February 27, 2005


Winston Churchill, Neocon? (JACOB HEILBRUNN, 2/27/05, NY Times Book Review)

Douglas J. Feith was becoming excited. After spending an afternoon discussing the war in Iraq with him, I asked what books had most influenced him. Feith, the under secretary of defense for policy and a prominent neoconservative, raced across his large library and began pulling down gilt-edged volumes on the British Empire. Behind his desk loomed a bust of Winston Churchill.

It was a telling moment. In England right-wing historians are portraying the last lion as a drunk, a dilettante, an incorrigible bungler who squandered the opportunity to cut a separate peace with Hitler that would have preserved the British Empire. On the American right, by contrast, Churchill idolatry has reached its finest hour. George W. Bush, who has said ''I loved Churchill's stand on principle,'' installed a bronze bust of him in the Oval Office after becoming president. On Jan. 21, 2005, Bush issued a letter with ''greetings to all those observing the 40th anniversary of the passing of Sir Winston Churchill.'' The Weekly Standard named Churchill ''Man of the Century.'' So did the columnist Charles Krauthammer, who in December 2002 delivered the third annual Churchill Dinner speech sponsored by conservative Hillsdale College; its president, Larry P. Arnn, also happens to belong to the International Churchill Society. William J. Luti, a leading neoconservative in the Pentagon, recently told me, ''Churchill was the first neocon.'' Apart from Michael Lind writing in the British magazine The Spectator, however, the Churchill phenomenon has received scant attention. Yet to a remarkable extent, the neoconservative establishment is claiming Churchill (who has just had a museum dedicated to him in London) as a founding father.

Like their absurdly high regard for Harry S. Truman, their love of Churchill derives from failure to understand the reality of his tenure beyond opposing Hitler.

Posted by Orrin Judd at February 27, 2005 10:16 AM

OJ: Who is they?

Posted by: Robert Schwartz at February 27, 2005 12:51 PM

Churchill understood the evils of the Soviet Union even if he didn't understand how the maintenance of the Empire played into Soviet hands. He didn't know much about economics either but that is like complaining that David Ortiz can't field.

I would agree the lionization of Churchill is overdone but most Brits don't want the self-reliant Little America that Thatcher would have brought them, and never did so old Winnie about the best they can do.

Posted by: Bart at February 27, 2005 1:06 PM

OJ: Who is they?

Posted by: Robert Schwartz at February 27, 2005 1:09 PM

OJ: Who is they?

Posted by: Robert Schwartz at February 27, 2005 1:09 PM

OJ: Who is they?

Posted by: Robert Schwartz at February 27, 2005 1:10 PM

Sorry about the multiple posts. I got an error message, and kept trying to go back.

Posted by: Robert Schwartz at February 27, 2005 1:17 PM

Robert: Neocons.

Posted by: Bartman at February 27, 2005 1:47 PM

Interesting. I am currently rereading Blood Sweat and Tears. For a good view of Churchill and British public opinion in the 1930s see Manchesters The Last Lion. In the years 1932-1940 WC was a pariah. The majority of british public opinion and political power was opposed to him. The BBC was instructed not to give him air time (how little things have changed). The London Times filtered out Nazi outrages much the same way the British press handles itself today
with regard to Arab "militants".

The bottom line, is that those in the majority, who ridiculed, smeared and tried to make WC a nonperson, have disappeared from history and WC, himself, remains the Last Lion.

Posted by: TedM at February 27, 2005 1:49 PM

It is of course true that Churchill supported certain aspects of the welfare state, but as a legislator it would have been surprising if he didn't do so at times, and he unquestionably got more conservative as he got older (admittedly, he was associated early-on with the Tory Radicals and even left the party for a time). He cribbed arguments from Hayek's Road to Serfdom during his 1945 run against Attlee. When some politician criticized some old words of his supporting certain welfare measures, he replied that things he said 40 years ago really ought to be taken off the table.

Even his youthful liberalism can be overstated; his opposition to socialism is made abundantly clear in a 1906 review of Upton Sinclair's The Jungle, in which he admits that the book will move even stone-hearted readers but contends that socialism would merely replace one societal oppressor group with another. Note that this was before the Soviet Union, which he tried to strangle in its crib.

Posted by: Matt Murphy at February 27, 2005 3:34 PM

Churchill was right about India; he was right about the Soviet Union; the Bay of Pig's like
half hearted landing at Arkhangel, could have
sealed the Soviet's fate. probably not right about the map of the Middle East; but Bell, Lawrence Cox, et al; got that wrong; He had confronted radical Islam; early in his career, from the from its Deobandi incarnation of Syeed in North West frontier in the Malakand Valley, himself a predecessor to the Faqir of Waziristan, who would bedevil the Brits; half a century later; to the militant Sufism of the Mahdi's successor, Khalifa; at Khartroum, a hundred years before a much less successful incursion, came down in both regions trying to stop; aonther pretender to the Caliphate illusion. Was he right
about the welfare state; well that depends as compared to whom? Chamberlain, Halifax, Baldwin;
Attlee; Eden; MacMillan

Posted by: narciso at February 27, 2005 10:05 PM

Thanks narciso, you made most of what I would have said redundant.

The British Empire could not have defeated the Soviets in 1945. The US could have but only by nuking it into submission or by arming the ex-Nazis, either of which were politically unacceptable.

Later, at a time when the dupes like Henry Wallace could still attract a substantial following, Churchill threw a toaster into the Left's bathtub with the Iron Curtain speech.

Expander of the welfare state, sure...but then again, return to the conditions the average worker had in 1910 and tell em who in our society wouldn't have expanded the welfare state to some degree. Calvin Collidge broke the Boston police strike and gets lauded for his stand for public duty, Churchill helped break an incipient Revloution in 1926 and gets scant creidt for it.

And remember, WSC' s reationale for a European Union--to keep them too disjointed to threaten Britain again. Indeed, he was always clear Britain should be allied to , but not in an EU.

Posted by: cornetofhorse at February 28, 2005 9:48 AM