Friday, July 23, 2010

Standing Alone: More Lessons from Old Winnie

I read a lot of biographies, and, take my word for it, Manchester's 2 completed volumes on Churchill (The Last Lion) are without peer. I look forward to the third, which another must complete, Manchester having met his demise.

Of course, he could hardly have had a more interesting subject. The second volume is entitled "Alone." Alone Churchill was. Reading a chronicle of British leadership in the 30's would be comical, if it weren't so sad, and if it hadn't cost millions of lives. The portrait of Churchill is of a titan of a man --greatly flawed, as great men often are. Yet, he was a man of his convictions. He was miraculously prescient in regards to Hitler, and what he would do, when many British weren't so much cowering in fear, but gaping with admiration. The latent anti-Semitism of Britain, coupled with its own sense of defeatism, led Baldwin and Chamberlain, and the vast majority of their elite countrymen not only to kowtow to Hitler, but to help his cause. The Times suppressed the accounts of Kristallnacht, and accounts of the persecution of the church. Anything that did not fit the overriding narrative of peace, and even alliance, with Germany, was suppressed. Edward the Abdicator frolicked with the Fuhrer. The "Dear Vicar," PM Stanley Baldwin, refused to rebuild the nation's defenses while Germany rebuilt the Ruhr, and reclaimed and fortified the Rhineland, all to public acclaim.

Churchill was dumbfounded. Was this the Britain that had won the Great War? The one that caused the Kaiser's government to fall and sue for peace? Churchill had opposed Versailles, and its draconian demands on the German populace. Yet, he saw the same Britain, so merciless at Versailles, now aiding and abetting a country of 70 million people in central Europe, preparing once again to menace its neighbors.

The lesson is this: the right thing is seldom the popular thing. Sometimes it requires being ostracized and standing alone. The difficulty is in knowing when one's opinions are, indeed, in the right. But, as was Churchill's case, sometimes it really isn't that difficult to know. The difficult thing is to stand fast, despite all ostracism and ridicule. The civilized world may not have survived if it hadn't been for Winston Churchill. Because of him, it did.

1 comment:

  1. This post goes along well with an excellent essay/speech I read in American Scholar recently, called "Solitude and Leadership." It's long but worth reading: