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Churchill, the master British statesman, stood alone against fascism and renewed the worlds, faith in the superiority of democracy.
Sir Winston Churchill
The political history of the 20th century can be written as the biographies of six men: Lenin, Stalin, Hitler, and Mao Zedong. Franklin Roosevelt and Winston Churchill. The first four were totalitarians that made or used revolutions to create monstrous dictatorships. Roosevelt and Churchill differed from them in being democrats. And Churchill differed from Roosevelt—while both were war leaders. Churchill was uniquely stirred by the challenge of war and found his fulfillment in leading the democracies to victory.
Winston Churchill was born on Nov. 30, 1874, at Blenheim Palace, the famous palace near Oxford built by the nation for John Churchill, 1st duke of Marlborough, the great soldier. Blenheim, named after Marlborough’s grandest victory (1704), meant much to Winston Churchill. In the grounds there he became engaged to his footer wife, Clemintine Ogilvy Hozier. He later wrote his historical masterpiece, The life and Times of John Churchill, Duke of Marlborough, with the archives of Blenheim behind him.
His father, Lord Randolph Churchill, was a younger son of the 7th duke of Marlborough. His mother was Jennie Herome, and as her mother, Clara Hall, was one-quarter Iroquois, Sir Winston had an Indian strain in him. Lord Randolph, a brilliant Conservative leader who had been chancellor of the exchequer in his 30’s, died when only 46, after ruining his career. His son wrote that one could not grow up in that household without realizing that there had been a disaster in the background. It was an early spur to him to try to make up for his gifted father’s failure, not only in politics and in writing, but also on the turf. Young Winston, though the grandson of a duke, had to make his own way in the world, earning his living by his tongue and his pen. In this he had the comradeship of his mother, who was always courageous and undaunted.
In 1888 he entered Harrow, but he never got into the upper school because, always self-willed, he would not study classics. He concentrated on his own language, willingly writing English essays, and he afterward claimed that this was much more profitable to him. In 1894 he graduated from the Royal Military College at Sandhurst. He then was commissioned in the 4th Hussars. On leave in 1895, he went for his first experience of action to serve as a military observer and correspondent with the Spanish forces fighting the guerillas in Cuba.
Rejoining his regiment, he was sent to serve in India. Here, besides his addiction to polo, he went on seriously with his education, which in his case was very much self-education. His mother sent out to him boxes of books, and Churchill absorbed the whole of Gibbon and Macaulay, and much of Darwin. The influence of the historians is to be observed all through his writings and in his way of looking at things. The influence of Darwin is not less observable in his philosophy of life: that all life is a struggle, the chances of survival favor the fittest, chance is a great element in the game, the game is to be played with courage, and every moment is to be enjoyed to the full. This philosophy served him well throughout his long life. In 1897 he served in the Indian army in the Malakand expedition against the restless tribesmen of the North-West Frontier, and the next year appeared his first book, The Story of the Malakand Field Force. In the same year, 1898, he served with the Tirah expeditionary force, and came home to seek service in General Kitchener’s campaign for the reconquest of the Sudan. Once again young Churchill managed to play the dual role of active officer and war correspondent. As such he took part of Omdurman in one of the last classic battles of earlier warfare; cavalry charges, a thin red line of fire against clouds of fanatical dervishes. The Battle of Omdurman was the end of a world. Once more Churchill wrote it up, and the whole campaign, in The River War, a fine example of military history by an eyewitness. He made enemies among the professional soldiers by his frank criticisms of army defects. He entertained himself by writing a novel, Savrola, which curiously anticipates later developments in history, war, and in his own mind.
On the outbreak of the South African War in 1899, he went out as war correspondent for the London Morning Post. Within a month of his arrival, he was captured when acting more as a soldier than as a journalist, by the Boer officer Louis Botha (who subsequently became the first prime minister of the Union of South Africa and a trusted friend). Taken to prison camp in Pretoria, Churchill made a dramatic escape and traveled via Portuguese East Africa back to the fighting front in Natal. His escape made him world-famous overnight. He described his experiences in a couple of journalistic books and made a first lecture tour in the United States. The proceeds from the tour enable him to enter Parliament.
On Jan. 23, 1901, Churchill became member of Parliament for Oldham as a Conservative. But he had returned from South Africa sympathetic to the Boer cause, and his army experiences had made him extremely critical of its command and administration, which he proceeded to attack all along the line. The tariff proposals of Joseph Chamberlain completed his alienation from the Conservative party, and in 1904 Churchill left the party to join the Liberals. In consequence he was for years execrated by the Conservatives, and was unpopular with army authorities.
As Liberal M.P. for Northwest Manchester and for Dundee, he was in a position to share in the long Liberal run of power and to take his place in one of the ablest British governments in modern times. As undersecretary of state for the colonies he played a considerable part in make a generous peace with the Boers. In 1906, he published the authoritative biography, Lord Randolph Churchill (2 vols.), and in 1908, My African Journey, a first-class example of his lifelong flare for journalism (S. Mansfield pp.78). In this year, 1908, he married and, in his own words, “lived happily ever afterwards.” By his marriage to Clementine Hozier there were one son and four daughters.
As president of the board of trade and home secretary, he contributed largely to the early legislation of the welfare state. He helped to create labor exchanges, to introduce health and unemployment insurance, to prescribe minimum wages in certain industries, and to limit working hours. As first lord of the admiralty (1911-1915), he was in a key position, as German naval power rose to its peak and modernization of the British fleet became an urgent necessity. Churchill’s collaboration with Admiral Lord Fisher to this end was historic: it produced the changeover to oil-fueled ships from coal burning vessels, the creation of naval air service, and the first development of the tank. With war approaching, Churchill, on his own responsibility, kept the fleet fully mobilized.
With the German onrush through neutral Belgium in 1914, he led a naval detachment to Antwerp, but failed to stern the tide. In 1915 he made himself responsible for the campaign to force the Dardanelles, with the aim of pushing Turkey out of the war, of linking up with Russia, and of taking the Central Powers in the rear. The campaign foundered, partly through bad luck, partly through lack of experience in combined operations. Churchill was made to take the responsibility, and when a coalition government was formed in May 1915, the Conservatives made it a condition that he should be dropped as first lord of the admiralty.
The Dardanelles failure seemed the end of his political career. He took up painting as a hobby and a consolation, and he remained devoted to it for the rest of his life. His accomplishment in the art should not be underestimated. In 1916 he went back to the army, gallantly volunteering for active service on the western front, where he commanded the 6th Royal Scots Fusiliers. But his energy and ability could not be dispensed with, and Prime Minister Lloyd George called him back to become minister of munitions.
At the end of the war, Churchill became secretary of state for war and also for air (1919-1921). In this post he pushed through army reforms and the development of air power, and became a pilot himself. He involved himself in much controversy by backing the efforts of the counterrevolutionaries against the Bolsheviks in Russia. As secretary of state for air and colonies (1921-1922), he took a leading part in establishing the new Arab states in the Middle East, while supporting a Jewish national home in Palestine as an act of historic and humanitarian justice. He was also closely concerned in the negotiations to establish the Irish Free State, and thus earned further Conservative distrust.
Having lost his seat in Parliament in the 1922 elections, Churchill lived in the political wilderness for the next two years. He was able to go forward with his memoirs, The World Crisis, a large canvas. After various attempts to from a central, antisocialist grouping, he went back to the Conservative party in time to become Chancellor of the Exchequer in Prime Minister Stanley Bald
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