Book excerpt: Winston Churchill: Walking with Destiny

British Prime Minister Winston Churchill in 1942. Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress, via Wikimedia.
British Prime Minister Winston Churchill in 1942. Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress, via Wikimedia.

Here is a new and rollicking good biography of Winston Churchill, one of the most important figures of the Twentieth Century — and of Western Civilization. If you know nothing about Churchill, you have no legs to stand on in criticizing (or praising) Euro-American history and culture.

Churchill had already led a colorful and eventful life when he was called back to serve — again! — as the first lord of the British Admiralty on September 3, 1939. Neville Chamberlain — who so misjudged Hitler! — was Prime Minister and would remain Prime Minister until May 1940. The majority of Chamberlain’s advisory Cabinet were antagonistic towards Churchill, perhaps especially because they had been proven so wrong concerning Hitler, and Churchill so very, very right.

As an example of German brazenness, the same night that Churchill returned to the Admiralty and the leadership of the largest (but out-of-date) Navy in the world, a German U-boat torpedoed the passenger liner Athenia en route from Glasgow to Montreal. Among the 112 passengers drowned were 28 Americans, who died within hours of the declaration of American neutrality.

Within a week of assuming his once-again position, Churchill received a letter that would begin a world-changing relationship. From Chapter 19, ‘Winston is back,” page 467:

The most important new relationship Churchill forged as first lord, however, was not initiated by him. On 11 September 1939, President Franklin Roosevelt inaugurated a correspondence with Churchill that was to have world-historical significance, and that opened up a second line of communication to the British Goverment independent of Chamberlain, though with his knowledge. ‘My dear Churchill,’ the President began, ‘It is because you and I occupied similar positions in the [First] World War that I want you to know how glad I am that you are back again in the Admiralty… What I want you and the Prime Minister to know is that I shall at all times welcome it if you will keep me in touch personally with anything you want me to know about.’ He closed with a personal note, ‘I am glad you did the Marlboro volumes before this thing started — and I much enjoyed reading them.’ Churchill grasped the opportunity eagerly, choosing ‘Naval Person’ as his hardly impenetrable codename. (When he became prime minister he changed it to ‘Former Naval Person’.) Over the next five years he sent 1,161 messages to Roosevelt and received 788 in reply, averaging one exchange every two or three days for the rest of Roosevelt’s life. Nearly two years of the epistolary friendship prepared them both for their historic meeting in August 1941.