Boris Johnson as the next Winston Churchill: not necessarily a complement

Boris JohnsonThe Brexit victory has brought forward its leading light in Boris Johnson. Many now expect him to become the next Tory leader with Cameron having announced his resignation. Against that it must be said that the Tory party does not always forgive the slayer of its previous leader: Michael Heseltine never became leader; though Thatcher herself did.

Boris Johnson elicits adulation amongst many of the grass roots. He is perceived despite his very posh roots as somehow a man of the people. To an extent this may have some validity and he seems able to reach out to al sorts of people from all sorts of social groups: had Remain won I had intended to characterise him as a Tiberius Gracchus figure (not a perfect analogy but maybe evidence that a bit of historical training has some use whatever certain university Vice Chancellors might say).

Rather with Brexit’s victory Boris is no doubt eyeing following his hero and is adopting something of a Churchillian air. Johnson has always cultivated his tousled hair bonhomie persona but many who have observed him have suggested this is in large measure a façade: a part of a deeply cunning, desperately ambitious and not especially pleasant individual who is a shameless opportunist.

No doubt if Johnson becomes leader and manages to pull of a successful exit and prosperous UK he will try to present himself as a visionary man of principle. In a couple of generations few will remember the self serving ambition and rank opportunism.

All of the above could make him very Churchillian but that is by no means a complement.

Winston Churchill was born into an extremely aristocratic family. He was a descendent of one of the greatest British generals John Churchill, First Duke of Marlborough and was born in the house built by the First Duke – Blenheim the grandest stately home in England.

Churchill’s early life involved a relatively unsuccessful career at school followed by a moderately successful military career which he also wrote about. His real break came in the Boer War where he was a celebrated reporter. During all these episodes there was a feeling that his writing although very good was as much as anything about himself and his exploits.

As a politician before and in the early part of the First World War he was First Lord of the Admiralty (confusingly this was a political not naval appointment). There he was involved with Jackie Fisher in the production of the Queen Elizabeth Super Dreadnoughts which helped win / draw the Battle of Jutland and a generation later in the Second World War helped Britain gain control of the Mediterranean. His other decisions were, however, rather less successful and he left office (to go back to the army) after championing the disaster of Gallipoli. Prior to the war he had managed to start in the Conservative Party before defecting to the Liberals. After the First World War he continued his opportunism by returning to the Conservatives.

Back in the Tory Party he may have proposed using the army against the General Strike of 1926 (that is slightly unclear) and oversaw the disastrous return of the UK to the Gold Standard as chancellor. During this time as chancellor he also presided over reduced military spending on the grounds that war in the foreseeable future was most unlikely.

Churchill’s star waned in the 1930s (his wilderness years) and he took up writing (at which he was highly talented – he received the Nobel Prize for literature in 1953). Having supported reduced military spending he U turned to support increased spending in the 1930s, warning against German rearmament.

When the Second World War came he was vindicated and returned to the Admiralty before becoming Prime Minister in 1940. Even as a war time Prime Minister his successes were not as universal as they are now regarded. He repeatedly demanded his military chiefs be more aggressive and Britain’s successes tended to come after he allowed the professional military leaders to do as they, not he, chose. Nowhere is thus better illustrated than in the western desert where Claude Auchinleck halted the Germans but refused to go onto the offensive until he had adequate resources to be fairly certain of victory. Churchill sacked him and his replacement Montgomery essentially then implemented Auchinleck’s plan; refusing Churchill’s demands to attack too early.

By the end of the war Churchill’s dominance had waned and he was replaced by Clement Attlee as Prime Minister after the Labour landslide between VE and VJ days.

Churchill then wrote the first great account of the Second World War: a six volume work. After the First World war in the 1920s he had written a book about that war entitled “The World Crisis” which was variously described as: Winston has written an enormous book about himself, and called it “The World Crisis” and separately by Arthur Balfour as “Churchill’s autobiography disguised as a history of the universe.”

In all of this Churchill whatever his undoubted political talents was a showman and an opportunist who was in the right place at the right time. One could go on about Churchill’s other failings, U turns and opportunism as well as his brilliance at great length but that is for a longer piece than a blog.

That of course brings us rather neatly back to Boris Johnson: an opportunist who’s time may have come though probably not to the level of greatness Churchill achieved.

If Johnson does become Prime Minister it is to be hoped he does not achieve that greatness through a war. To quote Oskar Schindler in Schindler’s List:

Oskar Schindler: In every business I tried, I can see now, it wasn’t me that failed. Something was missing. Even if I’d known what it was, there’s nothing I could have done about it because you can’t create this thing. And it makes all the difference in the world between success and failure.
Emilie Schindler: Luck?
Oskar Schindler: [Schindler kisses his wife’s hand and smiles] War.

This author has not written a biography and will not be writing one.

  • Korhomme

    Churchill’s history of the Second World War was a team effort; he got the kudos and the Nobel prize, the others were airbrushed out.

  • articles

    “Boris Johnson as the next Winston Churchill: not necessarily a complement ” but perhaps a compliment.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Amazing just how short local memories are! Is this not the self-same Winston Churchill who organised the plot for the arrest of the top boys in the UUC and UVF only weeks before the Larne Gun Running, an event only “foiled” by the sudden incapacitation of the man detailed to carry out the weekend raids and arrests, Sir Nevil Macready, and the subsequent “Curragh Incident” which ensured the army could not be used for any possible repeat performance of that lost opportunity?

    The full story is in Sir James Ferguson’s excellent “The Curragh Incident”:

    A lot of the older local people, some quite well informed, were fully convinced that in the event of an invasion by Hitler on England’s south coast in 1940 the fellow would simply pull strings with his good friend Mussolini to ensure his own political survival. “No-one so adept at entirely reversing political loyalties” would have been their assessment. But of course this was simply the jaundiced speculations of Unionist locals with rather longer memories than our current generations, and I’m sure Winnie would in the event of any invasion have fought it out to the last drop of another man’s blood.

  • Gopher

    You overlook one qualitiy Churchill had that we are unsure Boris possesses. Throughout his career Churchill displayed great personal courage whether on campaign or in the political arena, as premier Churchill frequently exposed his person to danger. Bravery and Intelligence of course have a complex relationship.

    Gallipoli was a bold stroke and on paper no different a strategy that had brought Britain success in war over hundreds of years unfortunately the means nor the personnel were sufficient to bring a decision against a modern continental army. So boldness of enterprise has to be tempered by what is practical.

    In the Liberal party Churchill had David Lloyd George, as First lord of the Admiralty he had Jackie Fisher. As Prime Minister he had Brooke, Portal and Pound. Churchill never seemed to gravitate to yes men nor did he shy away from talent. A grade people don’t hire Bozo’s was a mantra of Steve Jobs and it seems Churchill.

    The situation with Auchinleck always amuses me. Auckinleck whilst having many admirable qualities hired bozo’s and in doing so managed to lose a battle, Gazala which never should have been lost and with it Tobruk plus a South African Division (which Churchill had a hand in to) causing the retreat to Egypt. Brooke was the driving force for Auchinlecks replacement who felt the man lacked any “grip”. Montgomery Churchills second choice the first was killed (though Montgomery was Brookes first choice) realized the 8th army was commanded by Bozo’s and ran both battles Alam Halfa and Alamein on a tight leash with as little input from subordinates as possible. Montgomery’s victory had little to do with anything that happened before in the desert.

    Boris so far seems to have been a successful Mayor but I must admit he looked surprised and overwhelmed he actually won the referendum and with the Cameron resignation. It looks like he is perturbed to become leader. Churchill on the other hand came from no where in a worse crisis than today’s to become the leader and hit the ground running, a blur of activity with his “action this day” policy. Boris has stumbled at the start, Churchill certainly did not.

    Boris when he gets to number ten needs to look through a few drawers and find the “Action this day” stamp and start playing catch up.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Thank you Turgon for an excellent comparison of two opportunist politicians. genuine history relies on our refusing to edit out inconvenient facts, such as Churchill’s unerring eye for the main political chance. Edward VIII’s abdication ensured that Churchill’s self appointed role as possible key advisor to a king whose political interests lay with the extreme right wing in Europe did not compromise him before his dramatic conflation of Louis XIV with Hitler and his ancestor the first Duke with himself ensured his place as the hero of democracy, but I often wonder what would have transpired had Edward refused to abdicate?

  • Gopher

    You ever serve in the trenches Seaan? or partake in a Cavalry charge? What about flying to France in the middle of its collapse with the Luftwaffe ruling the skies? Nope I did not think you did, Churchill on the other hand………

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Oh dear Gopher, the men on the spot in North Africa, even those who were far from friendly with “the Auck” all threw their hands up in horror at the appointment of a self-publicist martinet such as Montgomery, a man who had learnt nothing about the new military doctrines of movement. He fought Alamein as if he were replaying the big set piece battles of 1917 on the western front, this “tight leash” you describe. No, those who were actually there at the time all talked of his almost snatching a defeat out of the jaws of an inevitable victory his predecessors had built. You have been reading the contemporary spin rather than looking at the facts, and ignoring the essential conservatism of his military practice which almost lost the battle.

    As Wikipedia puts it: “Correlli Barnett commented that Montgomery’s solution ‘… was in every way opposite to Auchinleck’s and in every way wrong, for it carried the existing dangerous separatism still further.’ ” He utterly separated the tanks and infantry in his actions, and expected the mobile arm to act as “fixed position fortresses” in his defended boxes just as Saddam did in the gulf war. An infantry man, he never understood the central importance of the new doctrines of movement in the field, and depended on attrition and the big guns, just like Haig.

    We were lucky that Alamein was fought only ten weeks after his arrival, and his meddling had not entirely effaced the earlier work of his more talented betters! And remember that Rommell was being starved of the supplies that had fuelled his earlier successes, and this was the main contributory factor to Montgomery’s replay of Passendale actually paying off. If you really want to look at the results of Montgomery acting almost entirely on his own, try Arnhiem. It is a pity that an old friend of my family, Major “Bob” Hynds, who was decorated at Arnhiem is no longer with us to tell those such as yourself who perhaps have only encountered Montgomery through his insufferably pompous “Memoirs”, and through hagiographies, with just how much black humour the fellow’s self assessments were viewed by those who were out there on the cutting edge of his incompetence.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    No Gopher, but as an adolescent I knew quite a few men who actually did serve in the lines all through WWI and others who either flew over Germany under Harris or served under one of those others amongst Churchill’s pet incompetents placed in high command during WWII, who themselves expressed some very different assessments of the actual value of your hero. “I will ensure that I am remembered in history because I will write that history”…..don’t simply take the man’s self assessment “spin” at face value! Where are your critical faculties, man, but perhaps you were out there yourself alongside the man and can “pull rank” on your own account here?

    Oh and are you suggesting any possible “consistency” in the face of Churchill’s habitual opportunism? Even he was not ready to make such absurd claims!!!

  • SeaanUiNeill

    “Churchill’s history of the Second World War was a team effort”, actually as I’d heard it Korhomme, most of his writing after that big disingenuous biography of his equally opportunist ancestor the first Duke of Marlborough. His much admired work, “The history of the English Speaking Peoples” hardly saw even a blue pencil in his hand, from what I’d heard:

  • Korhomme

    And didn’t Churchill make a remark to the effect that history would be kind to him, for he intended to write that history?

  • Gopher

    I’m actually surprised none of your family were actually on the spot Seaan but at least you managed to get a family friend parachuted into Arnhem. I only knew the Royal Army Service Corps officer responsible for his staff car so would have absolutely know idea of the personality of the man but I heard he had a tire pressure gauge in his top pocket.

    I understand you have put the same level of research into Arnhem as Alamein so I would just like to point out that in the case of Arnhem there was two plans one was to cross the Rhine, one at Wesel the other to cross the Rhine at Arnhem. On the 8th September the first V2 (thats a big rocket with a bomb bolted on) fired from the Hague in Holland landed in London. Market Garden was not Monty acting on his own “The War Office enquired” what could be done to stop it, Eisenhower was prodded and Arnhem it was. As I’ve explained before strategic warfare or the laying waste to cities has an effect out of all proportion to the actual damage inflicted and Market Garden was just another example.

  • Gopher

    You questioned Churchill personal courage which compared to most men is beyond reproach. As a “6th century history student” I tend to look at things more objectively and can find fault or favour without any emotional attachment. Its a hard discipline to master especially when empathy is so vital to a historian but if you try you can eventually succeed.

  • whatif1984true

    In the 30’s and after he always had 1 or 2 researchers who in many cases wrote articles etc which Churchill would amend /approve. This also applied to his books but doesnt mean that he did little work/writing. His secretaries took down his words which were later transcribed for alteration or not.

  • whatif1984true

    He was an immensely hard working writer, to say that about “The history of the English Speaking Peoples” is ridiculous. He actually delivered considerably more than his publisher wanted. Read Jenkins book about him to educate yourself.

  • Barney Fife

    I have seen Churchill’s Wikipedia page. Wonder how yours matches up?

  • Korhomme

    Having a secretary type up what you have dictated is one thing; having researchers who do the writing only for you to pass it off as you own work is another.

  • jporter

    One of the most striking aspects of the days since the vote has been the utter flatness of the reaction from the Leave campaign. At their press conference Boris looked like he’d lost rather than won, like he’d taken a joke too far and now had regrets.
    It dawned on me that he hadn’t expected, nor wanted, to win. Now the leave team are nowhere to be seen. Given the situation, it’s quite incredible.
    They signed a letter asking Cameron to stay on because they have no appetite for the real work than now has to take place – Cameron, rightly, said – f**k that.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    As I contribute to Wikipedia, you have given me some ideas Barney. As with the “History of the English Speaking Peoples”, Wikipedia pages are collaborative products, and have no single author. As time passes it is not only Churchill who is writing “his” history!

  • SeaanUiNeill

    The facts speak for themselves. Churchill’s publisher employed a team of historians to actually write the work. As the arguments developed and as more professional historians began to produce a rather less “Whig” interpretation Churchill’s interest in what was being written in his name wained. you should really check out the facts before speaking about what Churchill delivered. Which ” “Churchill” speaking of? Winston Spencer Churchill or the actual historians who produced the “History of the English Speaking Peoples”:

    “When Churchill finally returned to the project in the mid-1950s, he was a shadow of his former self – exhausted by six volumes of war memoirs and a second term in Downing Street. The task was completed by a syndicate of academic ghostwriters, among them AL Rowse, JH Plumb and Asa Briggs. They tried to introduce scholarly rigour into Winston’s Whiggish saga and the work ended up betwixt and between. But no one cared: Churchill made money, so did his publishers.”

    You’d obviously failed to read my link, so I’ll post it again:

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Actually Gopher, I was not there, so I have no knowledge of Churchill himself that I can speak from. What I’m questioning here is Churchill’s representation of himself and his life in print, and all the hagiographic material such vainglorious self publicity has encouraged in others. In this, alongside my own reading, I’ve trusted the views of men I have met and spoken with whose characters I would entirely trust, who had little or no time for Churchill and his spin but had their own experience of his actions.

    Assessing probability without fear or favour is what we historians do, its our trade. Its not in my discipline or character to cheer on Churchill, but to look at the evidence with a cold analytic eye. If you’d kept up with the entire range of current thought you’d have noticed that I am far from the only person to seriously critique Churchill’s record. So we will have to differ over this one, and I will stick to proper analytic historiography and leave you to the hagiographic approach of Carlyle’s “On Heros, Hero Worship and the Heroic in History” and the mendacious belief “That great men should rule and that others should revere them.” Revere away, and I’ll save my own praise for the men who actually did the work.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Actually my uncle was on the spot in North Africa, and would agree with Corelli Barnett’s assessments of the Auk and Monty, as would any of his friends from the campaigns. Yesterday I was listening to a most interesting talk where Patrick Casement was describing his family in two world wars and thinking about the experiences of my own extended family.

    Beats simply reading it in print every time.

    The “family friend” did rather more than get parachuted into Arnhem by the way. He was an east Belfast working class man who had risen from the ranks, and one of our most celebrated soldiers from the last war in military circles:

    But I know you’d prefer the generalised positivist overview to such on the spot stuff. That “Market Garden” was Monty’s baby, his favoured plan, is a well known fact, as was the woeful mess he made of planning it. Just another example of his dire failure to understand the possibilities and limits of modern warfare.

  • Gopher

    I think the country lost a decent Prime Minister in Cameron and I think the EU will regret not giving him more tangible help to take to the country. I agree with you Boris looks lost wheras Churchill hit the ground running.

  • Gopher

    I will stick with Brooke’s opinion of Auchinleck.

    Just a few observations of your family friend. He was in the Royal Ulster Rifles which was part of the 6th Airlanding brigade which went into battle in Gliders and not part of the parachute regiment. The 6th Airlanding Brigade was part of the 6th Airborne division which did not fight a Arnhem. It was the 1st Airborne division and it composite units that fought at Arnhem.

    So it would be more factual for you to claim your friend landed by glider in Normandy on DDay in the most complex military operation in History which was commanded by Bernard Montgomery.

    I would teach all “6th century History students” to take what people personally claim on internet forums with a large dose of salt.

  • Gopher

    “I’m sure Winnie would in the event of any invasion have fought it out to the last drop of another man’s blood.”

    So when were you in the Trenches Seaan ?

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Or yourself Gopher, arguing another man’s experiences back to me from what, unless you tell me otherways I must assume to be in general a similarly textual foundation to my own, but without having experienced the black humour of old soldiers to temper the “hero worship”? And anyway what has “being in the trenches” with Winnie to do with the historian’s assessment of that vainglorious leader’s possible reactions to events? As mentioned before, I knew enough men who had actually been in the trenches and I heard their opinions first hand. Such men had not had the option of a six months stint of occasional short visits to the trenches with an open withdrawal option in order to resume a political career on offer. I believe Colonel Winny was once under machine gun fire while inspecting a forward position in a sap out into no-man’s land!!! Yes, under fire! Once. But you must remember that the experience of the trenches for a colonel of the 6th Royal Scots and the experiences of a captain or subaltern in the regiment were always going to have been entirely different things. With your hero we are not talking about front line service on a par with those actual officers and men who were not playing at being soldiers between their bouts at Westminster.

    But just to get back to my primary point, I’d be most interested on your views about Churchill the Home Ruler!

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Gopher: “I will stick with Brooke’s opinion of Auchinleck”, and I myself will stick with the opinions of quite a few men who fought under the Auk and Montgomery and were able to compare them in person.

    I remember Bob Hynds as a delightfully iconoclastic old soldier with no respect for any of “his betters” unless they could meet him in the eye with similar war experience. Very much his own man, he risked loosing rank for refusing to disband the Orange Lodge he founded in his regiment while on service in China in the 1930s despite considerable pressure from his commanding officer and the brass. Bob met Montgomery on numerous occasions and I can still hear his imitation of Monty’s lisp. I was writing from memory regarding his comments about Montgomery at Arnhem and his analysis of just how utterly the man had messed up with his plans, but note that you are correct in saying that he was not there (repatriated with wounds) and so he must have been informed of the actual detail he quoted from his friends in all arms who had actually been there. But I remember both him and my grandfather in conversation discussing fault after fault in Montgomery’s practice, something borne out by many of the books I’ve read later where historians have come to some very similar conclusions. So……no salt needed, outside of that required for your own struggling attempts to pull together some credible support one of the least able soldiers of the last war.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    But, after the bare faced effrontery of his big four volume exercise in Whiggery, his “Marlborough”, the actual research and writing work in “Churchill’s” histories was increasingly done by others on his behalf.

  • Korhomme

    Out of curiosity I checked Wikipedia. I don’t have a page, and I certainly don’t want one. My Belbin descriptor is as a ‘monitor/evaluator’, so I”m quite content to remain obscure.


  • John Collins

    In all fairness there is evidence that WC could ‘like the Turk bear no brother near the throne’. His comment about Montgomery that ‘in defeat he was unbeaten and in victory unbearable’ is a clear indication of this.

  • Gopher

    I was wondering when your Grandfather would make an appearance, since he got the Ulster Unionist MP’s did not serve in the war wrong perhaps he might be wrong about Montgomery?

    Montgomery is useful to the historian to hone his skills as you can get a debate on his merits just about anywhere though the quality of that debate varies widely. I would recommend any “6th century history student” to practice debating at varying times the for and against position. This is a very useful discipline as it aggregates the truth, tempers emotional attachment and counters plain stupidity. Churchill to bring the thread back on topic is another character that improves any historians ability beyond measure using the same discipline, because he was involved like Montgomery in so many enterprises and many that attract great debate.

    I’m never really satisfied debating from both sides that we get a true aggregate so I like to test what I learn through those debates and research against Clemenceau’s theory that “War (or events) is a series of catastrophes that results in a victory” That is always good stress test to gauge the Human element of what you have learned through research and debate.

    Another tip which is really for “6th century history students” who intend a Masters, is when we enter “Quantum History” and give it the Tolstoy “Inevitability test”. If it fails that and its back to the drawing board or more likely pick a new subject to research.

  • Elias

    Compliment, you moron! BTW: Churchill/Gallipoli and Johnson/Brexit?

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Gopher, you’re ever a man of broad and highly inaccurate generalisations! Where did I ever suggest that no Unionist ever served in WWII? Certainly I said that I was shown Unionist politicians who did not serve in the war prominent at the Cenotaph in the 1950s and 1960s. I did not at any point say that every Unionist politician failed to serve, but that when I checked what I was told by old soldiers as an adult I soon discovered that the much vaunted “loyalty” of many Northern Irish Unionists frequently seems to have put self preservation and personal advancement in wartime in place of integrity! Hynds for one was scathing about many of those individuals within Unionism who “shirked when put to the test” as he put it. And as he was at one time Deputy Grand Master of Ireland for the LOI I’d imagine his critique was not motivated by the equivalent in his time for support for SF. But as long as such shirkers will be defended to the death by those like yourself who see the critique of the moral failings of particular Unionists as simply an attack on Unionism they will assuredly remain beyond criticism, protected by the requirement to twist history in order to avoid breaking the ranks of ideology.

    And thank you for explaining your methodology to me. So while you are willing to listen to debate, you will always judge it simply by the standard of success. Interesting. I’d see myself as very much an old style follower of the historiographic approach of the Derry born historian F.S.L. Lyons. An example from Irish Historiography for you. During the early flourishes of what we now call “Revisionism”, in November 1971 (at UCD), Lyons delivered a carefully constructed rebuke to the new “Constitutional historians”, many of whom had been his pupils. In defence the integrity of historical research, he called for them to not to so readily desert the all important pursuit of objectivity and balance. In Lyons’ opinion those motivated in their writing of history by political or patriotic considerations would select only evidence supporting their preferred cause. Such “historians” must inevitably write history in every way as flawed as the hagiographers of the 1916 Easter Rising whom they despised. Similarly, any reiteration of the conclusions of self generated narratives, whether they are Churchill’s or Montgomery’s, simply because they are also patriotic cannon is not in any sense history, it is simply a surrender to long encrusted propaganda, in this case even more critically the propaganda of personal spin, a motivation well below the respect of any self respecting historian.

    There is history and there hagiography. As I have already said above, I will endeavour to employ the critical methodology of the first and leave the other, rather more “pre-committed” approaches to you. For the realities of the Desert War I’d highly recommend Corelli Barnett’s excellent summation in his 1960 book “The Desert Generals”, “The Victor of Alamein”, where he explains how the Auk stopped Rommell, an assessment he drew from those who were there, as I have myself. The over egging of Viscount Montgomery’s role in simply completing what the Auk had achieved, usually by those who weren’t there but have taken the public propaganda of the period for fact, is a most mendacious assessment, in that it is belittling a man of real ability in favour of the self publicity of a shallow coxcomb. Certainly Montgomery “works” on your test of who was in the seat at the moment of victory, but some of us feel morally obliged to look rather deeper for historical meaning than the simple game of musical chairs.

    And I’d still be most interested in your thoughts on Churchill and the Home Rule issues!

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Korhomme, I find it astonishing that we are both being told that Churchill is somehow beyond criticism! But I suppose he is in this the only survivor in this approach of that period where his contemporaries such as Stalin and Hitler could demand such adulation.

    As a fellow ‘monitor/evaluator’ I value your calling out of these inconsistencies. Keep up the good work.

  • Gopher

    Rather than success I see debate when taken from the various position as an incredibly fast way to learn. After all no two people think the same they may have researched something you never dreamed off. Take your chap Correlli Barnett who comes across as an Iconoclast with regards WWII it’s an interesting style but one of the fanatic. I love the Historian Stephen Bungays dry humour with regards Barnett it give a balance to the man who sadly lacks it.

    As I said lots to admire about Auk but I feel I have put my tests of his performance through more hoops than Mr Barnett. The process of having a conclusion first and then getting facts to support whilst ignoring others I look upon as playground stuff. Barrett’s work never survives the “War is a series of catastrophies” test, nor the maxim “one fights as one can not a as one should”

    Churchill to the best of my knowledge supported Home Rule and far be it from me to bring the “dreary steeples” to another thread despite your best efforts.

  • whatif1984true

    i do understand the difference.

  • whatif1984true

    In the Daily Telegraph,
    J.H. Plumb wrote: “This history will endure; not only because Sir
    Winston has written it, but also because of its own inherent virtues —
    its narrative power, its fine judgment of war and politics, of soldiers
    and statesmen, and even more because it reflects a tradition of what
    Englishmen in the hey-day of their empire thought and felt about their
    country’s past.”

  • whatif1984true

    Having read Jenkins which is considerably longer than the Guardian book review, I disagree with you. Churchill wrote up to the American Civil War and after that he did in deed have ghost writers etc involved. He did write nearly all the ‘History’.
    He did write his history of the ‘War’ , ‘Marlborough’ etc.
    You are arguing about minor matters.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    No, WI1984T, I am arguing about the important fact that Churchill did not write the later work. His rather bumptious style is quite distinguishable in his earlier books, such as the Marlborough, which I agree he wrote almost entirely by himself, but that his involvement in the later books is marked by the extreme moderation of those personal flourishes which so characterise the earlier books. A distinguished team of ghost writers such as those who were involved in the “History of the English Speaking Peoples” ensured that the work is simply not the writing of Churchill himself, as others such as Gopher have been claiming. Anyone familiar with the stylistic characteristics of these historians will find entire sections in which Churchill clearly had no hand.

    The desire to avoid such significant pointers as to Churchill’s character simply muddies our attempts to understand the man in particular and our past in general. Importantly, any examination of Churchill and his writings must take into account was a polemicist rather than an historian as any professional historian today would understand the term. As his Marlborough showed at the opening of his career as a writer of history, dispassionate truth was never his primary concern. Luckily the historians who actually wrote the greater bulk of his later work were more scrupulous and accordingly the work may almost be thought of as history even in spite of the unremittingly Whiggish character of its interpretations.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    It should not be forgotten in this context, that as a major contributor to “The History of the English Speaking Peoples” himself, John Plumb was in fact praising his own work!!!!!!!!

    I remember being offered Trevelyan, Plumb, Ogg and Churchill’s “Marlborough” at “A” Level back in the 1960s for my Seventeenth Century studies, and enjoying their quaint biases even then. The world has rolled on and much of that regurgitation of what Butterfield characterised as “The Whig Interpretation of History” has been shown to be the historically situated polemic of a generation mired in the habit of selecting in their histories only such facts as should “prove” that the trajectory of the Whig Revolution of 1688 was the inevitable cause of humanity.

    Luckily we have had other examples within our own Irish historiography from the first generation of the Irish Historical Studies school where dispassionate honesty in examining the concrete life of the past is placed over the careful selection of a privileged body of confirming facts that are employed simply to bolster the political interests of the present. Plumb was Trevelyan’s pupil, and anyone would be surprised that a Bletchley boy such as he would be at all critical of any of the British sacred cows of WWII. Plumb is one of the last authorities I’d go to for an objective assessment of anything.

    I’d advise you to check out my responses to Gopher (above) for my comments on Lyons and what history should really be. Unfortunately Lyons’ own pupils (“the Revisionists”) have turned from the honesty and austerity of Lyons’ own historiography and have followed the mendacious example of the Plumbs ands Churchills of this world in turning from that service they own to Clio to the politically motivated approach of non-historians such as Edward Bernays.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Bless you Gopher, I fear we are beginning to reach those points where our arguments should be shifting to Journals such as “The Journal of Military History” if we are to argue this properly. I had not imagined that you would find Barnett’s work all that comfortable, he is after all the author also of “The Audit of War” with its withering critique of those follies of our masters that you would seek to dismiss. But alongside many of our more perceptive historians I’d feel that his assessment of much of what happened before during and after the war is well researched, honest and insightful, not characteristics anyone would ever accuse Montgomery or Churchill’s work of. And it’s perhaps the first time I’ve ever heard Corelli called a fanatic. Again, interesting.

    I note you are still apparently applying the musical chairs approach to assessing the Auk. Last man seated and all that. But remember its still not History. I’ll stick with the likes of Barnett myself, men who were there and kept their eyes open, and leave you to the inflated egos of those self publicists he so masterfully deflates.

  • Gopher

    No musical chairs. Auk gave the Commonwealth her first land victory, Operation Crusader. You can conversely apply the Clemenceau test to that and point to Rommels “Dash to the wire” as an act of lunacy,that saved the 8th Army. Halder thought Rommel quite unhinged and had no concept of logistics. Where does the truth lie? Perhaps in Malta and Force K that choked the supplies to Rommel. Barnett believes Malta the Royal Navies “Verdun” which is somewhat interesting given how close “his” Auk came to disaster at Crusader. As Barnett’s book on the desert was written in the sixties I would have serious questions as to its utility as it is now in second edition due to Ultra being revealed in 1974.

  • whatif1984true

    If you don’t check your facts there is no point continuing arguing. You are wrong.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Indeed, Gopher, “where does the truth lie”? Certainly not in Montgomery’s Memoirs and with those ho have taken both him and Churchill at face value.

    And for someone commending “Hume, Wedgewood, Gibbon, Livy and uniquely Churchill”

    it is of some interest that you so glibly dismiss Correlli Barnett’s work as being dated!!! No, his analysis of the personalities and the actions are, to my mind, unequalled.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    I entirely agree, WI1984T, that there is no point arguing which anyone unable to see the glaring stylistic differences evident in “Churchills” later work. Its a well established fact that Churchill had his post war work written by others, with, as I’ve said, increasingly less blue pencil on his part. I suppose the problem is that while you appear willing to accept that Churchill had secretary help, the engagement of major post war historians in actually writing later work is clearly an embarrassment. Perhaps this is an aspect of a reliance simply on printed sources, while I’ve been talking long with historians, amongst whom the development of the Churchill brand name as a selling point and the consequent withdrawal of Churchill from more than nominal work is a well known thing.

    “Read Jenkins book about him to educate yourself.” I quote from the 2001 Observer review of Roy Jenkins’ book:

    “What’s more, Jenkins was a politically impressionable young man in May 1940, the defining moment of his subject’s astonishing career. He instinctively identifies Churchill’s response to that terrible crisis as the key to his world historical importance.”

    Impressionable men write hagiographies, not biographies. The clue is in the identification of Churchill with “Britain’s finest hour” and who could then question anything about Churchill without somehow questioning Britain’s “evident” heroism in the last war? For myself, I’m interested in facts in themselves, not in the arrangement of selected facts to support reputations, which is how I read Jenkins’ book at the time. Objective historians do not title section headings in this manner: “The Saviour of his country and the light of the world, 1939-45”. I can only imagine your suggesting Jenkins as some form of proof was tongue in cheek.

    Regarding the assessment of one politician by another I am forcefully reminded of Gordon Brown calling the late Sir Clement Freud “a national treasure” during his funeral address. While, despite my strictures, I would be utterly unwilling to directly compare Churchill with Freud on point of character, the tendency to ignore negatives is deeply entrained in our political culture, and I’d direct you to the work of serious historians such as, for example, Richard Toye (professor of modern history at the Unversity of Essex) whose “Churchill’s Empire, The World that Made Him and the World He Made” reviles a far less benign presence:

    “Many of his colleagues thought Churchill was driven by a deep loathing of democracy for anyone other than the British and a tiny clique of supposedly superior races.”

    If what I have been told for years by historians is true, Churchill had similar patrician contempt for the need to write much of the later work bearing his name. I can also recommend Toye’s “Making Reputations” as a first rate work on the pitfalls of charismatic leadership in British politics.

  • Gopher

    Livy, Hume, Wedgwood (slightly more detail as the TYW is a condensed period) wrote in broad strokes because they were covering hundreds of years, Churchill as I have noted before has Brookes and his own correspondence which is lavishly reproduced to cross reference. The Desert war ran from 1940 to May 1943

    Enigma changed everything written previously about WWII and in no theatre more so than the Western Desert and Med. The situation changed here in minutes, one minute you had a convoy of supplies the next it was at the bottom of the sea. Your tank moved within 1000 metres on an 88″ you died, you passed it at 1100 metres you lived those were the margins in the desert. Im sure if Wedgewood , Hume or Gibbon were around they could have produced a decent history of Desert warfare and an even better one had they written it post enigma and had not had to return to justify their previous work

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Ah Gopher, while I entirely disagree with you on the issues, and certainly in this attempt to wriggle out of “historically situating” poor old Corelli as a military historian with a code machine(!!!!), I wish we were discussing this over two single malts (or whatever else) and I could catch your eyes and body language with these responses. We may utterly disagree on Churchill and his chihuahua Monty, but I relish your responses, and the intelligence behind them. Thank you for all the wit and effort you are putting into supporting the entirely insupportable. And this conversation really deserves a few hours and a leisurley pace rather than these snap replies on Slugger.

    On the subject of Enigma, and Bletchley Park, I’m having a similar disagreement with another Churchill devotee on this thread who had the temerity to quote Plumb, a old Bletchley boy as I remember, commending Churchill and that “History of the English Speaking People” which he (Plumb) had part written himself. Oh, the layers of myth and deception we real historians must negotiate to make sense of what really happened!

  • Gopher

    Well lets cross reference Brookes opinion of “Auk” with someone who hated Monty’s guts, Arthur Tedder. Tedder who served with “Auk” had a truly exceptional wartime career ending up as Eisenhower’s deputy.

    Tedder was instrumental in getting “the Auk” removed because he had lost confidence in his command ability believing like Brooke he was a poor judge of subordinate and had an inability to motivate men. He liked Auk and thought him very brave. He wrote to his superior back in Britain, Portal on the matter and Portal gave this opinion to Churchill.

    If I write it I can support it.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Come on now, Gopher, it’s not a see-saw with everyone on one end or another, each end either right or wrong. Tedder was presenting an opinion in which he could be as wrong about the Auk just as he was correct in his distaste for Monty. It’s always easy to assemble evidence from opinion, but far, far harder from fact. Barnett’s chapter on the Auk stands up to factual analysis and in addition it describes what I’d heard from men on the spot, that the Auk stopped Rommel and had himself organised the military “machine” Monty inherited. It depends on whom you read, but I’ve found as much evidence that amongst those not in personal competition with the Auk at the very top level, many others spoke of his inspirational leadership and military skill.

    Really, you’d need to assemble much much more than Tedder if you wished to shift my opinion. Sure I could start offering you a readers list of my own of other “in text” opinions, but is this really the forum for such a lot of detail?