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The Real Churchill

February 8, 2000

In our official mythology, Winston Churchill, even more than Franklin Roosevelt, still symbolizes the epic struggle against tyranny in World War II. But correction of this myth is long overdue.

Before and during the war, Roosevelt fawned on Joseph Stalin, to whom he delivered most of Central Europe as the spoils of victory. Far from reciprocating this adulation, Stalin cold-bloodedly took full advantage of Roosevelt’s gullibility. Roosevelt’s admirers, somewhat embarrassed at his obsequious appeasement of the Soviet tyrant, prefer to say delicately that he “misjudged” Stalin.

Churchill, on the other hand, enjoys a more unsullied reputation, especially among anti-Communists, since he lived to revert to his pre-war anti-Communism and warned (albeit a little late in the day) against the “Iron Curtain” that had fallen across Europe.

But in his obsessive hatred of Germany, which long predated the rise of Adolf Hitler, Churchill forgot the evil of Communism and in fact rivaled Roosevelt in his eagerness to please Stalin. When Hitler and Stalin joined to invade Poland in 1939, Churchill, who would become prime minister in early 1940, directed all his wrath against Hitler; Britain and France declared war on Germany, but not on the Soviet Union, even when, the following year, Stalin grabbed the three Baltic states and attacked Finland. A particular antipathy to Germany, not the principle of the security of small nations, was clearly Churchill’s ruling motive.

Before the war Stalin had already slaughtered millions, far more than Hitler would kill during the war itself. Churchill, like Roosevelt, chose to ignore this; and when Hitler turned on Stalin in June 1941, Churchill welcomed Stalin as an ally without reservation.

When Germany defeated and conquered France in 1940, driving the British back across the Channel, Churchill refused to make peace; since Britain was no match for Germany, this could only mean that he intended to draw the United States into the war, which he proceeded to do, with Roosevelt’s secret cooperation. The two men conspired to “force an incident” (as Churchill put it) in the North Atlantic that would compel the reluctant U.S. Congress to declare war on Germany; their plot failed, but, happily for them, the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor achieved the desired result.

Early in the war Churchill approved the Lindemann Plan of terror-bombing civilians as a matter of policy. He lied to Parliament about this, insisting the civilian casualties in German cities had been accidental victims of bombs aimed at military targets; later he would disclaim any part in the destruction of Dresden: “I thought the Americans did it.” The full truth was revealed only long after the war.

[Breaker quote: Stalin's other 
chum] Throughout the war Churchill praised Stalin in fulsome terms. In 1944 he spoke of “deep-seated changes which have taken place in the character of the Russian state and government” and “the new confidence which has grown in our hearts toward Stalin.” This wasn’t mere public rhetoric. To his wife he wrote: “I have had very nice talks with the old Bear. I like him the more I see him. Now they respect us & I am sure they wish to work with us.” Like Roosevelt, Churchill had a pathetic desire to be liked by Stalin — and a consequent reluctance to cross him by denying him his wishes. Churchill even agreed to the massive deportations of civilians and the use of Germans for slave labor after the war! In all their dealings it was Stalin, not Churchill, who displayed an iron will.

At the Yalta Conference of 1945, Churchill and Roosevelt agreed to turn Poland over to Stalin in exchange for a promise that he would permit free elections, never mind his partnership in Poland’s rape in the first place. As for guarantees, the word of their drinking buddy “Uncle Joe” was good enough for them.

After the war Churchill admitted that “we lie in the grip of even worse perils than those we have surmounted.” Only in hindsight did he perceive what the scorned “isolationists” had foreseen from the first.

Hero of the twentieth century? The historian Ralph Raico offers a sterner judgment: “Winston Churchill was a man of blood and a politico without principle, whose apotheosis serves to corrupt every standard of honesty and morality in politics and history.”

Joseph Sobran

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