The Real Churchill

I just finished reading Ralph Raico’s total evisceration of Winston Churchill. According to Raico, Churchill was throughout his life dedicated to two ends: his own power and the making of war. Every other principle he “ultimately betrayed.” Among Churchill’s sins are accounted the following: violating the international laws of war in blockading food and medicine from German civilians during World War I, setting merchant shipping policies that led to the sinking of the Lusitania (if not actually arranging for its sinking directly), returning Britain to the gold-exchange standard at prewar parity (thus destroying the British economy and setting the stage for the disastrous series of events that plunged the world into the Great Depression), attempting to crush the Indian independence movement, and more.

Even Churchill’s early opposition to Nazi Germany was tainted, for Churchill also took a hard line against Weimar Germany’s attempts to ease its heavy burden of reparations – policies that ultimately led to the rise of Hitler in the first place. In the end, Churchill’s real value lay in his rhetoric and the way in which he boosted British morale during the dark days of 1940. In the end, one achieves historic greatness more by what one says than by what one does, it seems.

HT: Brian Doherty

11 thoughts on “The Real Churchill

    1. I’m never completely decided on anything. 😉 I’m certainly open to alternative interpretations of Churchill & will add the Lukacs book to my list.

  1. Churchill fans need to think long and hard about the “strategic” bombing campaign he launched and which killed – intentionally – thousands and thousands (perhaps around 300,000 accd to some figures) of non-combatants (although I think Raico is probably too ecumenical about the numbers killed in Dresden — new research suggests that the figures are much closer to the lower range he identifies than the higher range).

    Here is what Duke University scholar Alexander Downes writes about it in a recent draft paper (

    “Conversely, Bomber Command’s clear preference from February 1942 forward was to burn down cities and kill German civilians, a task from which it was diverted only when placed under Eisenhower’s command to support the D-Day landings. Arthur Harris, Bomber Command’s leader during the area raids, was adamant on this point, deriding objectives such as oil and transportation as “panacea targets” and refusing to disguise what Bomber Command was doing. In fact, attempts by British officials to paint civilian deaths owing to British bombing as collateral or incidental infuriated Harris, who argued in correspondence with Under Secretary of State, Air Ministry, Sir Arthur Street, that Bomber Command’s goal should be baldly declared to be “the destruction of German cities, the killing of German workers, and the disruption of civilized community life throughout Germany” (Biddle 2002: 220).”

    I can’t stand what the Nazi regime represented and am glad it was destroyed. But the Allied bombing campaign was not the finest moment of Anglo-American history.

    1. How many Churchill fans realize he bombed German civilians before Hitler bombed British civilians? This is from page 178 of Nicholson Baker’s *Human Smoke*.

      “Eighteen of the Royal Air Force’s Whitley bombers took to the air, intending to do harm within Germany. It was the second night of Churchill’s prime ministership. ‘Bomber Continental went to war on 11 May, 1940. It had only been fooling with war until then,’ wrote James Spaight, an air-power theorist, several years later. ‘We began to bomb objectives on the German mainland before the Germans began to bomb objectives on the British mainland.'”

      1. Ah, but Churchill deliberately avoided bombing German civilians until AFTER the Germans started bombing civilians. It was just that Churchill didn’t confine the trigger to British ones; Rotterdam was the trigger – German bombing of allied civilians.

  2. You can tell a lot about a person, by how they treat others.
    Several books by those who worked closely with Churchill revealed how he treated his personal staff very badly and rudely–A sure sign of arrogance and immaturity. He would rant and blame others on his staff for his mistakes, and rarely apologize.

    Historians have stated that Hitler was the best general the allies could have in the latter part of the war, because of his bad decisions that cost the German military deary. Churchill was as guilty, using his position of Prime Minister to play war, like he was child with toy soldiers. He fancied himself a military strategist.

    Had it not been for RAF Commander Hugh Downing insistence, Churchill would have committed a major portion of the RAF fighter squadrons to the already lost campaign for France. If Churchill had his way, the RAF would have been so crippled as to alter the outcome of the Battle of Britain in the Germans favor. Due to Downing’s courage to stand up to a petulant Churchill, and his skill in running the air defense, Britain narrowly avoided defeat. Downing would later be rewarded by being removed from his position following the battle.

    Churchill’s obsession to attack Germany from “the soft underbelly of Europe”, as he called it, led to the disasters at Anzio and Monte Cassino. The Italian campaign is considered by many experts a waste of men and resources, that accomplished little in opening up a second front against Germany.

    His strident demands to the British Generals to initiate offensives against Rommel led to premature attacks before the newly arrive tank units could acclimatize to the desert, insuring failure. Like George Bush, who would wear his infamous “mission accomplished” flight suit, Churchill loved photos of him hefting a Tommy gun, or wearing a RAF flight suit to portray himself as a great warrior king. His school boy stunt of symbolically urinating on German soil after crossing the Rhine demonstrates a bad boy image that is unbecoming of a head of state responsible of the lives of his people.

  3. If one wants to get a good measure of Churchill, then the D. Irving biographies can not be overlooked.

    Despite the best attempts of the powers that be to besmirch him, this work overcomes it, beforehand.
    These volumes, in case it takes more explanation, are primary-source based, not secondarily sourced. That makes all the difference, and the latter-day criticism is full of ad-hominem’s.

    This is not to ignore Irving’s mistaken foray into the to-be-thought-evil part of revisionism, a field wherein he was no expert and should have left well enough alone.

    The Churchill is available online for free as a pdf download, btw.

  4. Dear Mr. Sorens:
    This is for you personally.
    I visit Pileus every day. You can imagine how happy I was to see your mention of my essay on Churchill. It is contained in a collection of my pieces, Great Wars and Great Leaders: A Libertarian Rebuttal. Included are longish attacks on Woodrow Wilson and Harry Truman, plus other good stuff. If you care to have a copy I’d be pleased to send you one. I’d need your mailing address, however.
    Ralph Raico

  5. Churchill’s faults were many, but they’re greatly exaggerated here. E.g.:

    1) In the early part of WWII, targeting transportation targets instead of cities was futile. Bomber Command losses during daylight raids were so heavy they switched to night raids for the rest of the war. They didn’t have the Norden bomb sight, so they were guided by radio signals and were lucky if they hit the right city; there were several occasions when they hit the wrong _country_ by accident. Only later on in the war when the US joined the bombing campaign were daylight raids even feasible, and targeting technology and intelligence made it possible to target anything smaller than whole cities. Even then, firebombing cities remained the most effective way to destroy enemy war production targets, as the bombing alone was rarely enough. Incendiaries had to be used to start fires to finish the job.

    2) Germany’s WWI reparations payments didn’t cause Hitler’s advent. They weren’t that big to begin with, and were reduced several times before Hitler’s advent. Hitler stopped paying the token amount when he took power in 1933. West Germany resumed paying them after WWII, without jeopardizing democracy there. Hitler’s advent was the result of a massive propaganda and political campaign blaming France & Russia for WWI instead of Germany, which really started it (in the sense of making it more than just an isolated conflict between Austria & Russia). David Fromkin’s book on the causes of WWI makes this perfectly clear; anti-interventionists love to cite Fromkin’s other book on the consequences of WWI in the Middle East, but never cite his work on the origins of WWI.

    3) Irving’s work deserves zero credibility whatsoever. His “estimate” provided the upper-bound for the exagerrated Dresden death toll. The original source for that “estimate” was when Goebbels took the actual estimate made by city officials on the ground at the time and added an extra zero to it, thus multiplying it by an order of magnitude. Irving knew this at the time, as came out in the trial in which he sued Deborah Lipstadt for libel (which was decided firmly in Lipstadt’s favor). The fact that the likes of Raico and Stromberg continue to cite Irving brings nothing but shame on them as professional historians, and shame on the political movement they claim to represent.

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