July 25, 2006

Even Churchill Wasn't Churchill

Don't certain liberals ever get tired of reinforcing the right's favorite talking points and the right's endless propaganda? Apparently not. ThinkProgress quotes Cliff May on Churchill:
There is a war of arms. And there is a war of ideas. They are not just inter-related, they are interdependent. They are equally consequential.

...Let’s take just one example: In the 1930s, Churchill fought a war of ideas. He tried to warn the world about Hitler; tried to warn Europe and America that Hitler’s hatred and ambition had to be checked. But most people did not listen. Churchill’s ideas did not prevail. They called Churchill a "war monger."
ThinkProgress then unhelpfully -- and inaccurately -- adds:
To be fair, there is some truth in what May is saying. Arguments about ideas can have real consequences. But blogging on the National Review (or ThinkProgress, for that matter) is not the equivalent of Churchill warning the world about Hitler.
Boy, that Churchill was some great, far-sighted hero, huh?

No, he was not, not even on the Hitler question. It was because of this aspect of the Churchill myth -- and that's all it is, a myth from beginning to end -- that I reposted my essay, "Shattering the Churchill Myth: Facing Facts, and Becoming Adults," several months ago.

Here's one relevant passage:
[Ralph] Raico moves further along the trajectory of Churchill's career:
So far Churchill had been engaged in politics for 30 years, with not much to show for it except a certain notoriety. His great claim to fame in the modern mythology begins with his hard line against Hitler in the 1930s. But it is important to realize that Churchill had maintained a hard line against Weimar Germany, as well. He denounced all calls for Allied disarmament, even before Hitler came to power. Like other Allied leaders, Churchill was living a protracted fantasy: that Germany would submit forever to what it viewed as the shackles of Versailles. In the end, what Britain and France refused to grant to a democratic Germany they were forced to concede to Hitler.
Ironically--considering that it was a pillar of his future fame--his drumbeating about the German danger was yet another position on which Churchill reneged. In the fall of 1937, he stated:
["]Three or four years ago I was myself a loud alarmist. ... In spite of the risks which wait on prophecy, I declare my belief that a major war is not imminent, and I still believe that there is a good chance of no major war taking place in our lifetime. ... I will not pretend that, if I had to choose between Communism and Nazism, I would choose Communism.["]

For all the claptrap about Churchill's "far-sightedness" during the 30s in opposing the "appeasers," in the end the policy of the Chamberlain government--to rearm as quickly as possible, while testing the chances for peace with Germany--was more realistic than Churchill's.

The common mythology is so far from historical truth that even an ardent Churchill sympathizer, Gordon Craig, feels obliged to write:

["]The time is long past when it was possible to see the protracted debate over British foreign policy in the 1930s as a struggle between Churchill, an angel of light, fighting against the velleities of uncomprehending and feeble men in high places. It is reasonably well-known today that Churchill was often ill-informed, that his claims about German strength were exaggerated and his prescriptions impractical, that his emphasis on air power was misplaced.["]

Moreover, as a British historian has recently noted: "For the record, it is worth recalling that in the 1930s Churchill did not oppose the appeasement of either Italy or Japan." It is also worth recalling that it was the pre-Churchill British governments that furnished the material with which Churchill was able to win the Battle of Britain. Clive Ponting has observed:

["]the Baldwin and Chamberlain governments...had ensured that Britain was the first country in the world to deploy a fully integrated system of air defence based on radar detection of incoming aircraft and ground control of fighters...Churchill's contribution had been to pour scorn on radar when he was in opposition in the 1930s.["]
The endless, interminable comparisons of the world situation today to the rise of Nazi Germany in the 1930s are noxious and almost entirely wrong. Given the neocons' plans for endless and constantly widening war, they are especially dangerous. And the perpetual mythologizing of Churchill -- joined in by conservatives and liberals alike, with almost everyone else thrown in -- is tiresome in the extreme. Even a cursory examination of the actual historical record reveals most of it to be untrue. But people absolutely refuse to give up their myths.

Fine. Let's set all the facts and the real history aside. Let's embrace the myth completely.

None of us wants to be Chamberlain. We all want to be Churchill. Cool.