Saturday, January 24, 2015
Winston Churchill's legacy is everywhere in the modern world. There has been no one remotely like him before or since
24 January 2015
He disappeared in the dead of winter. It was exactly 50 years ago today that the heart of Sir Winston Churchill beat its last; and as soon as the news was broken to London and to Britain it was obvious that this death was some kind of a punctuation mark in the narrative of the country. A fierce and surging life force had been finally extinguished, after 90 event-stuffed years. The people had lost a man who had not only led Britain in war, but who had become in a sense emblematic of what greatness the nation still possessed.
When I look at the footage of the funeral that took place at the end of the month – the vast, mainly silent crowds, many of them weeping, the lipsticked and peroxided young women, the old men with sunken chaps and trilbies – I feel the weight of the event in their minds. I understand why my grandparents kept a copy of the newspaper front page. I can see why they regarded him as the greatest Englishman (or Briton, or human being, come to that) of his age. They were right, and in the last half century that judgment has been – if anything – strengthened.
Of course there will always be those who try to turn their revisionist peashooters against the dreadnought of his reputation. There are right-wing nutters who regard him as a warmonger, who needlessly embroiled Britain in the Second World War; and there are po-faced Lefties who think he was a sexist, racist, imperialist exponent of outrageous political incorrectness. Well, let them chirrup and babble away. Most sensible people can see the magnitude of what he achieved – but more importantly they have an instinctive understanding of the personality that made those achievements possible.
The story of Churchill is a universal human parable, and it is fundamentally about courage. You see that statue in Parliament square, of that colossal figure with the bison-like shoulders. It’s an illusion. He wasn’t a big man – in fact he was not much more than five foot seven inches tall, and as a young man his chest was only 31 inches – a relative runt. He was scared at school by boys who threw cricket balls at him. To his shame, he ran away. And yet he grew up to exhibit the most astonishing bravery, a courage that was both physical and moral.
He is the only Prime Minister in history to have come under fire, in battle, on four continents (and to have fired back, with lethal effect, in perhaps a dozen cases), including the last cavalry charge ever made by the British army.
When the airplane was in its infancy – barely 10 years after Wilbur and Orville Wright had taken off from Kitty Hawk – he was repeatedly going aloft in these hair-raising contraptions. And when his instructors were killed, and when his family and friends were begging him to desist, he continued to fly. He got lost in a storm over France in 1919, and almost perished. He had a serious crash in Buc aerodrome in France, when the plane’s skis hit the edge of a concealed road at the end of the runway, and the machine did a somersault – like a shot rabbit, he said – and he found himself hanging upside down in his harness. The following month he had an even worse crash at Croydon – smashing into the ground so hard that the propeller was buried, his co-pilot knocked out.
You read these accounts of disaster and you wonder what was going on in his head, that made him continue with something so obviously risky. Why did he push it? Why, when he served in the trenches in the First War, did he go out into No Man’s Land not once but 36 times, going so close as to be able to hear the Germans talking? Yes, he wanted to be thought brave, and yes, to some extent he was a self-invented person. But in the end the man he created was the real Churchill.
He dared to say things that no one would dare say today, and to behave in ways that would terrify the milquetoast politicians of the 21st century. When Bessie Braddock, the Socialist MP, told him he was drunk, he really did retort that she was ugly, but he would be sober in the morning. On being told that the Lord Privy Seal was waiting to see him, it seems that he really did growl out – from his position on the lavatory – that he was sealed in the privy and could only deal with one shit at a time. During one of his many infuriating conversations with Gen de Gaulle, in the depths of the war, he really does appear to have used his superb and menacing franglais: “Et marquez mes mots, mon ami, si vous me double-crosserez, je vous liquiderai.”
He imposed his own exuberant and uninhibited style on events. Who else could have wandered naked round the White House, or appeared before the US press corps wearing a bizarre purple romper suit of his own design, tailored by Turnbull and Asser? He truly did begin the day with champagne, or a glass of whisky and water, and then go on all day to consume quantities of booze that would have felled a bullock. He could have a three course dinner accompanied by champagne, white wine, red wine and brandy – and then go into his office at 10 pm, and start dictating vast periods of prose, much of it brilliant and original.
He didn’t just pose with cigars, or wave them around for Freudian effect. He smoked with a gusto that would today be unforgiveable – perhaps 250,000 in his lifetime, mainly Romeo y Julietas. The stubs were collected and given to the gardener at Chartwell (the poor chap died of cancer).
He seemed to be running, in other words, on a type of high-octane hydrocarbon that was available to no one else; and it was this energy, combined with his boldness, that produced his astonishing political fertility.
Our children are taught roughly what he did in the Second World War – but we have been in danger of forgetting his crucial role in helping to win the First. It is no exaggeration to say that he was one of the fathers of the tank – whose battlefield breakthroughs were eventually of critical importance; and it was his sedulous preparation of the Fleet, as First Lord of the Admiralty – not least the historic geo-strategic decision to convert the dreadnoughts from coal to oil – that meant England never lost control of the Channel.
His legacy is everywhere in the modern world. He helped to found the modern welfare state, pioneering unemployment insurance and other social protections in the years before the First World War. He was instrumental in the creation of modern Ireland, of Israel, of the map of much of the Middle East. He was one of the very first, in the Thirties, to adumbrate the idea of a “United States of Europe” – though he was ultimately ambiguous about exactly what role Britain should play.
It is Churchill’s shaping mind that still dominates our thinking about the world role of Britain – at the centre of three interconnecting circles: the Atlantic alliance, the relationship with Europe, and the relationship with the former Empire and Commonwealth.
Yes, of course he made catastrophic mistakes. He cannot be entirely exculpated for Gallipoli; he misread the public mood over the Abdication; it is hard to read some of his remarks about Indian independence without a shudder of embarrassment. But in these very disasters we see his boldness and determination to stick with the course he had embarked on, even if everyone was saying he was wrong.
And it was precisely that stubbornness and that bravery which was required in 1940. Think yourself into that smoke-filled room in May, that fateful meeting of the seven-strong War Cabinet. France had fallen; Europe had been engulfed by the Nazis; the Russians had done a nauseating deal with Hitler; the Americans were standing on the sidelines. Britain was alone, and the pressure to do a deal was overwhelming. The City wanted it; much of the media wanted it; Halifax wanted it; Chamberlain wanted it; Labour would have gone along.
It was Churchill and Churchill alone who was decisive in ensuring that Britain continued to fight. It was Churchill who was crucial to bringing America in – more than two years later. If Churchill had not been Prime Minister in 1940, there seems little doubt that Britain would have made an accommodation with evil – letting Hitler have his way and plunging Europe into darkness and barbarism. No one else round that table had the guts to do what he did; and it is to him, therefore, that the world owes thanks for the eventual victory over Nazism, and the 70 years of peace that have followed.
The more you study Churchill, the more I hope you will share my conviction that there has been no one remotely like him before or since.
By Cal Thomas
January 24, 2015
LONDON — It is an old debating point: Do the times make the man, or does the man make the times? In the case of Winston Churchill, whose death 50 years ago Saturday the British are remembering with more than nostalgia, it is both.
The times in Churchill's case were both World War I, in which he served as a battalion commander, and World War II, which he helped win for Britain and America. By the standard he set, all political leaders since — with the possible exception of Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan — are mere pygmies. Yet, even they pale in his shadow.
No one else can touch Churchill for his vision, leadership and most of all persistence. Like Babe Ruth who struck out a lot, but who also hit many home runs, Churchill "struck out" more than once, but his successes far outweigh and overwhelm his failures.
London Mayor Boris Johnson has written a wonderful book called "The Churchill Factor: How One Man Made History." Not only did Churchill make history, he bent it to his will and still today embodies the classic definition of a leader. He had many contemporary enemies and there are those in Britain who still believe he was too full of himself and that many of his ideas were ill conceived. Yet, his achievements were so momentous those voices get little attention outside academic circles and left-wing media who have forgotten how to fight and win wars.
Churchill had a way with words that conveyed great truths and necessarily stirred the hearts of his countrymen. Probably his best-known words were uttered after the RAF defended Britain from bombings by the German Luftwaffe: "Never in the field of human conflict has so much been owed by so many to so few."
In 1942, following the Allied victory near the Egyptian coastal city of El Alamein, which marked a turning point in the Western desert campaign, Churchill said: "Now this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning."
Churchill wrote, spoke and did things that endure. What modern politician can match his clarity of thought, writings and voracious reading? His 1946 "Iron Curtain" speech at Westminster College in Fulton, Missouri, foresaw the Cold War with the Soviet Union.
Of the man, Boris Johnson writes, "…you are acutely aware of being chained to a genius, and a genius of unbelievable energy and fecundity."
Churchill, notes Johnson, "produces more published works than Shakespeare and Dickens combined, wins the Nobel Prize for literature, kills umpteen people in armed conflict on four continents, serves in every great office of state, including prime minister (twice), is indispensible to victory in two world wars and then posthumously sells his paintings for a million dollars."
Churchill had a far less than ideal upbringing. His father, Randolph, mostly rejected him and gave him, not love, but criticism; his mother pushed him but was often preoccupied with a series of men not her husband; he was small and often the object of bullying, but he overcame it all through the force of his ego, strong will and persistence ("Never give in, never give in, never, never, never — in nothing, great or small, large or petty — never give in except to convictions of honour and good sense. Never yield to force; never yield to the apparently overwhelming might of the enemy."
I recall the TV coverage of his 1965 state funeral. Thousands lined London streets. Dockworkers lowered their cranes in tribute as his body was borne down the River Thames on a barge.
Churchill was more than a leader for his time. He was a man for all time; a man for all seasons, as Robert Bolt titled his play about Sir Thomas More.
Johnson concludes his book: "There has been no one remotely like him before or since." The world is the worse for it.
Cal Thomas is a syndicated columnist. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Line up the greatest all-time marriages between a city and an athlete and if you look closely enough you will find many of them strained beneath the surface, even just a bit, by the star’s ego, distance, moodiness, entitlement, or some such flaw of personality that exists on the slip side to physical genius. None of the great such love affairs were purer than the one between Chicago and Banks. You need not have qualified your devotion to him. He was a man of and for the people, not some baseball god visiting from Olympus. How fitting that Banks played his entire home career in daylight and endorsed cookies made by a company called Sunshine. The guy was a walking dose of vitamin D.
By Ciaran Brady
January 23, 2015
Michael Adebolajo, 28, and Michael Adebowale, 22, after the death of Lee Rigby.
In August 2014 the independent government advisory group in the UK known as JTAC (Joint Terrorism Analysis Centre) raised the threat level for the entire UK (including Northern Ireland) to “Severe,” one step down from the maximum Critical level, where it has remained to this day some 5 months on. In the words of the conservative home secretary two days ago -- attacks in the UK are “very likely.”
The threat of marauding gunmen in a city, so vividly illustrated at the offices of Charlie Hebdo and the Kosher supermarket, has been clearly apparent to western nations since the horrific Mumbai attacks in 2008. MI5 have confirmed that the Syrian arm of a resurgent al-Qaeda is planning similar attacks against the UK, possibly by British jihadists who have already returned from fighting in Syria or Iraq. They include plans to blow up a passenger jet, employ Mumbai style shootings in crowded places or even hit-and-run attacks using vehicles (an attack style employed in France in Christmas 2014). Andrew Parker (Director General of the security service MI5) said the number of random “crude and potentially deadly” plots from “lone wolf” extremists was increasing. In a stark warning, he said: “Although we and our partners try our utmost, we know we cannot hope to stop everything.”
This is where we find ourselves now. Every citizen in Europe and the UK faces the risk of an Islamic attack merely while going about normal day-to-day business. UK citizens in particular face this risk whilst being denied weapons of self defense. In the past I have fully and enthusiastically supported the UK’s complete ban on hand guns. But immediately after the killing of Lee Rigby I began to reconsider the wisdom of that ban and I now utterly oppose it. As things stand in the UK, hand guns are illegal. For those shotguns you could own, extremely strict licensing specifically disallows self defense as a motive for ownership and so the old adage “In countries where guns are illegal, only the criminals have guns” is the frankly mad situation we now have in the UK.
Once illegal guns are used in anger, you then have to consider how long it takes armed police to respond. The three sprees most responsible for framing the gun laws we now have in the UK reveal a rather worrying problem, given it took 2 hours for armed police to arrive on the scene in Cumbria in 2010, by which time Bird had killed himself and 18 others. In Hungerford in 1987, Ryan had 6 hours to kill himself and 16 others before armed police arrived. In Dunblane in 1996, armed police again never made it to the scene before Hamilton killed himself and 17 people.
The reality is that small crack teams of armed police can never be relied upon to make it to the scene of a crime until after some undefined but inevitably critical delay. In London on the 22nd May 2013, it took over 15 minutes for armed police to arrive when the soldier Lee Rigby was killed by two supporters of Islam who first ran him down with their car and then hacked him to death with knives and a meat cleaver. They later claimed to be “…avenging the killing of Muslims by British armed forces”.
When these events occur in the UK, members of the public armed with nothing more than smiles and harsh language will inevitably be the first responders. In the Cumbrian shooting spree Bird encountered literally dozens of people on his route, all of whom were unarmed and many of who died as a result. The same applied in the case of Ryan and Hamilton. In the Lee Rigby killing all of us in the UK watched videos showing Ingrid Loyau-Kennett take on this first responder role… but seeing the killers’ hands literally dripping with blood left me aghast at just how vulnerable and utterly defenceless she and all the citizens in the vicinity actually were.
In direct and stark contrast is a recent UK shooting incident that occurred on the 23rd May 2014 when a young man (Sedat Meric) in West Green Road London walked to the front of a snooker hall and opened fire into the doorway with a 9mm semi automatic hand gun, discharging four shots. This could have been just another example of a criminal with a gun in the UK were it not for an armed NCAfirearms officer who happened to be nearby and had the sense to intervene and return fire. Meric ran out of ammunition after firing a set of random shots as he ran down the road to escape and was promptly arrested and subsequently convicted with the help of CCTV footage.
One good person, experienced in the use of firearms and armed with a handgun, could have ended each of these attacks with immediate effect -- an example demonstrated to great effect by the brave NCA officer.
It is for this reason that UK authorities routinely protect politicians and dignitaries with armed escorts, but when it comes to us ordinary citizens, the state appears to consider our defense rights as almost irrelevant and then goes on to reinforce that policy by removing any and all tools that the law abiding citizen could realistically use to that end.
Given the seriousness of this threat and how much worse it is liable to become as more and more battle hardened jihadists are allowed back into the UK, it is abundantly clear to me that unless the law is changed, we humble citizens will continue to find ourselves alone and defenseless whenever these attacks occur. God forbid, should that happen: I wonder if you, like me, would want the ability to actively defend your family with something more than a cricket bat and if need be, go down with a fight. I’m pretty sure that the Muslim policeman shot on the ground in Paris would… if he could!
Ciaran Brady is Technical Director of a small software engineering company, living in the UK with his wife.
Friday, January 23, 2015
By Charles Krauthammer
January 22, 2015
A missile on display at an Iranian Army parade / AP
While Iran’s march toward a nuclear bomb has provoked a major clashbetween the White House and Congress, Iran’s march toward conventional domination of the Arab world has been largely overlooked. In Washington, that is. The Arabs have noticed. And the pro-American ones, the Gulf Arabs in particular, are deeply worried.
This week, Iranian-backed Houthi rebels seized control of the Yemeni government, heretofore pro-American. In September, they overran Sanaa, the capital. On Tuesday, they seized the presidential palace. On Thursday, they forced the president to resign.
The Houthis have local religious grievances, being Shiites in a majority Sunni land. But they are also agents of Shiite Iran, which arms, trains and advises them. Their slogan — “God is great. Death to America. Death to Israel” — could have been written in Persian.
Why should we care about the coup? First, because we depend on Yemen’s government to support our drone war against another local menace, al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). It’s not clear if we can even maintain our embassy in Yemen, let alone conduct operations against AQAP. And second, because growing Iranian hegemony is a mortal threat to our allies and interests in the entire Middle East.
In Syria, Iran’s power is similarly rising. The mullahs rescued the reeling regime of Bashar al-Assad by sending in weapons, money and Iranian revolutionary guards, as well as by ordering their Lebanese proxy, Hezbollah, to join the fight. They succeeded. The moderate rebels are in disarray, even as Assad lives in de facto coexistence with the Islamic State, which controls a large part of his country.
Iran’s domination of Syria was further illustrated by a strange occurrence last Sunday in the Golan Heights. An Israeli helicopter attacked a convoy on the Syrian side of the armistice line. Those killed were not Syrian, however, but five Hezbollah fighters from Lebanon and several Iranian officials, including a brigadier general.
What were they doing in the Syrian Golan Heights? Giving “crucial advice,” announced the Iranian government. On what? Well, three days earlier, Hezbollah’s leader had threatened an attack on Israel’s Galilee. Tehran appears to be using its control of Syria and Hezbollah to create its very own front against Israel.
The Israelis can defeat any conventional attack. Not so the very rich, very weak Gulf Arabs. To the north and west, they see Iran creating a satellite “Shiite Crescent” stretching to the Mediterranean and consisting of Iraq, Syria and Lebanon. To their south and west, they see Iran gaining proxy control of Yemen. And they are caught in the pincer.
The Saudis are fighting back the only way they can — with massive production of oil at a time of oversupply and collapsing prices, placing enormous economic pressure on Iran. It needs $136 oil to maintain its budget. The price today is below $50.
Yet the Obama administration appears to be ready to acquiesce to the new reality of Iranian domination of Syria. It has told the New York Times that it is essentially abandoning its proclaimed goal of removing Assad.
For the Saudis and the other Gulf Arabs, this is a nightmare. They’re engaged in a titanic regional struggle with Iran. And they are losing — losing Yemen, losing Lebanon, losing Syria and watching post-U.S.-withdrawal Iraq come under increasing Iranian domination.
The nightmare would be hugely compounded by Iran going nuclear. The Saudis were already stupefied that Washington conducted secret negotiations with Tehran behind their backs. And they can see where the current talks are headed — legitimizing Iran as a threshold nuclear state.
Which makes all the more incomprehensible President Obama’s fierce opposition to Congress’ offer to strengthen the American negotiating hand by passing sanctions to be triggered if Iran fails to agree to give up its nuclear program. After all, that was the understanding Obama gave Congress when he began these last-ditch negotiations in the first place.
Why are you parroting Tehran’s talking points, Mr. President? asks Democratic Sen. Bob Menendez. Indeed, why are we endorsing Iran’s claim that sanctions relief is the new norm? Obama assured the nation that sanctions relief was but a temporary concession to give last-minute, time-limited negotiations a chance.
Twice the deadline has come. Twice no new sanctions, just unconditional negotiating extensions.
Our regional allies — Saudi Arabia, the other five Gulf states, Jordan, Egypt and Israel — are deeply worried. Tehran is visibly on the march on the ground and openly on the march to nuclear status. And their one great ally, their strategic anchor for two generations, is acquiescing to both.
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