If it Had Not Been

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The Guardian is a singularly obtuse Left-Wing tabloid in Great Britain, but they outdid themselves in a story about the most overrated people in history.

In regard to Winston Churchill, this gem was delivered in the story:

Quite a few of his Tory colleagues might have concurred with Lee’s view of Churchill’s hopeless judgment and over-zealous use of the military, at least right up until the summer of 1940. “If it had not been for the fact that he led Britain to victory in the second world war we would have scant memory of [him],” Lee reckons.

Yeah, that whole leading Great Britain to victory in World War II does seem to spoil the meme that the story is pushing doesn’t it?  Let’s see figures we could say were overrated from American history based upon this “standard’.

If it had not been for winning the Civil War, Abe Lincoln would be remembered as just a small time Illinois politician.

If it had not been for leading the Continental Army in an against all odds victory in the American Revolution, George Washington would now be a completely forgotten Virginia plantation owner.

If it had not been for his brilliance in leading the Army of Northern Virginia, Robert E. Lee would now be remembered only by students of the Mexican War.

If it had not been for their invention of the airplane, Wilbur and Orville Wright would be completely unknown.

If it had not been for the advent of World War II, Dwight D. Eisenhower would have finished his Army career as a Lieutenant Colonel, unknown to history.

It is easy to regard anyone in history as overrated, if we simply cut from their life what they are famous for.  What this ignores of course is that someone’s life is a preparation, unknown to them of course, for the challenges they will confront.  Separating the rest of a famous person’s life from what made them famous is to demonstrate complete ignorance of both history and the human condition.  None of us appear on this planet full-grown and ready to step forward and accomplish a great task.  Our past, so long as we live, is always prelude to our future, and it is impossible to understand great figures in history without carefully studying their life before they came to their great challenges.

As for the slam at Churchill, always a prime target of the Lefties at The Guardian, this poem by a Churchill contemporary, G. K. Chesterton, comes to mind:

O learned man who never learned to learn,   

Save to deduce, by timid steps and small,   

From towering smoke that fire can never burn

And from tall tales that men were never tall.

Say, have you thought what manner of man it is   

Of whom men say “He could strike giants down”?

Or what strong memories over time’s abyss   

Bore up the pomp of Camelot and the crown.   

And why one banner all the background fills,    

Beyond the pageants of so many spears,    

And by what witchery in the western hills    

A throne stands empty for a thousand years.    

Who hold, unheeding this immense impact,    

Immortal story for a mortal sin;    

Lest human fable touch historic fact,    

Chase myths like moths, and fight them with a pin.   

Take comfort; rest—there needs not this ado.

    You shall not be a myth, I promise you.

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34 Responses to If it Had Not Been

  • Wait please. Mr Churchill was a war-monger. What was the result of WW11? Stalin and his followers enslaved all of Eastern Europe, including East Germany which in effect meant that the West lost a major goal of defending/preserving freedom. Who was with Roosevelt and Stalin for that surrender? It is quite possible that the Third Reich would have imploded anyway as so many of his closest generals were upset by Hitler’s mania and temper. In the long human-spiritual look at the war, was the cost worth it in human life on all sides and the seeds sown for the Soviet-West Cold War and the very hot collateral wars of surrogates to defeat “communism” in SE Asia and Central and South America? The sinking of the French navy with the crews on board because Churchill did not trust them to resist the Germans has to be ranked as a horrific war crime, Mr. Churchill’s record is not as glorious as portrayed.

  • That is a complete load of congealed crap HT. Hitler started World War 2 through his insatiable desire for Lebensraum. The British and the French had no choice but to respond, and my criticism of them is that they responded too late. At the end of the War the only way to expel the Red Army from Eastern Europe was to immediately start World War III. This was the course recommended by Patton, but no one else was willing to do so. Opposition to Hitler in the Third Reich was negligible and ineffective. The bomb plot against Hitler in 1944 by factions within the military only occurred when Germany had clearly lost the War. Most Germans were quite happy to follow Hitler as long as he gave them victories.
    As for the sinking of a portion of the French fleet in Oran in 1940, this occurred only after the French admiral was given a chance to surrender, to sail his fleet to the neutral US for internment or to scuttle his ships. Churchill had every reason to fear that Hitler would seize the French fleet from the collaborationist Vichy government and use it in an invasion of Great Britain. If I had been in Churchill’s shoes I would have done precisely the same thing.

  • There is no need for vulgarity. Just make your points with reason and evidence. As to the sinking was there not a move by a French-speaking allied serviceman who was working but the final move was aborted before finalised and the fleet scuttled. That is neither brave, decent nor justifiable. Is the final word said yet about how Hitler’s inner circle was viewing things? As to the German people they were fed the same propaganda that the USSR fed their people against the West and the USA was filled with the same Red Scare to pump billions over time to the military industrial complex that grew more bloated. Same for China. now N Korea is a threat and Iran apparerently has Israel’s Mossad active with its familar tactics. The Pentagon and White House, Reagan and North armed Pakistan with nukes, now look, and courted Osama Bin Laden in the anti-Soviet surrogate war in Afghanistan. They are always fighting the last war or an imaginary future one in the sky or on lumberng aricraft carrries and nuke subs . They started Iraq 11 and could not provide properly armoured SUV’s and armour for the poor grunts walking all through Iraq to be killed by nail EDs and tanks penetrated by the most primitive of weapons. So much for Star Wars and nukes and massive air-craft carriers. What about the billions spent on National Security and a hands-on FBI agent was ignored re the 9/11 gang learning to fly up but not land! Duh.. The stupid rule and the ordinary GI and citizen pays for their misjudgments. This is a Catholic site so provide Christian Humanist responses to sin and war and dirty tricks. Leave the canonisaton process for churchill to the Vatican, they study the entire record and arere not side-tracked by propaganda or puffed biographies.

  • What is vulgar HT is your foolish attempt to distort history in order to grind an axe. History is very important to me and I will not allow fabricated history to be spread on this site.

    As to your paleocon rantings, every last comment is completely at variance with the facts. I am putting you on moderation as I do not appreciate attempted thread hijackings by people who view History as infinitely malleable to support their political agenda.

  • It is quite possible that the Third Reich would have imploded anyway as so many of his closest generals were upset by Hitler’s mania and temper.

    I always love these exercises in delusional alternate history from people whose sole source of history is Pat Buchanan. Yes, if only we had played nice eventually all the Germans would have realized that ole Hitler was a big fat meanie and everything would have turned up roses.

    You know, except for all those dead Jews, and they don’t really count.

    Sickening.

  • Sorry you win since you hold the marbles. I studied and taught history and read all of what I did not study formally where I had an interest. I apologise if you think I tried to hijack the site. I was merely trying to give examples of leaders who made awful blunders and cost lives and money. I am neither Left nor Right leaning, I am as I indicated a (Catholic) Christian Humanist. Your attitude seems to be that your version of even the past decades is right; by extrapolation so also WW11 and the later wars were decided and all points considered by the people in power. Do you allow for any other viewpoint on anything you wrote, or are you and your reading of the facts and nuances the only correct ones? I resent your labeling me as you did.

  • Had it not been for Al Gore, I wouldn’t have been able to read this post. Good job, Don.

  • Churchil (his mother was a Yank) also was a Lt. in a cavalry regiment at Omdurman. The colonel charged them into about 10,000 Fuzzy-Wuzzy’s and dervishes, I think.

    “Here’s to you, Fuzzy Wuzzy
    At yer ‘ome in the Soudan.
    Yer a poor benighted ‘eathen,
    But, a first-class fightin’ man!”

    These were the only warriors that ever broke a British square: at Suakim.

    And, I think Churchill as a correspondent during the Boer War had wild adventures.

    Only thing I can think to criticize is Galipoli. But, one may forgive it: “L’audace, L’audace, Toujour L’audace!” The great military minds of that era were obsessed with trench warfare. SIGH

    I guess the ideologue that wrote that dig at Winston thinks Neville Chamberlain had it right.

    The most overrated people in history: the English. As soon as the war was won, they fired Churchill and hired Clement Attlee. That was analogous to replacing John Wayne with Pee Wee Herman.

  • Moreover, if Churchill had got his way in ’37 and ’38 the Nazis might well have been toppled before they’re rearmed enough to be a serious rival to the French and British militaries. The best shot at Hitler’s government imploding would have been if the Allies had thrown him out when he occupied the Rhineland, stood shoulder to shoulder with the Czechs, or as a last chance, counterattacked into the Ruhr when Hitler went into Poland in 1939. This Buchanan-esque nonsense is pretty shockingly ignorant — though I suppose it does underline the squalid admiration that a few elements of the right in Britain and America had for Hitler prior to the war.

    Though as I finish up the second volume of Manchester’s bio of Churchill, it strikes me that the Guardian’s attack is even more off than that. While certainly Churchill was on the outs with the mainstream in the ’30s, he was already by that point one of the major British statesmen of the 20th century (though a quixotic one whose time many thought had passed) and also one of the most prolific and highly paid writers in the English language.

    Even Gallipoli, for which he was so widely blamed, was arguably a fiasco mainly because the local commanders didn’t follow Churchill’s original plan — and the blame for their blunders fixed to him because the public needed a scapegoat and the cabinet was fine with that so long as it wasn’t any of the rest of them.

  • “Your attitude seems to be that your version of even the past decades is right”

    No HT, my attitude is that there is one version of the past, what actually happened. Whenever anyone can establish that I am wrong on a matter of historical fact I am eager to correct it. Everyone has their political beliefs and biases and I am willing to debate them, although that is not what this post or thread is about. It is about History and the men and women who are significant players in History and how we view their lives. Whenever in one of my threads anyone makes statements that I know are historically erroneous, especially in a thread devoted to History, they will be called on it.

  • “That was analogous to replacing John Wayne with Pee Wee Herman.”

    Clement Atlee was actually a brave officer in World War I T.Shaw, and he was usually referred to as Major Atlee as a result. He served as Churchill’s deputy prime minister in the national government during the War. However, he did look like a Caspar Milquetoast and Churchill had fun at his expense with this quote about him: “A sheep, in sheep’s clothing.”

  • “While certainly Churchill was on the outs with the mainstream in the ’30s, he was already by that point one of the major British statesmen of the 20th century (though a quixotic one whose time many thought had passed) and also one of the most prolific and highly paid writers in the English language.”

    True Darwin, although during the Wilderness Years of the Thirties most of his contemporaries thought that Churchill was an anachronism. They viewed his warnings about the rise of the Third Reich as the hysterical rantings of a reactionary alarmist, and a sad ending for a brilliant if erratic statesman. History revealed who was right on that score.

  • By the time of the Yalta conference it was clear that the ‘Big Three’ was in fact the ‘Big Two plus one’. It is easy to criticize Churchill for selling out the Poles, on behalf of whom we had declared war in 1939, but the blame surely lies with Roosevelt who perversely trusted Stalin more than he did his British ally. Of course England could have sued for peace terms in 1940, and indeed for better terms in 1941 when Hitler knew he could not successfully invade and was looking east. But Churchill knew that treaties with Hitler were not worth the paper they were written on, and his claim to greatness was in deciding to stand alone after the fall of France.

    Churchill’s generation still regarded Britain as the pre-eminent world power, and indeed in 1918, when he was already in middle age, Britain (for the only time in her history) had faced the main force of the main enemy in the main theatre and decisively defeated her, and the British Empire was at its greatest extent. In World War II Britain was able to keep going because she was to all intents and purposes on a US life-support machine, and was effectively bankrupt by the end of it. The Empire proved to be what it had been for some time, a drain on the UK economy and a strategic nightmare (and this is in no way to disparage the contribution made by Dominion forces in both world wars).

    The greater the man, the more obvious his flaws, and Churchill had a number of them. In my opinion the greatest man of the last quarter of the 20th century was Pope John Paul II. Yet he was prone to grandstanding and presided over some truly awful ‘liturgies’.

  • “but the blame surely lies with Roosevelt who perversely trusted Stalin more than he did his British ally.”

    The blame actually lies with the sad fact John that the Red Army was in complete control of Poland. Only World War III would have changed that, and only Patton was willing to launch that conflict.

  • Bah, you want over-rated, look at what someone did do and see if it holds up.
    The Beatles? Over-rated. Not BAD, just not the second coming; very successful at riding a fad. Gilbert and Sullivan? Still awesome now.

  • Nolan Ryan was no great shakes if you take away the strikeouts.

  • PHILIP: It’s their wedding or the Vexin back. Those are the terms you made with Louis.

    HENRY: True, but academic, lad. The Vexin’s mine.

    PHILIP: By what authority?

    HENRY: It’s got my troops all over it. That makes it mine.
    The Lion in Winter

  • I left the discussion back there. I do however challenge the view that History is what is written and there are no other viewpoints. That is neither true, accurate nor rational. The old saying is that the conquerors write the history. So true. Every flawed human being who writes brings her/his biases to the craft. That is one reason why reviews are written and the professions have peer-review articles and books that flatly contradict the “other true” account!

  • Major Attlee? Who’d-a thunk!

    RE: WWI trench warfare, the following comes to mind:

    SIWARD
    Had he his hurts before?

    ROSS
    Ay, on the front.

    SIWARD
    Why then, God’s soldier be he!
    Had I as many sons as I have hairs,
    I would not wish them to a fairer death:
    And so, his knell is knoll’d.

    MALCOLM
    He’s worth more sorrow,
    And that I’ll spend for him.

    — Macbeth, Act V Scene VIII

    The lost generation.

  • What LarryD said.

  • “I do however challenge the view that History is what is written and there are no other viewpoints”

    No HT, as I stated History is what actually happened. Written history can accord with History or not, depending upon the honesty, skill and source materials of the historian writing it. Interpretations of the meaning of historical events differ, but no discussion is possible about interpretation unless the underlying facts of a historical event are ascertained and agreed to by the participants in such a discussion as a preliminary matter. It is a canard that the winners write the history, usually the losers are also quick to pick up their pens and, as occurred for a long period of time in regard to the American Civil War, the interpretation of the losers can become dominant in regard to the interpretation of a historical event.

  • I wish to respectfully wish to disagree. It is not only the losers who cry foul, I am much more familiar with the dominant group ‘s interpretation and twisting the actual facts. A simple example is from the New Testament about which I am doing some writing now. JESUS worked miracles, He was accused of being in league with the Devil. his trial was so illegal in Jewish law the Temple hierarchs should have been expelled then and not wait until the year 70 to see their cosy system destroyed. The many efforts to link Jesus romantically with the Magdalene which culminated in the Brown Da Vinci Code is a long effort to discredit the Gospel, and the Church’s beliefs. The protestant interpretation of the revolt-amation, my word, is so full of holes, lies and selective redaction, we are are just now sorting out the interpretations and facts. NOW if you want to ask me about the British Empire and its current incarnation, I will not try to hijack your site but it flatly contradicts your thesis that the facts are clear and purely stated.

  • Nolan Ryan was no great shakes if you take away the strikeouts.”

    Blasphemy.

    ;-)

    Nolan Ryan is MY president.

  • “The great military minds of that era [WWI] were obsessed with trench warfare”. This is an odd statement. The usual Great War myth is that the generals were all cavalrymen who didn’t understand trench warfare. Not true, of course. The deadlock on the Western Front resulted from a large number of men deployed in a relatively restricted geographical area (no flanks) and from the fact that military technology at that particular time favoured the defensive. Yet victory on the Western Front alone would defeat the German Empire (all reputable historians are agreed on this). Strategically Haig and Robertson were right, and Churchill and Lloyd George wrong.

    That said, Churchill’s original Gallipoli plan, to force the Straits using mainly naval power was not a bad one. If the Navy had pressed on despite ship losses (they were pre-dreadnoughts and arguably expendable) it might well have succeeded, and in February 1915 the peninsula was virtually undefended. Two months later the situation was very different. The experience of the Gallipoli debacle had a positive result in WWII; Churchill was surely right in resisting an invasion of northern Europe in 1943. However, his faith in diversionary actions was still in evidence – Italy, which he referred to as “the soft under-belly of the Axis” proved instead to be a hard spine.

  • “However, his faith in diversionary actions was still in evidence – Italy, which he referred to as “the soft under-belly of the Axis” proved instead to be a hard spine.”

    Anywhere where there were large number of German troops to fight was going to be difficult. Churchill desperately wanted to avoid the type of massive casualties, one million dead, suffered by the Brits and Empire troops in World War I. Ironically, when the Allies did invade France in 1944, the casualties were far lighter than the most optimistic projections had anticipated, and the fight far shorter. Churchill was right to avoid the 1943 invasion sought by Americans. The men and material simply had not been developed sufficiently, and the Allies benefited by the rapidly moving technology, especially the advent in large numbers of the superb P47 Thunderbolt and the amazing P 51 Mustang, which, in addition to protecting long range strategic bombers, provided first rate ground support for infantry and armor divisions. In 1944 many German units were decimated by these fighter-bombers even before they arrived at the front against the Allies in France.

  • The western Allies also benefitted from the fact that the main theatre of war 1941-1945 was the Eastern Front where attrition rates far surpassed those on the Western Front 1914-1918. Montgomery’s divisional casualty rates after D-Day were in fact higher than divisional casualty rates in the Great War (the highest daily rates for that conflict actually occurred during the ‘advance to victory’ August-November 1918). General Mangin remarked pessimistically but accurately in 1917: “Quoi qu’on fasse, on perd beaucoup de monde”. The less fighting you do, the fewer casualties you will take.

  • Paraphrasing Churchill’s own words – he was the worst prime minister Britain could have had except for all the others. The British Empire was heading into its twilight, the fiction that India would be content to stay on as a colony of a seaborne version of Vichy France is too ridiculous for comment. Churchill ensured that its last days would be among its most glorious. The Poles were probably the most heroic nation in WW11, but they were a victim of geography caught as they were between the Nazis and the Soviets. Once the French fell, it would have been clear to the Poles that they were in for the long night. Churchill tried many expedients to shorten the war and reach the East before the Soviets- Market Garden, the soft underbelly of Italy. But in all cases the cussed Germans proved too strong.

  • Actually, British double-agent Aleister Crowley sunk the Lusitania, thereby instigating the chain of events that would lead to WWII. And Churchill was a eugenicist monster.

  • Thank you OCB for providing us with our daily dose of insanity. Much appreciated!

  • Would enjoy more rational refutation of the points, one by one, or in several posts, made by those who disagree rather than dismissing the people with ad hominem comments such as “congealed crap” and “daily dose of insanity.” We live in a very hostile anti-Church, post Christian Europe, where there is no FCC to keep the in many ways and do not need to see the same stuff dished out on a site where one expects some

  • We here in Europe are exposed to a very hostile anti-Church, post-civilised society where there is no protection against the use of the F and S and A words, even in early evening Tv programming. I would like to see that disagreeements on here would receive replies that avoid sarcastic dismissal of the person, ad hominem rather than point by point refutation of the position. Thank you

  • My last post above was written because the one before it was rejected as a duplicate but published anyway with part of a sentence missing.

  • As for the “Churchill was a eugenisist” accusation, it is true that he was part of a eugenics conference at least once in the pre-war period, however it was a “fashionable” idea at the time and I don’t know if his affiliation with said belief continued afterward. (I do suspect, however, that it would have at least been modified (to understate things) once the Prime Minister found out about the Final Soluation and all that entailed. Anyone have documentation from him about that?)

    Also, I’ve been reading Lynne Olson and Stanley Cloud’s “A Question of Honor” (about Polish fighter pilots who flew with the British on behalf of the Polish government-in-exile) and the book details the betrayal of Poland, first by Chamberlain-era Britain and France, and then by FDR and Churchill. (Churchill, at least, had at least private issues with giving in to Stalin’s European demands.) This, along with Don’s post about Patton’s willingness to start WW3 with the Soviets, got me to thinking: What should have been done?

    True, I do think the British and French should have launched a full-scale offensive into Germany as soon as they could when Hitler attacked Poland, but what should Churchill and FDR have done regarding Eastern Europe in general (and Poland in particular) in the post-Barbarossa era? While I do sympathize with Patton’s desire to roll into Moscow and topple “Uncle Joe” from power, could the Anglo-American alliance win an offensive war against the Red Army? Would it have resulted, not in a free Europe, but one completely dominated by the Communists (instead of the half-liberated Europe that resulted from WWII?)

    I’m not sure. I do think World War II in general was a just war (though I disagree with some of the things the Allies did do in bello, to say nothing of the Axis powers); so I’m just throwing these questions out there. What do you think?

  • The Czechs in 1938 had the best army in central Europe and would have resisted had their French ally supported them. The German General Staff were well aware of the deficiencies of the Wehrmacht at that time, as well as the fact that the French army was at least quantitively superior. Unfortunately Daladier and Chamberlain did not have the moral courage of Reagan and Thatcher. After Munich World War II was more or less a foregone conclusion.

    Churchill was a late Victorian romantic imperialist. During the war he was accosted by a female American journalist who demanded, rather aggressively, “What are you going to do about the Indians?” Churchill’s riposte was “To which Indians, Madam, do you refer? Are you referring to the inhabitants of the great sub-continent who under benign and munificent British rule are prospering? Or are you perhaps referring to those other Indians who under successive American administrations are now almost extinct?”

    The fact was that India was moving rapidly towards self-government. Had it not been for the war partition and the ensuing bloodbath might have been averted. Who knows?

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