English historian and journalist Andrew Roberts paints a picture of the wartime hero Winston Churchill
“I wonder whether any historian of the future will ever be able to paint Winston in his true colours?” Field Marshal Alan Francis Brooke
“I felt as if I were walking with destiny, and that all my past life had been but a preparation for this hour and for this trial …”
Andrew Roberts’ biography of Winston Churchill might be one of the most complete among the other books written about the celebrated British prime minister. “Churchill: Walking with Destiny” is super long and detailed (almost 3,000 pages including appendixes and photos). In this biography, Roberts has pieced together thousands of letters, biographies, interviews, government and military documents, and other historical references to paint an extensively impressive portrait of one of history’s most celebrated heroes.
“It is said that famous men are usually the product of unhappy childhood. The stern compression of circumstances, the twinges of adversity, the spur of slights and taunts in early years, are needed to evoke that ruthless fixity of purpose and tenacious mother-wit without which great actions are seldom accomplished.”
The book covers everything from his childhood days to his state funeral. It will take you to the places Churchill traveled, who he was with, and the things he did there. All of which were written in great detail. It’s like a never-ending novel full of little trivial stuff such as the dress Churchill wore, the wine he drank, and his little-known vices.
But “Churchill: Walking with Destiny” gives more than just the trivial things. Roberts delved into the biographies of those around Churchill, providing him with a more in-depth view of the situations and events surrounding his life.
It is exhilarating to read about his ascent in the House of Commons, including his fight with the Conservative party, the party crossover, and his many political triumphs and defeat. The World War I part is illuminating. It gives some new facts and insights about the Great War from Churchill’s point of view.
There are plenty of chapters here where Roberts tried to exonerate Churchill from the wrong accusations against him like the Bengal situation.
The book also contains endless speeches and quotes from Churchill, especially those famous speeches he delivered inside the House of Commons during the War. “He was almost becoming too oratorical for the good of his causes,” Roberts said. But reading these speeches and the treasure trove of quotes would surely excite those who consider Churchill a hero.
“Now, this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.”
What excites me the most is the World War II part. With Churchill’s “The Second World War” series as a guide, Roberts has been able to expand Churchill’s account of the war. “The Second World War” is sort of a one-sided account of that event, from Churchill’s point of view. What Roberts did is to broaden it by including the accounts of other major players. The result of this was that he managed to write an extensive account of World War II battles and behind-the-scenes. I wouldn’t say it was objective, because, here and there, Roberts tends to mostly defend Churchill on his actions when he thinks he needed to.
“Indeed, the very problems and dangers that encompass us and our country ought to make English men and women of this generation glad to be here at such a time. We ought to rejoice at the responsibilities with which destiny has honoured us, and be proud that we are guardians of our country in an age when her life is at stake.”
Roberts first discussed the issue of Churchill grabbing the Prime Minister position during the war. I agree with the author on the manner of his ascent to office, contrary to what Churchill had written. The day when the successor of the disgraced Neville Chamberlain was being decided was detailed here. Not just from the point of view of Churchill, but also from the letters and records of the other characters involved. The facts laid down are enough for the readers to conclude that what Churchill did really volunteered for the job. And I have no complaints about that.
“We shall go on to the end, we shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air. We shall defend our Island, whatever the cost may be. We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills. We shall never surrender. And even if – which I do not for a moment believe – this Island or a large part of it were subjugated and starving, then our Empire beyond the seas, armed and guarded by the British Fleet, would carry on the struggle, until, in God’s good time, the New World, with all its power and might, steps forth to the rescue and the liberation of the Old”
There were glaring and racist statements made by the author, too. For instance, leaving out the number of Filipinos who surrendered during the Battle of Bataan. It was 76,000 soldiers, mostly Filipinos, but Roberts did not even mention them, just the Americans.
“What kind of a people do they think we are? Is it possible they do not realize that we shall never cease to persevere against them until they have been taught a lesson which they and the world will never forget?”
The book narrates in detail the actions and decisions of Churchill as Prime Minister during the war. For instance, his maneuvers forced the U.S to focus on the battle for Europe and Hitler’s defeat before turning to the Far East.
“It seems that Churchill and Brooke said less than they might have so as to lead the Americans to believe they would support an early Second Front in 1942. They needed to persuade them to commit troops and resources to Germany First that might otherwise have gone east to avenge defeats like Bataan.”
It is also good to note that Roberts did point out here Churchill’s faulty decisions and favoritism with regard to his generals. Take for example the Battle of El Alamein. “It was also criticized for underplaying Auchinleck’s defensive First Battle of El Alamein while overplaying Montgomery’s offensive Second Battle there.”
The book also clearly narrates the impressive thinking process and prophetic visions of Churchill: the massacre during the partition in India, the formation of the European Union (with France and Germany leading the bloc), the rise of Nazism, and the Jewish issue in Palestine, among others.
“Mighty forces were adrift. The void was open, and into that void after a pause there strode a maniac of ferocious genius, the repository and expression of the most virulent hatreds that have ever corroded the human breast- Corporal Hitler“
There were other things that were left unclear, though. Things that I was anxious to know the answers about. For instance, why did Clement Atlee call an election on October 25, 1951, when they only have a 5-seat majority? (And after just losing the previous election).
“Let us reconcile ourselves to the mysterious rhythm of our destinies, such as they must be in this world of space and time. Let us treasure our joys but not bewail our sorrows. The glory of light cannot exist without its shadows. Life is a whole, and good and ill must be accepted together. The journey has been enjoyable and well worth making. Once.”
But Roberts also wrote in detail and cleared the issues regarding the drama of Churchill’s downfall at the end of the war and his eventual return to Downing Street. “After the tumults had subsided, the hearts of the people turned again to the illustrious exile who had won them freedom and whom they had deserted in the hour of victory.”
“Walking with Destiny” is objective in some parts: “His stances in the second half of the 1930s were far more varied than he recorded in The Gathering Storm, in which he presented himself as having seen through Fascism immediately and having opposed its appeasement unswervingly. ”
I would say that on the whole, Robert managed to be objective. He presents Churchill under a lens through which readers could dissect him. This, without giving too much of his opinion on matters discussed in its pages. Though in some cases, Roberts would occasionally try to defend him. For instance, in the case of the Indian Bill.
I was glad that Robert’s included Churchill’s negative opinion of Gandhi. A man who claimed that Hitler was “amazing” despite the latter’s order to “Shoot Gandhi.”
With regard to the Indian Bill, Roberts tries to give a reason for Churchill’s ignominious stance regarding India’s independence. But still, his defense of Churchill’s white supremacy thinking is futile. With regard to the Indian Bill, Roberts tries to give a reason for Churchill’s ignominious stance regarding India’s independence. But still, his defense of Churchill’s white supremacy thinking is futile.
Churchill’s position on the Indian Bill reeks of classical racism. He believes that the British Empire must stay united, I give him that. But he still thought that India was not a race but a continent. He could claim that he was trying to prevent the murder of Muslims and other minorities. Still, it was not enough to oppose a people’s right to independence. Roberts said that his thinking was typical of that era: “His comment offends modern sensibilities, but was perfectly orthodox thinking at the time” and “hierarchically by race, with the whites at the top – was considered scientific fact when Churchill was growing up in the late nineteenth century. ” The fact is, there are people during his time (few of them, I admit) who believed that all races should be equal. Sadly, Churchill did not share the same opinion.
“I do not admit, for instance, that a great wrong has been done to the Red Indians of America or the black people of Australia. I do not admit that a wrong has been done to those people by the fact that a stronger race, a higher grade race, or, at any rate, a more worldly-wise race, to put it that way, has come in and taken their place. I do not admit it. I do not think the Red Indians had any right to say, ‘The American Continent belongs to us and we are not going to have any of these European settlers coming in here.’ They had not the right, nor had they the power.”
Though the author is correct in saying that “one cannot pick and choose with Churchill; one has to take him all or nothing (‘totus porcus’, as Fisher put it”).
“(He) was the same man who was nauseated by Mahatma Gandhi. One cannot simply deplore his obstinacy and bullheadedness, because those were equally on display over India in the 1930s and the Nazis in 1940: they are the same man”.
I recently read an article regarding Churchill which seemed to indicate he fell into disgrace after the War. This is a wrong assumption. I was glad that Roberts discussed this in the later chapters of this book.
People supported him “not because they believed he had been right in the past, but because they believed he had been consistently true to his beliefs, in a way many other, self-serving politicians who had held office throughout the 1930s had not been.”
“The men of destiny do not wait to be sent for; they come when they feel their time has come. They do not ask to be recognized, they declare themselves; they come like fate; they are inevitable.”
(Titan Worthy. 6 out of 5 stars). As the new millennium started, letters, diaries, reports, and other documents pertaining to Winston Churchill are, one by one, being unsealed. These include the diary of King George VI, government reports and documents, as well as, those papers from his family. Andrew Roberts certainly made use of this new information to bring light to some of the facts and events pertaining to the former prime minister’s life. I wouldn’t say that there was enough “discriminating criticism” here to do justice to Churchill. But “Churchill: Walking With Destiny” is one of the most important books in the modern era which tackled the life of this hero in great detail. In this online age, this book will certainly play a vital role in battling misinformation, not just regarding his life, but regarding the events which transpired during his time. Events, that one way or another, he helped shape thru his greatness.
“We would like a genius to be discerning and moderate, to be a little bit more like the rest of us. Few geniuses have been so. Churchill had the vices of his virtues.” -historian Manfred Weidhorn
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