The Ramifications of Churchill – I have written a number of books over the years but never has one excited me as much as the one I have recently completed.
It will be published around the world by Bloomsbury in September.
Entitled Churchill’s Legacy: Two Speeches to Save the World, it tells how in 1946, months after being thrown out of office by the British voters, he electrified the world via two speeches which revealed the threat to freedom everywhere posed by Stalin, and what to do about it.
The first speech he gave in Fulton, Missouri with President Truman sitting beside him. The second he gave six months later in Zurich.
The commotion they both caused lifted his spirits. After losing the 1945 election, or as he put it to King George VI, “having received the order of the boot by the British People”, he confided to his doctor, Lord Moran, that it would have been better if he was dead. His intense depression, his “black dog”, as the condition was known, threatened to strangle him.
After these two speeches, he was back with a vengeance.
The Lion had recovered its roar.
Churchill’s personal resilience and his power of political vision were inexorably intertwined.
Together these two strengths fused into an explosion of persuasive power that changed the world.
What he achieved in 1946 has not been sufficiently recognized. It matters to do so now because we also live at a time of great peril. The vision and wisdom of Churchill is sorely needed.
It is hard to recall the despair and danger that dominated the international scene at the end of the war. True, Hitler had been beaten. True, Japan had surrendered. But chaos had ensued. The Soviet Union had 300 divisions of the Red army facing a divided and isolated Berlin. The Americans were going home. Britain was bust. Lend Lease had stopped. The French economy was bankrupt with a Communist takeover all too probable. Italy was pandemonium and Spain a Fascist autocracy. Could the USA be persuaded to defend Europe? Could they also be persuaded to restore its economy?
It was these two questions that Churchill sought to answer. At that moment in 1946, no one else could.
He started with defence. Sitting gloomily at his country house, Chartwell, a letter was put before him. It was an invitation from an obscure college in Missouri, inviting him to receive an honorary degree and make a speech. It had a footnote in President Truman’s hand, recommending this college in his home state and promising to travel with him and introduce him. Churchill was galvanized and motivated. The Americans would listen to him and so would the President.
The counterpoise to Churchill’s depression was his optimism. “We are all worms”, he opined “but I am a glow worm”. He accepted the invitation and went to Fulton with the President. Showing Truman the text of his speech on the train ride down to Fulton, his verdict was that it would kick up ‘one hell of a shindig’. He would later deny that he had seen the text in advance. Later, he wrote personally to Churchill to tell him that each day his prophecies were born out of events. Churchill’s image was stark. An iron curtain was falling upon Europe, behind it, Stalinist dictatorship was expunging all hope of democracy and… Stalin wanted more. America had the power and the atomic bomb to make him pause. Britain and the USA had to stand together.
Churchill succeeded in winning America’s commitment to defend Berlin and Western Europe. He had provided the answer to the first question with his first speech.
The second seemed beyond reply. The majority view in congress was that Europe wasn’t worth American treasure. Lend Lease to Britain and France had been stopped. Churchill’s pleading for a loan—at least for Britain—failed to stir the conscience or the generosity of Washington.
But, he was half American. By instinct as well as analysis, he knew what Europe had to do to win US aid. And in Zurich, in September 1946, he told them what was needed. He warned the audience that he would startle them all by calling for a “kind of United States of Europe”, led by a partnership between France and the hated, defeated Germany. deGaulle was as appalled as the Roosevelts had been by Churchill’s attack at Fulton on ‘good old Uncle Joe’. Churchill was shaking every shibboleth.
But his speech in Zurich changed minds. Jean Monnet persuaded deGaulle to change his policy on Germany abandoning his plans for occupation and endless reparations. This changed the US view. Europe was putting the past behind it. George C Marshall constructed his plan for Europe’s recovery acknowledging his debt to Churchill’s call for European Union. A new world including a new Europe was emerging from despair and destruction.
In his Zurich speech, Churchill used a powerful image. It was of an old man imprisoned for decades in a Spanish dungeon. He had no hope. Then on an impulse he pushed at the door he had always assumed to be locked. It opened.
Churchill opened a door in 1946—a door which let in both light and hope.
The convergence of his resilience and political vision released the courage and energy needed. Churchill had done it in 1940. Now he had done it again. We too are in a confinement of fear, suspicion and uncertainty. The answer is not to build walls or pull up drawbridges. It is to think afresh, to risk initiatives—to push open the doors we imagined closed!