Churchill and Us
ON DECEMBER 5, 1938, in the fifth year of his preachings for an accelerated British rearmament, Winston Churchill rose yet again in the House of Commons to berate the government, this time for laxity in preparing London’s anti-aircraft defenses. Harold Nicolson was present as Churchill argued with Neville Chamberlain’s talented Secretary of State for War, Leslie Hore-Belisha:
Winston starts brilliantly and we are all expecting a great speech. He accuses Hore-Belisha of being too complacent. The latter gets up and says, “When and where?” Winston replies, “I have not come unprepared,” and begins to fumble among his notes where there are some press-cuttings. He takes time. He finds them. But they are not the best cuttings, and the ones he reads out excuse rather than implicate Hore-Belisha. Winston becomes confused. He tries to rally his speech, but the wind has gone out of his sails, which flop wretchedly. “He is becoming an old man,” says Bill Mabane beside me.*
A sad case, that of Winston Churchill at sixty-four, already edging toward senility with grand, empty phrases and the fumblings of old age. Once universally regarded as the most promising young politician in British public life, Churchill declined relentlessly after World War I. Now he was trying to redeem a broken career by appealing to the most primitive of instincts, ethnic hatred. He was forever speaking of “German bloodlust” and of the “German threat” at a time when others were working to build a new Anglo-German understanding based on mutual respect and reciprocity.
About the Author
Edward N. Luttwak is senior adviser at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C.