The Magazine

Winston in Focus

A great man gets a second look.

Sep 16, 2013, Vol. 19, No. 02 • By ANDREW ROBERTS
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Apart from its dry wit, the best thing about Churchill and Company is the way it uses history to provoke renegade thoughts. “We have had nothing else but wars since Democracy took charge,” wrote Churchill in November 1947. He had a point: Are democrats more inherently violent than the aristocrats—many of them Churchill’s relations—who ran the British Empire in the 19th century (in which Churchill spent the first 25 years of his life) and who avoided all major wars for a full 60 years after the Crimea? I suspect so. Aristocrats had more to lose from global conflagration, after all. Another thought the book provokes is: For all that Churchill was denounced as a warmonger for wanting to intervene in the Russian civil war in 1919—“to strangle Bolshevism in its cradle,” as he characteristically phrased it—imagine the traumas mankind would have been saved if his counsel had prevailed over the supposedly wiser heads around the cabinet table. Ditto if the Dardanelles campaign had been better executed. Or if Britain had aggressively taken on Hitler as soon as he came to power in 1933. 

It is extraordinary how often Churchill’s career was damaged by the things about which he was ultimately proved right—and yet, paradoxically, how it was enhanced by other things (such as the Norwegian expedition of 1940) about which he was wrong. By making us reflect on the preternatural unfairness of politics, in a way that has a happy ending, Professor Dilks has scored a palpable hit. 

Andrew Roberts is the author, most recently, of The Storm of War: A New History of the Second World War