First as tragedy, then as farce

Many warbloggers and other assorted Iraq-war supporters fancy themselves to be followers of Winston Churchill.

And one of the most widely read biographies of Churchill is the two-volume hagiography by William Manchester. (As a boy, I read the first volume. For boys, it’s a good history.)

I had never thought to connect the two, though, until I read the following, from a 1989 review of Manchester’s second volume by David Cannadine, reprinted in his book History in Our Time:

[Manchester’s] concern is to retell (and to reburnish) the familiar story of Churchill’s wilderness years, which were, Manchester insists, undoubtedly the greatest and noblest of his career. For most of the 1930s, Churchill was out of office, out of power, out of favour, and out of luck. He was spurned, derided and rejected by the lesser men in government; he was regarded as an outcast by the Tory Party managers; and he was banned from speaking on the BBC. […] Truly, Churchill was a prophet without honour in his own country. But, undaunted and undismayed, he put together a vast underground intelligence network, which meant he was better informed about German rearmament and territorial ambitions than the Foreign Office. He made a succession of brilliant, unanswerable speeches, in Parliament and throughout the country, damning appeasement as cowardly folly, and struggled to alert the western democracies to the growing menace of Hitler. And so, in the eleventh hour, when all the grievous events that Churchill had so valiantly and vainly foretold had finally come to pass, the people eventually turned to him, as the rejected prophet became the national saviour and gave his country its ‘finest hour’.

While Manchester waxes thus fulsome in his eulogistic evocation of Churchill, he shows no mercy to the cynical Judases who were, he believes, the ‘betrayers of England’s greatness’. […] Without exception, Manchester insists, they were weak, shabby, irresolute, provincial mediocrities, who vainly believed that Hitler could be trusted and should be appeased. And they were supported in their ignoble endeavours by […] unimaginative and hypocritical politicians […] who believed in peace at virtually any price. Nor, Manchester insists, was this the full extent of their duplicity. For it was not just that they did not want to offend the Führer. Obsessed as they were with the fear of Communist subversion, they actually wanted to support and strengthen Nazi Germany as the most effective European counterpoise to what they saw as the much greater threat of Soviet Russia. And in order to do so, they deliberately misled the British public about the true nature and intentions of the Nazi regime.

Does any of Manchester’s mythology sound familiar? Sound, perhaps, like a mythology we have been hearing since 9/11?

If you wanted to pretend to be Manchester’s Churchill — wanted to interpret the geopolitical crisis of your own time so that you could enjoy the thrill of posturing in that particular heroic way — then would you have acted much differently than the warbloggers and their ilk have over the last five years, with their fisking and their demonizing and their unrealistic idealism and their blood-thirsty sermonizing?

A fine fantasy for boys. But isn’t it time they grew up?

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