Monday, June 27, 2016

Churchill in Pictures

     Martin Gilbert. Churchill: A Photographic Portrait (1974) Published in the centenary year of Churchill’s birth, this combines a well-done selection of pictures with citations from Churchill’s letters, speeches, and books. I hadn’t realised how completely political Churchill’s life was: the hiatus between his early career and the recall to leadership in 1939 loomed much larger in my imagination than it really was.
     Churchill was a complex private man, and a simple public one. He loved his wife and children, there are hints of his friendships, his pastimes, and his religion, and how his public life sometimes made him regret the anxiety he caused Clementine. Publicly, he was Burkean conservative from beginning to end. He believed that the role of government was to maximise the freedom of the individual, hence that government must ensure that a decent life, free from want and fear, was essential. For how can someone be free when his whole waking life is focussed on where the next crust of bread is coming from? But he also opposed Socialism, which he believed to be the path to tyranny. I don’t think he reflected much on the inconsistencies of his political principles. He was a practical politician, and a very good one. His leadership during the Second World war was a major factor in the Allied victory. He willingly exposed himself to danger, visiting with the civilians whose streets had been bombed to bits, and the troops during a brief respites from battle. This encourage people to trust him, as well as giving him a direct impression of how the war was going.
     He made mistakes and enjoyed successes, he made both wise and silly decisions, he influenced the direction of events. For that last reason alone this book is worth a look. That it also gives us an impression of him as a human being is a bonus. ***

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