BARRY STRAUSS: Our speaker, Andrew Roberts, is the first Merrill Family Visiting Professor in the Department of History. And I'd like to begin by thanking the Merrill family for the generosity and their vision in establishing this professorship which brings to Cornell students the best of historians who write for a popular audience, while also being scholarly. And tonight's speaker is a very fitting first person in our series.
He's been called by The Economist Britain's finest military historian. And if you look at the list of books he's written and the awards they've won, it's truly impressive. I will mention just a few of them.
In 1999-- no, excuse me. Yeah, in 1999, you published Salisbury, Victorian Titan, which won the Wolfson History Prize and the James Stern Silver Pen Award for Nonfiction. His History of the English-Speaking Peoples Since 1900 won him an invitation to the White House. His Masters and Commanders, How Roosevelt, Churchill, Marshall, and Alanbrooke Won the War in the West, in 2008, won the Emery Reves Award at the International Churchill Society and was shortlisted for the Duke of Westminster's Gold Medal for Military History and the British Army Military Book Awards, two of them among Britain's top two military history prizes.
And then in 2009, his Storm of War, A New History of the Second World War, won the British Army Military Book Award. And Storm of War got to number two on the bestseller list. Writing about it, reviewing it in the New York Times Book Review, Timothy Snyder said, "it's hard to imagine a better told military history of World War II." And Sir Ian Kershaw writing in The Guardian for the books of the year said, "Andrew Roberts achieves a marvel of concision in producing a splendidly written, comprehensive new history of the greatest conflict in history. The Storm Of War is particularly good in its insights into Axis strategy."
Well, Andrew is particularly good in his conviviality, in his friendship, in his speaking ability, in the remarkable way in which he makes military history, dare I say, pleasant? You'll never forgive me if I do that. But remarkably accessible. In 2012, he was awarded the William Penn Prize, whose former recipients include Ulysses Grant, George Marshall, Walt Whitman, and Earl Mountbatten.
Here in Ithaca, in addition to teaching a course on great European leaders of the 19th and 20th centuries, he's writing a biography of Napoleon, which is going to be accompanied by a BBC TV series. Let me say the one prize that he has yet to achieve, but I expect is shortly in his future, is a snowstorm to rival what Napoleon saw in Russia.
With any luck he'll have it before leaving Ithaca in December. So please join me in welcoming Andrew Roberts.
ANDREW ROBERTS: Ladies and gentlemen, it's a great honor to be invited to address you this evening, and thank you very much indeed, Barry, for those kind words. It's perfectly true that my book got to number two on the bestseller list, beaten only by a book about Michael Jackson. I would also like to echo your words with regard to the Merrill family. It was tremendously generous of them to allow me to come up here and spend this semester with you in this fabulous university. I've had a wonderful time and thank you very much to them.
I'm going to be speaking to you today on Winston Churchill. Well, the title we came up with was, A Brilliant Statesman or Brutal Demagogue. That was actually to get you here. Now you're all here, what I'm actually going to talk to you about is the state of Winston Churchill's reputation. What do people say about him and the way in which he is seen today.
And I'd like to start by taking you back to Westminster Abbey in London on a brutally cold Tuesday, the 12th of November, 1940. And it was when Churchill was about to give a speech to the church about Neville Chamberlain, that he said these words about his predecessor. "History, with its flickering lamp, stumbles across the trails of the past trying to reconstruct its themes, to revive its echoes, and kindle with pale gleams the passion of former days."
One can see with sentences like that why he won the Nobel Prize for Literature. He was largely-- he didn't go to university. He was largely self-educated. He had to be self-educated owing to the fact that he went to Harrow
And he was a man who, although the great debate is still going on amongst historians about him, actually, it's over with regard to the British, and indeed the American public. Probably more the American public than the British public. You have given him the signal honor for a non-American of a bust in the rotunda on Capitol Hill, something that is virtually unknown for non-Americans. And he's also got an American warship named after him. Again, very unknown for non-Americans.
The grievous inquest of history, as he called it, has sat as far as the publics are concerned. And that isn't the case, however, for historians. In the 1950s-- and in a sense, of course, one expects revisionist history. All history is revisionist in one sense. But since the 1950s, when there were a lot of very positive books about him, hagiographical books even, about him, there has in the last couple of decades, certainly since the 1990s, a new, vicious, carping tone has entered into some of the debates.
And so I'd like to look at some of the things that are being said, where they're being said, who they're being said by, and to see the extent to which they are justified. The first is an attack that one gets from the political left, from Clive Ponting, the British left-wing writer, who's accused Winston Churchill of having known about Pearl Harbor, the attack on Pearl Harbor, before it took place and failing to warn the Roosevelt Administration in order to try to get the United States into the Second World War.
Ladies and gentlemen, there is no evidence for this. In fact, there's plenty of evidence for the exact opposite of this. That British codebreakers were working night and day to try to crack the Japanese Naval codes in such ways to give enough time for people in the Pacific to work out what the Japanese were doing. The Japanese fleet sailed without once sending a single radio message from the moment that it left harbor to the moment that the attack took place. So this is a classic example of one of very many that I'll come up with in my speech to explain to you the attacks and criticisms on Winston Churchill. Many are perfectly legitimate, perfectly reasonable. But this one isn't.
Neither is the attack on him having known about, or indeed some people say, responsible for the death of General Sikorski, the leader of the Poles who was killed in an air crash off Gibraltar in 1943. I know this personally, actually, because one of the members of the London club that I belong to, who I was sitting next to many years ago, about 25 years ago when I was writing my first book, was the British head of station of MI6 in Gibraltar in 1943. And I said to him-- Michael Codrington. I said Mr Codrington, now tell me about the Sikorsky crash. And he said, yes, you know, we're blamed for that. He said, I have to say, if MI6 was going to kill General Sikorski, it would have been my job to have done it. And he said, and I remember very, very vividly not having been asked.
He is attacked also from the right. There is a [INAUDIBLE] here in America called Mr. [INAUDIBLE], a revisionist historian, who has called Winston Churchill a war criminal, a stooge of Stalin, and a drug addict. I find that these revisionists very rarely take refuge in understatement. And then we have, quite recently, a gentleman, a novelist called Mr. Nicholson Baker. And Mr. Baker has written a book entitled Human Smoke, in which he has tried to make out Adolf Hitler and Churchill to have been as bad as each other. A truly appalling book, one in which he quite deliberately looks at-- takes quotes so wildly out of context as to be monstrous.
A classic example is when Winston Churchill said in 1920, "I'm strongly in favor of using poisoned gas against uncivilized tribes." Now, when one goes to the tribes-- this is on the northwest frontier of India. When one goes to the Churchill archives in Cambridge, which I've worked in for many years, incredibly well-kept, extremely nice people, very efficient. And they will show you the original documents of this statement, which on the face of it, sounds disgusting, disgraceful, as bad as Zyklon-B being used against the Jews by Hitler.
What he actually said was that he wanted to make the enemy's eyes water by the use of lachrymatory gas, i.e. Tear gas, gases can be used which would cause great inconvenience and spread a lively terror, yet would leave no serious permanent effect on most of those affected. Now, anybody who can't tell the difference between tear gas and Zyklon-B should not be writing history books.
He says-- Mr. Baker-- in the course of the introduction of his book, "I used Wikipedia during the writing of this book"-- listen to this ladies and gentlemen-- "especially to check facts."
When I last looked to Wikipedia to double check the latest reason that I was supposed to have been expelled from school, it was so wildly out that I can assure you, Wikipedia should not be used to check facts. Mr. Baker then goes on to say, quote Churchill as saying, "and in the end, what was Trotsky? He was a Jew. He was still a Jew. Nothing could ever get over that."
So again, you go to the original of this, which was an article in the Sunday Herald in 1922-- 1923, I'm afraid, sorry. And Churchill actually said, quote-- he was talking about Leon Trotsky. "In 1922, he might have been made dictator of Russia but for one fatal obstacle. He was a Jew. He was still a Jew. Nothing could get over that. Such intolerance, such pettiness, such bigotry were indeed hard to bear."
So what Nicholson Baker has done, therefore, is to have quoted that particular sentence that makes it sound as though Winston Churchill, who was pro-Jewish, was actually an anti-Semite. And has not actually quoted the next sentence, even though he must have read it. You can't have stopped your eyes from turning on to the next sentence, which utterly undermines the earlier one. Mr. Baker, whose previous books, by the way, have been about phone sex and masturbation-- and I'm not for a moment denying that he might be a world expert on both those subjects--
--and it doesn't do to separate a man from his hobbies. Sorry, that's sounded cruel. His pastimes. I don't for a moment say that if you actually see something which totally undermines what you have said in print, and you don't let your reader know about it, well, that is completely intellectually dishonest. I'm told this show is being tape recorded, so I'd like to say to Mr. Nicholson Baker, on the assumption, on the hope that you see this on YouTube, you are intellectually dishonest.
You then see a series, of course, of ridiculous things that come up on the internet about Winston Churchill. There was one quite recent one saying that he knew that he himself ordered the Lusitania to be sunk in 1915 in order, again, to get the Americans into the war. It wasn't very effective owing to the fact you didn't come into the war until 1917. But nonetheless, it's another appalling statement to make with absolutely no evidence to back it up.
Another one that there were secret letters between Churchill and Mussolini which have been dropped into Lake Como. They were written in May 1940, and they're somewhere down in the depths of Lake Como. Again, nothing to back this up at all.
And the trouble is that very often these stories play on the general ignorance that we, sadly in the United Kingdom, have about the greatest Englishman who ever lived. Quite recently in a survey of over 3,000 teenage schoolchildren, so people who should have been taught about this, and 3,000 is a big sample for any kind of poll, no fewer than 23% of them thought that Winston Churchill was a fictional character.
And they also thought that Sherlock Holmes and Eleanor Rigby were real people. Now, that's pretty bad in itself, but that goes up. On a general level of ignorance, that goes up to 26% of people who believe that the American War of Independence was won by Denzel Washington. It's a nerve-racking moment for any historian to feel that you're up against this.
We have editors of major newspapers who, because Churchill is dead and therefore can't sue for libel, will bring out headlines. My favorite one of recently was that Churchill was a nonsmoker. Which has absolutely no resemblance to the truth. Quite recently, there was a article saying that he had deliberately enticed his daughter-in-law Pamela Harriman to sleep with Averell Harriman, even though she was married to Randolph Churchill. That's true that she did do that, but the idea that Winston Churchill was attempting to ensure that his own son was cuckolded is an absurdity, ladies and gentleman.
You also see headlines-- there was another one in one of the British Sunday tabloids, Winston Churchill was a flasher. You have the same word, flasher, exactly. Somebody who exposes himself. The reason that they managed to come up with this was that Winston Churchill, when staying in the White House in the August of 1941, got out of the bath when FDR came into the bathroom in order to talk to him about some serious and substantial issue, and took some time before he put his towel around himself. This is enough for a newspaper to condemn him as being a flasher.
Sometimes things that I didn't think were likely about Winston Churchill actually do turn out, on closer investigation by the Churchill archives and by the people in the International Churchill Society, to be true. A headline that I didn't give much credence to the other day, Churchill was a druid, actually turned out to be true. In 1904, he did, in fact, join the-- whatever the society is. I was about to say the Royal Society of Druids. I very much doubt there's a Royal Society of Druids. Nonetheless, the society of druids that exists.
But when you come across books, such as the recent book entitled-- actually, the title should have put everybody-- given a clue to everybody owing to the fact that it was called Operation James Bond. And the argument was that Ian Fleming, the creator of James Bond, had spirited Martin Bormann out of the ashes of Berlin in April 1945. And he'd been given a nice country house in the home counties of England, not far from London, in which to live for the rest of his life.
This is based on the fact that Martin Bormann's body hadn't been found. And the author offered a quarter of a million pounds to anybody who could prove that it wasn't true. But of course, to be able to prove the negative, as it were, is tremendously difficult. Until Martin Bormann's body was found, and was DNA tested and the skeleton was tested with members of the Bormann family and found to be his, in the last place that he had been seen alive, which was a bridge in Berlin in April 1945, at which point the quarter of a million pounds, which I myself actually put in to try to get on the back of it, mysteriously no longer that wager was up for grabs.
But nonetheless, it's another example of what people feel that they can write in books. Margaret Cook, the widow of Robin Cook, a British foreign secretary, wrote a book that said that Winston Churchill was, I quote, "almost homosexual." Another one that says that he was unpopular during the Blitz. This was a book that was written by a man, this year, called Keith Toye, who tried to argue using Mass Observation-- Mass Observation was an organization which was largely self-selecting-- that actually, Winston Churchill was not popular during the Blitz at all.
Now, the fact that the Gallup polls, the only polling that they had in those days, consistently, all the way through the Battle of Britain and the Blitz, had Winston Churchill at between 80% and 90% popularity was not enough for Mr. Toye. And the problem with Mass Observation is that because they were self-selecting, you often get the weirdos and the unusual types and the people who today, when somebody is being interviewed, the Mass Observation guy is the chap who's jumping up and down behind trying to get his face on the camera. Those are not the people, ladies and gentlemen, who one should-- who any serious historian should take as the genuine considered reaction of a people like the British during the Second World War.
There are legitimate issues on which Winston Churchill can be criticized and questioned, and it's perfectly reasonable. And he himself, of course, was the first person to defend himself. The way he escaped from the Boer War prisoner of war camp in Pretoria in 1900 has been accused-- he's been accused of having ruined the chances of the other people who were trying to escape. But the fact was that he had his opportunity, and as a British officer, it was his duty to take it. But one can argue about it.
The Sydney Street siege in 1911, where he exposed himself to danger, looking around the corner of a house where there were Russian anarchists who were firing at the police. This is meant to show how unstable he was. I don't think so for a moment. For me it shows leadership. But nonetheless, there are those who criticize him about it.
The Gallipoli Campaign, the campaign of the Dardanelles in 1915, which led to the deaths of tens of thousands of people. That, of course, is the thing that he resigned over, that brought him down. Some say that he even briefly considered committing suicide over it. Instead, he took up painting, which is a much more sensible way of dealing with the issue.
But that, too, of course, is an area where he can be faulted. He ranted and raved and insisted on overruling the chiefs of staff. But that was something that he did in 1915 and learned his lesson. He never once overruled the chiefs of staff in the Second World War, and because of what had happened at this lowest point in his life.
One can criticize him over Irish partition, over the way in which the Protestants were allowed to keep the six counties in the north of Ireland as part of the United Kingdom, whereas the bottom 26 counties went off to Eire, then the Irish Free State. Again, something that the government of Ireland signed the treaty of and fought a civil war over. So that too is open to debate, perfectly reasonable debate, as is the gold standard.
Did he take Britain onto the gold standard at the right time, at the right level? Very few people think so. His great enthusiasm during the General Strike in 1926 was also something that he's been criticized for a great deal, setting up the British Gazette and hoping to try to smash the strike. It's another legitimate point of discussion, far away from completely absurd things about sinking of the Lusitania or his so-called drug addiction.
We see quite recently, when Winston Churchill has just been announced that he's going to be put on the five pound note in Britain, which is fantastic news, and there was an internal discussion in the Bank of England before the Governor, Lord King, OK'd the change to argue that he was unpopular in the 1920s because of the decisions he made when he was Chancellor of the Exchequer. But in the House of Commons, one of the Labor members of the House of Commons got up and made a series of statements about how he had sent in the troops at the Tonypandy strike in, I think, 1911. And they'd gone in with bayonets and all the rest of it.
Ladies and gentlemen, they actually didn't send troops at all. He sent in policemen. And there were no bayonets at all. They actually went in with rolled up Mackintoshes. That is the difference. A Mackintosh-- do you have the same thing in-- this is a Mackintosh. There we are. What do you call them? Overcoat, little overcoat, raincoat.
They rolled up their raincoats. That was as bad as it got. Didn't even use truncheons. But such is the belief so many years after these-- well, a century indeed, that they become part of the national myth, or at least the Labor Party's myth. But that is what they are, ladies and gentlemen, myths.
It's perfectly reasonable, also, to debate Winston Churchill's stance on the abdication crisis. We saw in that movie-- I don't know how many of you saw it-- The King's Speech, Winston Churchill stalwartly advising King George VI and the Queen Mother against Edward VIII. Such is Hollywood.
In fact, he stalwartly advised Edward VIII, and was on the King's side, the actual King, Edward VIII's side, rather than George VI. One can debate what he should have been doing. He was shouted down in the House of Commons at the time. One of the very few moments in his career when the House of Commons would not listen to him when he was trying to make a speech on this issue.
And so there, too, of course, it's possible to criticize him. Over the whole question of Indian self-governance, which Winston Churchill opposed, that too is a perfectly legitimate reason to criticize him. When Churchill was very poor, which he was for the first 70 years of his life, he was pretty much constantly in the red. One of the reasons was that he spent much more money than he earned. He came out to America in order to try to raise money and give well-paid lectureships, and speakers, and speaker meetings, and things like that.
And in one of the 1930s, at the height of the Indian self-government issue, a lady from the back of-- an American lady from the back of one of his audiences said to him, so Mr. Churchill, what do you intend to do about your Indians? Leastways, Madam, he replied, not what you did with yours.
There was a great debate over Norway. The end of the Norway debate was the thing that brought down Neville Chamberlain in May 1940. But Winston Churchill actually had far more to do with the Norway crisis than did Neville Chamberlain. He was First Lord of the Admiralty at the time.
And so the decisions, the actual strategic and tactical, indeed, decisions taken in Norway were much more to do with him than with the prime minister. One can say the same, of course, once he becomes prime minister on the 10th of May, 1940, about his desire to cover up the Katyn Massacre of Polish, 14,000 Polish officers in the Russian forests of Katyn. Because by that stage, of course, the Soviets were our allies and he didn't want to embarrass them during the Second World War. A terrible thing, in a way, not least because they kept the Katyn coverup going after the Second World War as well. It wasn't until Margaret Thatcher's time that the Foreign Office finally allowed a statue to the victims of Katyn to be put up in London with the correct dates for that massacre.
The fall of Singapore, the lack of air cover for HMS Repulse and the Prince of Wales, which both sunk because they didn't have air cover. The incredibly expensive Russian convoys which went backwards and forwards to try to keep the Russians in the war at Murmansk. Those two have been criticized. And I'm very happy to go into any of these in the question and answer session, put the point of view, not necessarily Churchill's point of view every time, certainly not with things like the gold standard.
But nonetheless, as I say, these are perfectly reasonable things to discuss of his. The whole Italian strategy, the Mediterranean strategy of the Second World War, by which in the Casablanca Conference of January 1943, Churchill, along with General Marshall and Alanbrooke and FDR, came up with the strategy of starting by attacking Sicily in July 1943, and then crossing the Reggio Straits and getting on to the toe of Italy in September of 1943. And then working their way up, painfully up, the Apennines until the fall of Rome on the 5th of June, 1944. A very controversial, and it should be very controversial, because it was such an expensive way of drawing down German forces.
A friend of mine, the very distinguished Professor Sir Michael Howard, who won the military cross at Salerno in that campaign, once interviewed the German General von Senger und Etterlin, who was the commander of Monte Cassino, where the British and American forces were held up for months in 1943 and early 1944. And Senger said to him, you know, the next time you invade Italy, don't start at the bottom.
So that's also another perfectly reasonable thing one can do. Unconditional surrender, as well, the idea that the Germans had to surrender unconditionally was always felt at the time to persuade the Germans to carry on fighting. And therefore, was that a correct decision?
Then there are the classics, like the bombing of Dresden and the non-bombing of Auschwitz. One of the biggest issues of the end of the Second World War, of course, was Yalta. So you have that and more. He was an MP4 nearly 2/3 of a century. He became an MP in 1900, and only left the House of Commons in 1964.
He was at the cutting edge of pretty much all of these great debates, if he wasn't, in fact, the primary deciding figure in them. And so of course, he was going to be involved in some of the great issues of the day and is going to be criticized for them. He crossed the floor of the House of Commons not once, but twice. He later said that anyone can rat, it takes a certain ingenuity to re-rat.
But one of the most coherent criticisms made of him in recent years has been that of the Tory Nationalist School, men like Alan Clark, the late MP Alan Clark, and Maurice Cowling, the professor at Cambridge University, and John Charmly, who's also a history professor. And what they argue is that Britain should have accepted Adolf Hitler's peace offer in 1940, which would have saved the British empire, would have stopped socialism in its tracks domestically, and would have allowed Hitler to have fought against the Soviets. And would have, therefore, meant that this huge crash would have taken place on the Eastern Front, whilst Britain saved its position in Western Europe and saved its position as a great power, which of course, it lost due to the total exhaustion of having fought the Second World war. Some 1/3 of its national wealth was spent on that conflict.
But ladies and gentlemen, when one looks at the actual details of how on earth that would have happened, one realizes that it would have been a disaster for Britain to have made peace with Hitler in 1940. The first reason, of course, is that we wouldn't have been able to have given any help to the Russians. As it was, of course, after the United States came into the war, they were able-- you were able to give 7,000 tanks, 5,000 aircraft, 51 million pairs of boots.
We were also helping up in the [INAUDIBLE] convoys, and of course, with a combined bomber offensive, some 70% of the Luftwaffe had to be kept in the West in order to fight off the RAF and the USAAF bombing German cities. Now, that would not have happened had Britain made peace with Hitler in 1940. The United States, apart from anything else, would not have had an unsinkable aircraft carrier from which to have attacked the Germans.
And one of the two totalitarian powers, either the Nazis or the Soviets, would have, by about 1946, '47, been in complete control of the European continent from Brest on the Atlantic coast, all the way through to the Urals. That would have been an absolute disaster for any hope of democracy. And indeed, of British survival.
Hitler ripped up every treaty that he ever signed. In fact, on his 50th birthday, Joachim Von Ribbentrop, the foreign minister of Germany, gave him a little silver casket in which there was a copy of all of the treaties that had been signed by the Nazis since they came to power in January 1933. And the two men roared with laughter when they realized that they had, in fact, broken every single one of them. So the idea that they would have kept any agreement that they made with the United Kingdom is an absurdity.
Since the Spanish Armada, since the 1580s, a desiderata of British foreign policy has always been to look to the balance of power to ensure that no one nation takes control of the channel ports, but also, is too powerful in Europe. And it would have been disastrous if Adolph Hitler, or indeed Stalin, had been that man, and we'd turned our back on our ancient policy.
We wouldn't have got any lend-lease from you. The fact that the British Isles were holding out was the only reason that the Roosevelt Administration was so generous with the amount of lend-lease materials and huge amounts of not only food, of course, and oil, but ammunition and everything else that was necessary for the United Kingdom to carry on. None of that would have come to us. And it would have been utterly demoralizing as well for the British people to have signed some ignoble peace with Hitler, especially after he had devastated the rest of Europe in the way that he did.
And of course, it would have meant the complete annihilation of the Jews in Europe as well. I mean, that was happening, but imagine if there had been no D-day, if there had been no forces coming from the West to liberate camps like Belsen and others. So I think it's worthwhile to go back, therefore, to Winston Churchill's great speech, to the peroration indeed, of Winston Churchill's great speech at the Westminster Abbey funeral of his predecessor, both as prime minister and as leader of the Conservative Party, Neville Chamberlain.
And to say what he said in the final paragraph, which is, "what is the worth of all this? The only guide to a man is his conscience. The only shield to his memory is the rectitude and sincerity of his actions. It is very imprudent to walk through life without this shield, because we are so often mocked by the failure of our hopes and the upsetting of our calculations. But with this shield, however the fates may play, we always march in the ranks of honor." Ladies and gentlemen, Winston Churchill marches there still. Thank you very much.
AUDIENCE: Most interesting. And thank you for that presentation. I wonder if you could respond to a different kind of skepticism that I don't believe you addressed. I came in a few minutes late, so I apologize if you did go to this. And I guess it's a skepticism on the question of his greatness, which is that for all his extraordinary eloquence-- you gave us a piece of that just now-- for his charisma, the importance of both to Britain and the war.
We're nevertheless talking about an Anglo-American force in Europe that was very much in support of that position. So that in 1943, for example, I think you've got about two million Russians who die fighting the Germans in '43, versus about 70,000 Western, Anglo-American forces, including [INAUDIBLE]. Even after D-day, I think 9 in 10 Germans died fighting on the Eastern Front, as opposed to fighting the British and the Americans and Canadians and others.
ANDREW ROBERTS: 8 in 10.
AUDIENCE: So could you comment a little bit, I guess, more-- I guess I'm wanting a little bit more about why-- talk a bit more about his greatness and his importance.
ANDREW ROBERTS: Well, you're absolutely right. It's eight-- the statistic-- for me, the most important statistic of the Second World War is that for every five Germans killed on the battlefield-- by which I don't mean bombed from the air, I mean German soldiers killed on the battlefield-- four die on the Eastern Front. So what Churchill and Roosevelt and Brooke and Marshall and the rest are doing is to kill the fifth German.
And I don't for a moment deny that that-- the Russians lost 27 million, whereas the British Empire lost about 3/4 of a million. There's no doubt that is how the Germans were blunted. The battle in July 1944, Operation Bagration, the Germans lose 510,000 killed and wounded, far more than anything that's going on in the West. But what the British have done is to ensure that, as I said earlier, 70% of the Luftwaffe has to stay in the West.
Had he had the entirety of the Luftwaffe to throw against places like Leningrad and Stalingrad and Moscow, one has to remember that, well, Leningrad was subjected to a grueling 872 day siege in which 1.1 million civilians and soldiers died. Further to the south, Moscow, Stalin actually had his own personal train made ready on the 18th of October, 1941, to take him beyond the Urals and back away. He went down to the station to decide whether to get on the train. Imagine the demoralization if that had happened.
Further on south, of course, you have Stalingrad, where the Germans actually captured the city twice in the course of the fighting there, and then lost a quarter of a million men. Now, if the Germans had had the entirety of the Luftwaffe rather than 30% of it, any one of those three places could have-- battles could have gone the other way. Not Kursk. I think by the time-- but by the time of July 1943, it was pretty much settled.
But keeping Britain in the war, which is what Winston Churchill is-- the basis, the kernel of his greatness is that-- the primary thing, apart from drawing down German forces through the Mediterranean, apart from the victory in the Battle of the Atlantic, which did allow for the Americans then to make up 2/3 of the forces unleashed on D-day, but primarily, it is staying in the war and battering the Germans cities from July 1943 onwards. Sir.
AUDIENCE: You mentioned the drug addiction. I never heard of that, but a couple different Brits told me anecdotal evidence [INAUDIBLE] after the war, but he talked about his parents. He said his parents, lowest point of the war was after that battleship was sunk by the German submarine that snuck into the port [INAUDIBLE].
ANDREW ROBERTS: HMS Conquerer, or Royal Oak. Royal Oak?
AUDIENCE: Churchill go on the radio to announce it, and his state of sobriety was not reassuring. [INAUDIBLE]. Another person [INAUDIBLE] heard he was hit by a car when he was in the Bermudas. This gal said, of course, he was always not in a good state to avoid being hit by cars. That's what I've heard.
ANDREW ROBERTS: OK.
AUDIENCE: Maybe that's why Americans like him better than [INAUDIBLE].
ANDREW ROBERTS: He was hit by a car on Fifth Avenue, in fact, but he was going to dinner rather than coming back from dinner. And it was his doctor, however, who did give him-- and this was during Prohibition-- give him a prescription saying that he had to have eight ounces of alcohol every day as part of his sort of get better campaign.
No, Winston Churchill was-- we know pretty how much he drank from the cellar book at Chequers. And it's quite true that he could have drunk anybody in this room under the table. However, he didn't make decisions when he was drunk. The meetings that he had with the chiefs of staff, which would sometimes go until 3:00 o'clock in the morning, on only one occasion in the entire six year of the Second World War do the chiefs of staff actually say, we're going to take this again tomorrow morning because the Prime Minister was drunk.
Which is an astonishing thing, really, considering that he does have this massive reputation. He once-- his great line, of course, was that I've taken more out of alcohol than alcohol has taken out of me. And it was something that the Nazis made a lot of. Goebbels made him out to be a hopeless alcoholic. But in fact, when one looks at the people who were around him and the papers and letters and diaries and commentaries of all of his closest advisers and wife and everybody, they say that, yes, Winston Churchill drank during the Second World War, but he was not drunk, because apart from anything else, he had this incredible constitution, which was capable, as I say, of protecting him from sort of the grosser kind of drunkenness.
I've written a big article about this. If you give me your email address afterwards, I'd love to send it to you. It's got lots of good Churchill gags about drinking. Yeah.
AUDIENCE: So he was Prime Minister until what, 1955?
ANDREW ROBERTS: Well, with a gap. I mean, he was Prime Minister from May '40 to the July of 1945, and then started again in October 1951 and carried on till April 1955.
AUDIENCE: I was wondering if you could speak about his reputation as a prime minister in times of peace as opposed to times of war.
ANDREW ROBERTS: He wasn't very good. The Indian Summer premiership of Winston Churchill's, the '51 to '55 one, was not least characterized by, in the June of 1953, he had a stroke, which was kept from the British people by the press lords who were all friends of his. Can you imagine trying to do that today?
And he was also very much concerned with foreign affairs, never really looked at the domestic problems that were facing Britain at the time-- wage inflation and the rest, big strikes that constantly were happening. Because his great dream was to try to bring the Russians and Americans together in a final settlement of capitalism and communism. It was the summitry which he dreamt about so much and which he tried to get Eisenhower and Bulganin and all these people together. It simply was rather sad. It was, in a way, he was incapable of appreciating the British fall from great power status. Yeah.
AUDIENCE: What would the historians that are critical and making up these stories, what did they have at stake for presenting these theories?
ANDREW ROBERTS: Well, one of them, the chap who said that Martin Bormann died in the home counties was given an enormous advance for his book, tens of thousands of pounds. We also, quite recently, had a really worrying for historians, really worrying moment, where somebody had actually, 10 years beforehand, before he had signed the contract for his book, had gone into the National Archives in Britain and inserted forged documents which he then discovered 10 years later and wrote a book there about how Winston Churchill had helped Heinrich Himmler commit suicide.
So yeah, I mean there is a financial element to it. Sometimes there's an ideological element, as I mentioned, from the right and the left. And sometimes it's just a case of ill temper, showing off. Any number of things that might explain it. Thank you.
By the way, may I thank quite so many of my students for coming here today. They've already listened to an hour and a bit of me talking about Winston Churchill. And for them to come and be gluttons for punishment again the same afternoon is very pleasing. Thank you very much. Yeah.
AUDIENCE: To what extent do you think attacks on Churchill, maybe especially from the left, are really just attacks on what he, in some ways, represented, which was empire, Colonial rule, which in a post-Colonial world is difficult for us to look at?
ANDREW ROBERTS: Yes, that's exactly it, yeah. I mean, he personified the British Empire. He never apologized for it. In 1942, November 1942, he said to the Mansion House that "I did not become the King's First Minister to preside over the liquidation of the British Empire." And so, of course, that's the drive, I guess. Plus, of course, he did have a long history of being tough on socialism and socialists. So they're getting their own back. Madam.
AUDIENCE: His correspondence with his wife Clemmie, and his family members, particularly his children and his friends, show an extraordinary compassion and tenderness, and real grasp for the human condition. I was wondering if you could speak a little bit about that, perhaps his side of [INAUDIBLE].
ANDREW ROBERTS: Yes, yes. He was a very loving husband, faithful, one woman he loved all his life. And that's fantastic and moving. And three of the children, on the other hand, not the lovely Mary Soames, Lady Soames, who is the last one to be with us today, but three of those children did find it immensely difficult to have somebody like Winston Churchill as a father.
They did drink too much. The gentleman who was talking earlier about alcoholism. I'm afraid three of his four children were alcoholics. And two of them came to early deaths because of it. It was-- but yes, he was a loving father, but it just must have been tremendously difficult to have had a man like that as one's father.
However, one has to remember that he himself, of course, had Lord Randolph Churchill, perhaps one of the most successful British politicians of the Victorian era, as his father. And so he was able to deal with it. Madam.
AUDIENCE: What do you think would have happened if Halifax had accepted a prime ministership and been presiding over a [INAUDIBLE] during that time period? Do you think he would have followed a similar path to Churchill, or would it have been a completely different scenario?
ANDREW ROBERTS: That's a very good question. And the question was about Lord Halifax, the foreign secretary at the time, whose biography I wrote 25 years ago. And I think I've met every single person who read that book.
Yes, we could all fit into a taxi, in fact. But it was a great, fortunate thing that, of course, Halifax didn't want the job, complained the whole idea gave him a stomach ache. Went to the dentist on the key moment when they were looking for him to see whether or not he wanted to be prime minister.
And he realized that Winston Churchill had the necessary charisma that he himself didn't have. He was an Anglo-Catholic, foxhunting, aristocrat who couldn't articulate the great needs of the British people in the crisis of the summer of 1940. What would have happened had he become prime minister? He'd have had the same problem as Neville Chamberlain had with Winston Churchill as the First Lord of the Admiralty. So pretty much every time he opened his mouth in Cabinet, he'd have Winston Churchill saying that Winston Churchill knew best.
There is new evidence-- fascinatingly, there is new evidence now about the key meeting at which Winston Churchill effectively emerged and took the premiership from Halifax, because the papers have been published of Joe Chamberlain-- sorry, I'm so sorry-- Joe Kennedy, who met Neville Chamberlain just after he had fallen and went to visit him. And said that all of this thing that Winston Churchill says about them having a long silence, two minute silence, before Halifax said, no, you better have the job. That's all rubbish according to Joe Kennedy's statements of what Chamberlain said. Winston Churchill very much said, I'm the best man for the job and I should have it. And I must say, that fits in an awful lot better with what we know about Winston Churchill. Sir.
AUDIENCE: Two things that I've heard to be controversial around him are his opinions and relations with Islam and his opinions and relations with Gandhi. I was wondering if you could [INAUDIBLE]
ANDREW ROBERTS: Yes. Well, in both cases he, of course, fought against the Taliban up in the Northwest Frontier of India when Britain was the dominant power up there, with Afghanistan and present day Pakistan. And he said there was nothing more exhilarating than having a bullet whistle past your ear to no effect. And that bullet would have been fired by a Muslim tribesman. And he also, of course, charged the Muslim tribesmen in the last cavalry charge of the British Empire at the Battle of Omdurman in 1898.
He said that the Wahhabis were the toughest fighters in the world and that they were the most difficult to quell. And that the thing that drove them was their fanatical religion. I don't think that's terribly controversial. Actually, I think that is very much what pretty much everybody thought in the wars of the Mahdi and the Khalifa.
And with regard to Gandhi, yeah, he thought Gandhi was a terrible old fraud. And I know we're all supposed to think that he's only just this side of Jesus Christ today, but there are an awful lot of things that Gandhi did with regard to the politics of the British Empire that, of course, were not going to appeal to Winston Churchill, who said that he found it nauseating that a fakir of a type well-known in the East should stride up the steps of the Vice Regal Lodge to parley on equal terms with the Viceroy of India.
And that was why he resigned from the Shadow Cabinet in 1931. The reason that Winston Churchill spent the 1930s in the wilderness was because he had deliberately left the conservative Shadow Cabinet over the issue of India. He believed that the greatest thing that the British people have ever done was to have the Indian Empire. And he thought that it was an appalling betrayal to get rid of it without a shot fired.
So ladies and gentlemen, we have one more chance, one more-- lady at the back.
AUDIENCE: Can you talk more about his approach to putting Britain back on the gold standard?
ANDREW ROBERTS: No, I can't. I'm so sorry. There is an area of complete ignorance that I am the first to admit to. And high economics of the 1920s is that place. Will you forgive me? Anybody else? Madam.
AUDIENCE: Can you say something about Churchill's sort of waking up to the dangers of Nazi-ism earlier than most other people from his background, and his personal relations with the [INAUDIBLE] Jews, and how different or similar it was to other people from his background [INAUDIBLE].
ANDREW ROBERTS: Yes, that's a very good question. Churchill was a philo-Semite. This is very unusual amongst the British upper classes in the 1930s. His father liked and got on well with Jews. And it was considered to be an eccentricity, an aristocratic eccentricity of Lord Randolph's. But it was something that meant a lot to Winston Churchill, because he believed that the Jews gave the system of ethics that was the finest on the globe. His remarks about Judaism and their morality are very moving, in fact, and powerful.
And he also supported the creation of the State of Israel when he was in opposition. And he wanted the Jews to be able to form their own brigade in the Second World War. And he was, in that sense-- and he also opposed the 1939 white paper. So in that sense, he was far and away the most philo-Semitic British politician, even including Arthur Balfour of the Balfour Declaration and others.
And this put him at odds with a lot of people in his party. But then, frankly, he was at odds with a lot of them anyhow. The fact of Hitler's anti-Semitism, which he actually wanted to face Hitler and discuss in 1934 when he visited Munich and missed Hitler on two occasions, even though he went for coffee in the same hotel that Hitler was staying in, Hitler later said to Putzi Hanfstaengl, who was his press officer, well, he said, yeah, it might have been interesting to have met that fellow Churchill, but he's such an old has been, we're never going to hear about him again.
But it was not primarily Hitler's anti-Semitism that alerted Churchill to the dangers posed by Hitler so much as the ripping up of the Versailles Treaty, the recreation of the German Navy, the building of the Luftwaffe. These things of which he was being kept informed by whistleblowers, effectively we call them today, in the Foreign Office and the War Ministry. And these people were-- and the Intelligence Services-- were warning Churchill. Churchill was warning the nation.
He was the first person to do it, and virtually the only person to do it as well. He was accused of being a war monger throughout the 1930s. And it wasn't until the 3rd of September, 1939, the day that the war broke out, that finally, finally, the national government appreciated that he had been right all along and that, therefore, he had to be brought back in the same job he had a quarter of a century earlier, First Lord of the Admiralty.
Ladies and gentlemen, thank you very much indeed.
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Winston Churchill's reputation as a brilliant statesman might seem rock solid, but it's under assault from the left, the right and from so-called revisionists.
British historian, biographer and journalist Andrew Roberts spoke in defense of Churchill's legacy Nov. 7, 2013 in his Merrill Family Colloquium lecture. Roberts is the Department of History's inaugural Merrill Family Visiting Professor.