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Churchill
 
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Churchill [Format Kindle]

Paul Johnson

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Extrait

Chapter Six
Supreme Power and Frustration

As prime minister and minister of defense, Churchill held power "in ever growing measure," as he himself put it, from May 1940 to July 1945. Probably no statesman in British history had held power for so long in so concentrated and extensive a form. So the first question to ask is: Did Churchill personally save Britain? Was his leadership essential to its survival and eventual victory?

The question is best answered by examining the factors and virtues which operated in his favor—some determined by objective events, others by his own genius and exertions. They were tenfold. First, as a civilian leader, Churchill benefited from a change of national opinion toward the relative trustworthiness of politicians and service leaders—"frocks and brass hats," to use the phrase of his youth. In the First World War, reverence for brass hats and dislike of frocks made it almost impossible for the government, even under Lloyd George at his apotheosis, to conduct the war efficiently. As Churchill put it: "The foolish doctrine was preached to the public through innumerable agencies that generals and admirals must be right on war matters and civilians of all kinds must be wrong—inculcated billionfold by the newspapers under the crudest forms." Lloyd George had the greatest difficulty in sacking any senior figure in uniform and could never take the risk of sacking Haig, the army supremo on the western front, much as he would have liked to.

By World War II, the truth about the mistakes of the brass hats in the earlier conflict had sunk so deeply into the national consciousness that the position had been almost reversed. There was no war hero until Montgomery made himself one late in the conflict by his own victories. Churchill by contrast came to power with the reputation of having been right throughout the thirties, and was now proved right by the danger in which Britain found herself. He never had to hesitate, except for genuine reasons, before sacking a general, even a popular one like Archibald Wavell, the British commander in Egypt. He felt his authority and exercised it: he was seen walking up and down the empty cabinet room once, after a major sacking, saying aloud, "I want them all to feel my power." Churchill was overwhelmingly admired, even loved, but also feared.

Second, the concentration of power in Churchill's person, with the backing of all parties, meant that there were never any practical or constitutional obstacles to the right decisions being taken. He always behaved with absolute propriety. He told the king everything and listened to all he said: within months George VI had swung right round in his favor and wrote, "I could not possibly have a better Prime Minister." He also observed all the cabinet procedural rules. Above all, he treated Parliament, especially the House of Commons, with reverence and made it plain he was merely its servant. These were not mere formulae. Insofar as Churchill had a religion, it was the British constitution, spirit and letter: Parliament was the church in which he worshipped and whose decisions he obeyed. All this balanced and sanctified the huge power he possessed and exercised. Unlike Hitler, he operated from within a structure which represented, and was seen and felt to represent, the nation. He was never a dictator, and the awful example of Hitler was ever present before him to prevent him from ever acting like one. This was particularly important in his relations with his service chiefs, such as General Alanbrooke, Admiral Cunningham, and Air Marshal Portal. He and the cabinet took the decisions about the war. But the way in which they were executed was left to the service chiefs. Churchill might cajole and bully, storm and rant, but in the end he always meticulously stuck to the rule and left the responsible senior chiefs to take the decisions. This was the opposite of Hitler's methods, and one principal reason why he lost the war. In another key respect Churchill did the opposite of Hitler: all his orders, without exception, were in writing and were absolutely clear. When issued verbally they were immediately confirmed in written form. All Hitler's orders were verbal and transmitted by aides: "It is the Führer's wish…; " Churchill's system of clear written orders, and his punctiliousness in observing the demarcation lines between civilian and military responsibility, is one reason the service chiefs were so loyal to him and his leadership, and indeed revered him, however much his working methods—especially his late hours— might try their patience and bodies.

Third, Churchill was personally fortunate in that he took over at a desperate time. The sheer power of the Nazi war machine, against which he had warned, was now revealed. The worst, as it were, had happened, was happening, or was about to happen. He was able to say in perfect truth, just after he took power (May 13, 1940), "I would say to the House, as I said to those who have joined the government, 'I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears and sweat.' " He added, in the same speech, that his aim was quite simple and clear: "Victory at all costs, victory in spite of all terror, victory, however long and hard the road may be; for without victory there is no survival." The last words were of deadly significance, and felt to be so. For Britain was not facing defeat in the sense that it had been defeated in the American War of Independence. It was facing extinction as a free country. Ordinary people were made to feel that. On Churchill's orders, the national anthems of the Allies were played on the BBC before the 9:00 p.m. news every Sunday. There were seven of them, six already defeated, occupied, and under the total control of the Gestapo. Soon, France joined the losers. Churchill certainly did all in his power to save her, paying five perilous visits to consult with her disintegrating, scared, and defeatist government and service chiefs. He would not, however—and rightly—go beyond a certain point. He was prepared to offer France a union of the two states, a most imaginative and adventurous idea, characteristic of his fertility. He was not willing, however, to comply with their request to send all of Britain's precious fighter squadrons to France in a despairing effort to stem the Nazi blitzkrieg. That, he said, would be "hurling snowballs into Hell." Instead, as France lurched toward dishonorable surrender and puppet status under Marshal Pétain, Churchill concentrated on getting the British Expeditionary Force safely back home. And he succeeded. Nine-tenths were rescued from Dunkirk, and many Allied soldiers with them, more than three hundred thousand in all, brought back by an improvised armada of ships, great and small, including pleasure cruisers and fishing boats, which gave picturesque color and even romance to the story, a typically British tale of snatching victory from the jaws of defeat. Thus within a month of taking office, amid the unmitigated catastrophe of France's fall, Churchill was able to report a British victory—Dunkirk—and to speak glowingly of "the Dunkirk spirit." It was in a sense a bogus victory, for the troops had been forced to leave their heavy equipment behind, and in many cases even their rifles, which they had smashed before embarking. But Dunkirk nevertheless gave a huge boost to British morale: now that Churchill was in charge, the people felt that, far from plunging further down into the abyss, the country was moving upward, if only an inch at a time.

Fourth, Churchill himself began to set a personal example of furious and productive activity at Ten Downing Street. He was sixty-five but he looked, seemed—was, indeed—the embodiment of energy. He worked a sixteen-hour day. He sought to make everyone else do likewise. In contrast to lethargic, self-indulgent old Asquith ("the bridge-player at the Wharf," as Churchill called him) or even Lloyd George, who had high tea instead of a proper dinner to discus strategy and went to bed at nine o'clock, Churchill began to wear his own form of labor-saving uniform, a siren suit, easy to put on or take off, in which he could nap if he wanted during long nighttime spells at work. This added hugely to the fast-accumulating Churchill legend: the public called it his "rompers." In fact, thanks to Clemmie, some of these siren suits were of elaborate and costly materials, velvet and silk as well as wool—for "best" parties in the Number Ten bombproof dining room, and so on. Churchill had always used clothes for personal propaganda and had a propensity to collect unusual uniforms. Since 1913 he had been an elder brother of Trinity House, a medieval institution which supervised all lighthouses and port lights in the British Isles. Its uniform had a distinctive nautical flavor and for court dress he always wore it in preference to that of his Privy Council. General de Gaulle, who had by now taken charge of France's resistance forces, asked him what it was and received the mystifying reply, "Je suis un frère aîné de la Sainte Trinité." But the siren suit was the everyday wartime wear and proved a masterstroke of propaganda. In it the prime minister worked within days of taking over, as the first brief and pointed memos and orders flowed out under the famous headline: "Action This Day." So did the endless series of brief, urgent queries: "Pray inform me on one half-sheet of paper, why…; " Answers had to be given, fast. Churchill had teams of what he called "dictation secretaries." He worked them very long hours. He was sometimes brusque or angry, swore, forgot their names, even lost his temper. But he also smiled, joked, dazzled them with uproarious charm and whimsicalities. They all loved him and were proud to work with him. They helped him to t...

Revue de presse

Praise for Churchill by Paul Johnson:
 
"Johnson . . . give[s] the reader the definite sense of having known Churchill, or at least of having hung out with him for a bit . . . Churchill lets you spend some time in the man's company, and who wouldn't want that?"
New York Times Book Review

"Johnson’s distillation of life lessons from Churchill’s stories career [is written in] . . . vivid prose and [with] consistent intelligence and urbanity.”
—Jon Meacham, Slate.com
 
"[If] you appreciate clarity, authority, and verve in historical writing, you will understand why I gulped down [Churchill] and now declare it the most exciting biography I read in 2009."
—Jesse Kornbluth, Huffington Post

"Johnson clearly shares and revels in Churchill's generosity of spirit and limitless intellectual energy. He has produced a book that is a joyand a worthy tribute to both of them."
Washington Times

"You read Johnson to be provoked and entertained, and on both these scores his biography, like its subject, succeeds wonderfully."
The American Conservative

"With deft narrative skill and keen insight, Johnson masterfully sketches the phases of Churchill's life . . . Along the way, Johnson gives us wonderful insights into Churchill's character . . . Rich with anecdote and quotation, Paul Johnson's Churchill illustrates the man's humor, resilience, courage, and eccentricity as no other biography before."
National Review

"Paul Johnson is the most celebrated and best-loved British historian in America."
Wall Street Journal

Détails sur le produit

  • Format : Format Kindle
  • Taille du fichier : 904 KB
  • Nombre de pages de l'édition imprimée : 183 pages
  • Pagination - ISBN de l'édition imprimée de référence : 0143117998
  • Editeur : Penguin Books; Édition : Reprint (3 novembre 2009)
  • Vendu par : Amazon Media EU S.à r.l.
  • Langue : Anglais
  • ASIN: B002Q6XUPS
  • Synthèse vocale : Activée
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Amazon.com: 4.2 étoiles sur 5  112 commentaires
219 internautes sur 224 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
5.0 étoiles sur 5 The most inspiring biography I read this year -- and just 192 pages! 3 novembre 2009
Par Jesse Kornbluth - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format:Relié
"Of all the towering figures of the twentieth century, both good and evil, Winston Churchill was the most valuable to humanity, and also the most likable. It is a joy to write his life, and to read about it. None holds more lessons, especially for youth: How to use a difficult childhood. How to seize eagerly on all opportunities, physical, moral and intellectual. How to dare greatly, to reinforce success, and to put the inevitable failures behind you. And how, while pursuing vaulting ambition with energy and relish, to cultivate also friendship, generosity, compassion and decency."

That's the opening paragraph of Paul Johnson's "Churchill", and if you appreciate clarity, authority and verve in historical writing, you will understand why I gulped down the next 190 pages and now declare it the most exciting biography I read in 2009.

I've studied Churchill; we all have. But the breadth of the man gets lost in a handful of anecdotes and film clips. Paul Johnson delivers the big picture and the tiny detail. So masterful is his approach, so sharp is his observation, so exacting his sense of detail that it's not hard to agree with his assessment --- Churchill saved the world as we know it.

And not Churchill the God, but Churchill the extremely interesting man. Johnson piles on the detail. Yes, Churchill drank whiskey or brandy all day --- "heavily diluted with water or soda." Yes, he stayed in bed as much as possible, for as he told Johnson (who interviewed him at the tender age of 17), the secret of life is "conservation of energy. Never stand up when you can sit down, and never sit down when you can lie down."

As a young politician, Churchill was asked what he stood for. "Opportunism, mostly," he quipped. In fact, he was a liberal, and very progressive. Raised by a nanny, he helped her when her services were no longer needed, sat at her deathbed, kept her grave maintained. In 1910, he was a leader in the fight for old-age pensions. He saw the merits in prison reform: "The treatment of crime and criminals is one of the unfailing tests of the civilization of any country." He helped end the incarceration of children. He wrote 8 million words. He was under fire 50 times. He saw the need to overhaul the Royal Navy. His mother had more affairs than she could count; after he married Clementine, "he never looked at another woman." He painted so well that professionals couldn't believe he was an amateur. He championed the creation of Israel. He drank Pol Roger champagne at meals and smoked a dozen cigars a day. He played polo until he was 53. He loved building walls of brick.

It's a dizzying life. Eloquence, energy, ambition --- this Churchill was a force of nature. It is Johnson's great achievement in these pages that he also establishes Churchill as a colossal failure, who made serious mistakes and paid for them with long years in the wilderness. This only makes even more dramatic his ascendancy; at 65, with German bombers overhead, he finally became prime minister. "I was conscious of a profound sense of relief," he wrote later. "At last I had authority to give directions over the whole scene. I felt as if I were walking with destiny, and that all my past life had been but a preparation for this hour and for this trial.... I slept soundly and had no need for cheering dreams. Facts are better than dreams."

The key fact: If Britain lost the war, it would lose its civilization. So the nation simply couldn't lose. The war years are thus the most thrilling years of all, and we see how Churchill was everywhere. Giving great speeches that roused a people under siege. Working 16 hours a day and inspiring others to do the same. And strategizing all the time --- manipulating Roosevelt, preparing for the battle of Germany, forcing Hitler to deal with Greece and postpone his invasion of Russia until the winter, with disastrous results for the Nazis.

The lessons to be learned couldn't be clearer. Churchill was armed with facts, not ideology. He had the right priorities, and in the right order. He repeatedly interrupted his schedule for well-publicized acts of kindness. He was ruthless in pursuit of victory. He held no grudges. He was, in short, a leader on a level we can hardly imagine now --- a protean figure who really did save the world.

If you have an evening reserved for thrills, here they are.
72 internautes sur 77 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
5.0 étoiles sur 5 What it is 9 novembre 2009
Par Richard B. Schwartz - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format:Relié|Achat vérifié
Paul Johnson's new book on Churchill is a mini-biography that partakes of the 'character' tradition, so important in the seventeenth century. It covers Churchill's entire life, but in a schematic way. With less than 200 pp. of text there is not much room for detail. For a one-volume life Johnson himself recommends Lord Jenkins' 2001, thousand-page account. Still, Johnson's book is rich in anecdotal detail; it is clear that he could have delivered a much larger book, had he desired to do so. The portrait is highly favorable, as one would expect from Johnson's earlier written comments on Churchill, but it includes a significant number of criticisms. It is admiring, but not fawning.

Most of all it is an enjoyable read, a kind of children's book version of history, but written for adults. For those who have little knowledge of Churchill and the great events with which his life intersected it is a good place to start. It is also a nice 'character' of a political leader. Johnson is not shy in recording his views and this is (as I recently wrote about John Lukacs' LAST RITES) a strength, since we know precisely where Johnson stands and we can agree or disagree with his clearly-articulated point of view.

There is a brief but attractive series of photographs accompanying the text. This is a lovely afternoon read (one that should include whiskey or brandy and soda, fine claret, champagne, tea or some similar beverage of which Sir Winston would approve). It is uplifting without being unrealistic and brings both smiles and tears at various points.

Highly recommended.
52 internautes sur 58 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
5.0 étoiles sur 5 A concise and closely argued brief for the defense of a great man 8 décembre 2009
Par Bookreporter - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format:Relié
The vast mountain range of literature about Winston Churchill has sprouted another foothill. Paul Johnson's biography, as you might expect from a Briton, is full of unstinting admiration for Churchill the person as well as the political figure. His faults and failures are duly noted but almost always excused, and there are spots where the amount of credit piled upon him strains credulity a bit. But all in all, the story of his adventurous life is told succinctly and colorfully. We get to know Churchill as a human being, not just as a face on the front page of wartime newspapers. For those unwilling to burrow through the huge Churchill literature, this slim volume will provide a good basic account, albeit from the pen of a fervent admirer and fellow countryman.

Winston Churchill (1874-1965), born to wealth and privilege, was an indifferent student at Harrow, but his energy and boundless ambition carried him easily into Parliament at the age of 26 and kept him there through two world wars, the first of which dealt him a humiliating setback, but the second of which he was a major factor in winning.

Churchill's dogged advocacy of the disastrous Dardanelles campaign in World War I very nearly ended his political career. In typical Churchillian fashion, he first accepted the blame and then got up from the floor, dusted himself off, and went back to the job of keeping British world power in tiptop shape. Johnson gives a workmanlike summary of Churchill's lonely interwar campaign to wake his country up to the menace of Nazism, his assumption of power in the war's darkest hour, and his five brilliant years of leadership. All the famous Churchillian quotes are recycled: "Blood, toil, tears and sweat," "This was their finest hour," "Never before have so many owed so much to so few," "Give us the tools and we will finish the job," and a number of others less celebrated but just as effective. When someone remarked that his defeat in the British election of 1945 might actually be a blessing in disguise, Churchill remarked laconically, "It appears to be very effectively disguised."

Johnson correctly singles out Churchill's mastery of words, both written and spoken, as a major love of his life and a crucial factor in making him famous. He also lets us in on his own personal encounters with Churchill. As a boy of 17, he asked the great man for the secret of his success in life. Churchill responded: "Conservation of energy. Never stand up when you can sit down, and never sit down when you can lie down." Johnson cannot resist adding, "He then got into his limo."

In Johnson's prose, Churchill's political colleague, David Lloyd George, becomes "LG," and Churchill's wife Clementine is "Clemmie." These touches sometimes give his book the air of a series of close-up snapshots taken by a good friend. Churchill is described as a man who never held grudges, had a ready wit, and found peace of mind in his late-in-life hobby of painting, all of which are certainly true. Although mentioned, his drinking habits, long the subject of worldwide gossip, are never emphasized.

Johnson goes so far in his admiration as to give Churchill some of the credit for the success of the Normandy landing in June 1944 and speculates that Churchill "scented victory" in the war as early as the following August. His long and close relationship with Franklin D. Roosevelt is given very short shrift. He faults Roosevelt for his failure to realize the looming danger from postwar Stalinist Russia, adding that Churchill was actually relieved when Harry Truman succeeded to the Presidency upon Roosevelt's death. He feels that Churchill would not have hesitated a moment to use the atomic bomb against Germany had that been necessary. Johnson's only serious charge against Churchill's World War II leadership is his blindness toward the importance of moving strongly against Japan.

Johnson's answer to the basic question, "Did Churchill save Britain in World War II?" is an unequivocal "Yes." No one can quarrel with that. His book is a concise and closely argued brief for the defense of a great man who surely needs no defense even at a historical distance of 44 years. His five years of wartime leadership were most certainly, in his own memorable words, that nation's "finest hour."

--- Reviewed by Robert Finn
13 internautes sur 13 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
3.0 étoiles sur 5 Noble Attempt but Awkwardly Brief 19 janvier 2012
Par N. C. Moore - Publié sur Amazon.com
This was my first book on Churchill so my review must be taken with a grain of salt. I am a fan of short biographies, but only for one reason... to determine if I want to read full-length, multi-volume treatments of one's life. Given the magnitude and length of Churchill's life I find it hard to fault Johnson for his effort but found myself slightly disappointed. It wasn't until the end of the book that I realized most of my disappointment is due to the fact that this man's life cannot, perhaps should not, be treated in 190 pages. I almost tempted to fault Johnson for trying. To be honest, I'm a little bewildered because I can't think of any other biography primers to compare this to. Most of it felt like a whirlwind of fact upon fact. The rhythm of the book was, "Churchill did this... and then this... and then this."

Part of Johnson's goal in writing was to answer the question "could Britain have won the war without Churchill?" Johnson says it could not have, but to me it seems a little too ambitious to answer such a complicated question in such a short work. Though Johnson succeeded in arguing that Churchill was massively influential in the War, I don't think he succeeded in his goal.

I had the sense the Johnson had interesting opinions about Churchill, the lessons of Winston's life found on the final pages suggest that, but I just can't imagine why Johnson felt so compelled to attempt it in less than two hundred pages. Thus, I humbly give the attempt 3 stars and am unlikely to recommend to anyone without the aforementioned caveats.
11 internautes sur 11 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
5.0 étoiles sur 5 Half-page Management 17 février 2010
Par John W. Pearson - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format:Relié|Achat vérifié
We're pretty North American-centric here in the U.S. Watching the Winter Olympics reminds us that we Yanks are hardly the center of the universe. Plus, I've always felt a tad guilty that my reading list had never included anything on Winston Churchill. No more guilt.

Paul Johnson's 166-page chronicle of Churchill's amazing life and leadership has received excellent reviews. The page count also works. The author's masterful scan of Churchill's 90 years (1874 to 1965) includes insightful detail, laugh-out-loud sidebars and absolutely relevant commentary on leadership and politics, war, success and failure (lots of failure).

If you're under 40, don't skip this book--thinking it irrelevant to our Twitter times. Churchill was a member of Parliament for 55 years, 31 years as a government minister, and almost nine years as prime minister. He served in the trenches of (and reported from) 15 battles, was awarded 14 campaign medals, "had been a prominent figure in the First World War, and a dominant one in the Second."

And get this: he published nearly 10 million words, including his 880-page book, The World Crisis: 1911-1918. His five-volume War Memoirs book deal in 1947 paid him $2.23 million ($50 million in today's dollars). And in his spare time, Churchill painted over 500 canvases. In 1953, he received the Nobel Prize for Literature.

He overcame family challenges. His cousin noted, "Few fathers had done less for their sons. Few sons had done more for their fathers." Yet the author writes, "Among all the twentieth-century ruling elites, the Churchills must be judged to have had the most successful marriage."

In the epilogue, the author includes five specific ways that leaders can learn from Churchill. Number 2: "There is no substitute for hard work." Yet, this giant of a world leader "also manifestly enjoyed his leisure activities," including his painting, which created a sanctuary-like retreat for his mind and body. He worked 16-hour days (often with full working mornings in bed--to conserve energy). "The balance he maintained between flat-out work and creative restorative leisure is worth study by anyone holding a top position."

He knew the value of face time. He forced himself "to travel long distances, often in acute discomfort and danger, to meet the top statesmen face-to-face where his persuasive charm could work best."

Speaking of charm, the writing enticed me page after page. Churchill's famed oratory: 111 words per minute, "with Gladstone's 100 as the standard." After touring Africa, he wrote My African Journey (completed on his honeymoon): "...full of schemes for industrializing Africa and harnessing the Nile." His politics: "Churchill was carried forward by intellectual conviction, but his reverence for tradition acted as a brake."

He ribbed others, including the Labour Party leader, Clement Attlee. "Yes, he is a modest man, but then he has so much to be modest about." And this: "An empty taxi drew up outside the House of Commons, and Mr. Attlee got out."

He popularized (if not invented) the terms "cold war" and "iron curtain." Dependent on U.S. help to win World War II, he became a student of FDR and wrote more than 1,000 letters to him. With pen and cigar (up to 12 a day) he was a brute force writing factory. He documented all verbal orders in writing, and his results-driven memos began with the famous headline, "Action This Day."

"So did the endless series of brief, urgent queries: `Pray inform me on one half-sheet of paper, why...' Answers had to be given, fast." (This from Johnson's insightful list of 10 ways that Churchill saved Britain. Number 4: "a personal example of furious and productive activity.")

All of this, and more, in just 166 action-packed pages. This is a fantastic book!
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&quote;
Third, and in its way most important, Churchill never allowed mistakes, disasterpersonal or nationalaccidents, illnesses, unpopularity, and criticism to get him down. &quote;
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&quote;
dictaIn war, resolution. In defeat, defiance. In victory, magnanimity. In peace, goodwill. &quote;
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&quote;
Lesson number two is: there is no substitute for hard work. &quote;
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