and air marshal respectively. Never again will I perceive them in the one-dimensional way they come off in conventional historiography.

How Reid succeeds in this, I can only speculate. He has read widely and chosen quotes with an eye for their vividness. Perhaps he was unfettered by a professional historian's strictures and uses quotes with especial attention for what they will tell readers about, say, Churchill or Roosevelt. It is a gift, a literary gift.

We all know that Roosevelt was a great leader, but he could be inexplicably petty, even cruel. At the Tehran conference he insisted on keeping Churchill out of private conferences with Stalin for no apparent reason. Later he was much amused when Stalin, the butcher of Katyn forest, playfully bedeviled Churchill, causing FDR's friend, Averell Harriman, to recall later that the president "always enjoyed other people's discomfort ... It never bothered him much when other people were unhappy." Churchill is portrayed convincingly as tough and even ruthless, especially to his sorely pressed staff. Yet in Cairo, as he waited for an enthusiastic Roosevelt to join him in an outing to the pyramids, he told his daughter Sarah — his "eyes bright with tears" — "I love that man."

Both men had their fatherly embarrassments. Churchill was indulgent toward his repulsive and drunken son Randolph. He took him to international conferences and sent the unreliable fellow on high-level missions. Not to be out done, Roosevelt took his son Elliott abroad with him, and at Tehran had to sit by while the drunken Elliott gave a toast committing the American army to what would have amounted to atrocities. Elliott meant it as a joke, friendly to Stalin and aimed at Churchill.

It is rare to read a book that portrays one or another of these great men so completely and convincingly. To have so many great figures portrayed so fully in one book is amazing. Go out and buy "Defender of the Realm," and see if I am not right.

R. Emmett Tyrrell Jr. is founder and editor-in-chief of The American Spectator and an adjunct scholar at the Hudson Institute. He is the author of the book "The Death of Liberalism." To find out more about R. Emmett Tyrrell Jr. and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.

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Comments

1 Comments | Post Comment
Sir;... I have read some Manchester, and others on Churchill, and Churchill on his own version of history...I will certainly agree that Manchester was an historian... I can agree with anyone who abuses FDR in his relationship with Stalin... I think some of the biggest mistakes he made were in relation to Stalin because he had no sense of how complete and pitiless tyranny could be... Churchill was rabidly anti communist, and it is possible his experiences with Russian Communism and his irrationality on the subject led to his marginalization... FDR, having familiar experiences with Colonial Britain may well have known how such behavior weakened both Britain and the countries they exploited... I think it is safe to conclude that the world has survived such people, but that the damage they did is inestimable...
Your estimation of the value of Mr. Obama is not worth spit... You are prejudiced... I will not say he is great... Some one must nearly have no history to be elected president... If I man might spring whole from the womb, educated and uncommited, born into money, of good name, and otherwise a mystery; he might have a chance to become president...Do you think the American people would have shown better sense electing a man who says trust me because I am too proud to prove my honor???
There has never been a good president who was not maligned, and one of the best presidents and politicians was Abraham Lincoln, and some say it is a blessing he died before the rising tide in congress against him reached full flow...Those who could not beat him, and those who could not manipulate him joined in hating him... Dead, he could become an American Saint... Alive He might well have proved a company or party man...
We are certainly in as pivital an age as the one in which Lincoln lived... No one understood as clearly as Lincoln the progress the South was making toward seccession, and he trapped Douglas in a contradiction that split the Democrat party, and made his election possible... This did not stop even loyal men from portraying Lincoln as an ape, though many will admit his genius today...Johnathan Swift once said that "When true genius appears in the world, you may know him by this sign, that the dunces are all in confederacy against him"... I would like to class you with the duncess... I would like to class Mr. Obama as a genius... I would not doubt that Mr. Obama is smarter than myself...Ultimately, in this dangerous age he is marking time and treading water... He does not grasp the nature of the problems he faces as Mr. Lincoln did... He does grasp the reality of politics, that public opinion makes all possible... Today, public opinion has settled with Mr. Obama... And until everything else has failed, it is too early for revolution, or despair...
When revolution comes it will not come from the top... Whether you know it or not; your attempt to rally public opinion against Mr. Obama is a reaction to the revolution in the making, nascent, and unformed...There is an absolute need for change in this land not answered by Mr. Obama, or anyone in politics today...This need for change, for revolution, is a clock ticking that all reactionaries would still with words, or stop with violence...You can see the revolution, as in the South of seccession -in the violence of reaction...The desire to stop revolution is the force that gives form and life to revolution... Let me cheer you and your fellow dunces on... You are making my day...
Thanks...Sweeney
Comment: #1
Posted by: James A, Sweeney
Wed Dec 26, 2012 4:15 PM
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