The War Lesson Still Unlearned

Much of the history of the 20th century is the history of the inexplicable propensity of civilized people to deny the existence of evil which time and again threatens to destroy them. Unfortunately, inhabitants of the 21st century are on the brink of needlessly suffering the pain that the failure to deal with the world as it is always inflicts.

British historian Geoffrey Best's
book  Churchill: A Study in Greatness proves the truism that the more things change, the more they remain the same, when read against the backdrop of the cacophony of squeamishness, defeatism, and opportunism about the War in Iraq emanating from Washington and Big Media these days.

Winston Churchill has been called the greatest Englishman of the 20th century. Americans of a certain age remember him as the heroic leader whom biographer A. J. P. Taylor dubbed the "saviour of his country" through the total war years of 1940-1945.

But Churchill began to make his mark on 20th century warfare decades earlier. Best writes that the
"boy's fascination ( with war ) developed through the young soldier's experience into the thinking adult's recognition of the truth -- that, to quote Churchill, ‘(T)he story of the human race is War.'"
Military ventures in Cuba, India, the Sudan and South Africa as a young man transformed fascination into experience. By 1911, he was England's First Lord of the Admiralty. By 1914, he had molded the obsolete, blimpish Royal Navy into a modern fighting force ready for the war with Germany that only he and a few others dared predict.  
   
In May 1940, when at the age of 66 he became Prime Minister of England on the first day of Hitler's Blitzkrieg into France and the Netherlands, he was versed in the art of war and its statecraft. "All my past life has been but preparation for this hour and this trial."

Unlike many of his generation and ours, few of whom are experienced in the ends and means and methods of war, including most of our elected representatives in Washington, he was equipped for "the many disappointments and surprises of which war largely consists." The lessons of history can mitigate much suffering, but generations that follow must first respect the past before they can learn from it. Unfortunately, even 9/11 is fast fading from our historical memory.

The war years 1940-1945 have many lessons to teach. In the early days of the war British and Allied warships were often a move behind the Germans because of unexpected failures of reliable Intelligence. For example, in the spring of 1940, England's on-again, off-again plans for aggressive action against Germany in northern Europe were thwarted by Germany's surprise invasion of Norway and Denmark. 

Best writes that a
"variety of intimations had in fact been coming in from one source or another, to the effect that some serious operation was afoot. The trouble was that the messages had not been collated and digested by a body competent to convey reliable Intelligence to one single decision-making authority."
Sadly, similar "intimations" went unheeded at Pearl Harbor in December 1941. Tragically, sixty years later "intimations" were ignored prior to 9/11. Worse, sixty-six years later there are those in Washington who would silence them entirely.

Most great leaders are great communicators. Churchill was both. Even before May 1940, his public speeches and wireless broadcasts had made him very well known in England while fulfilling an immensely important function. Amazingly, no other public figure had come forward with a convincing explanation as to why the war was being fought. He alone understood what unimaginable change in mentality and habits had to be made by a "peaceful democracy suddenly made to fight for it's life."

Churchill's challenge was to overcome, not defeatism, but the "puzzlement, boredom and slackness" of the "first generation in European history which had been brought up to expect that there would not be another war." America today is desperately in need of a clarion call that will rouse us from our lethargy and remind us, clearly and definitively, that we too are in a fight for our lives.  

There are other lessons to be gleaned from those years: the cost of military un-preparedness; the fantasy that evil can be appeased; the romantic notion that enslaved people will rise up against their oppressors are but a few. Churchill's unifying gesture in making his predecessor the discredited Neville Chamberlain a member of his War Cabinet, a man for whom he nonetheless felt much sympathy, is an example many of today's politicians might follow.

Perhaps the overriding lesson is this: those who can't remember the past are condemned to repeat it.
Much of the history of the 20th century is the history of the inexplicable propensity of civilized people to deny the existence of evil which time and again threatens to destroy them. Unfortunately, inhabitants of the 21st century are on the brink of needlessly suffering the pain that the failure to deal with the world as it is always inflicts.

British historian Geoffrey Best's
book  Churchill: A Study in Greatness proves the truism that the more things change, the more they remain the same, when read against the backdrop of the cacophony of squeamishness, defeatism, and opportunism about the War in Iraq emanating from Washington and Big Media these days.

Winston Churchill has been called the greatest Englishman of the 20th century. Americans of a certain age remember him as the heroic leader whom biographer A. J. P. Taylor dubbed the "saviour of his country" through the total war years of 1940-1945.

But Churchill began to make his mark on 20th century warfare decades earlier. Best writes that the
"boy's fascination ( with war ) developed through the young soldier's experience into the thinking adult's recognition of the truth -- that, to quote Churchill, ‘(T)he story of the human race is War.'"
Military ventures in Cuba, India, the Sudan and South Africa as a young man transformed fascination into experience. By 1911, he was England's First Lord of the Admiralty. By 1914, he had molded the obsolete, blimpish Royal Navy into a modern fighting force ready for the war with Germany that only he and a few others dared predict.  
   
In May 1940, when at the age of 66 he became Prime Minister of England on the first day of Hitler's Blitzkrieg into France and the Netherlands, he was versed in the art of war and its statecraft. "All my past life has been but preparation for this hour and this trial."

Unlike many of his generation and ours, few of whom are experienced in the ends and means and methods of war, including most of our elected representatives in Washington, he was equipped for "the many disappointments and surprises of which war largely consists." The lessons of history can mitigate much suffering, but generations that follow must first respect the past before they can learn from it. Unfortunately, even 9/11 is fast fading from our historical memory.

The war years 1940-1945 have many lessons to teach. In the early days of the war British and Allied warships were often a move behind the Germans because of unexpected failures of reliable Intelligence. For example, in the spring of 1940, England's on-again, off-again plans for aggressive action against Germany in northern Europe were thwarted by Germany's surprise invasion of Norway and Denmark. 

Best writes that a
"variety of intimations had in fact been coming in from one source or another, to the effect that some serious operation was afoot. The trouble was that the messages had not been collated and digested by a body competent to convey reliable Intelligence to one single decision-making authority."
Sadly, similar "intimations" went unheeded at Pearl Harbor in December 1941. Tragically, sixty years later "intimations" were ignored prior to 9/11. Worse, sixty-six years later there are those in Washington who would silence them entirely.

Most great leaders are great communicators. Churchill was both. Even before May 1940, his public speeches and wireless broadcasts had made him very well known in England while fulfilling an immensely important function. Amazingly, no other public figure had come forward with a convincing explanation as to why the war was being fought. He alone understood what unimaginable change in mentality and habits had to be made by a "peaceful democracy suddenly made to fight for it's life."

Churchill's challenge was to overcome, not defeatism, but the "puzzlement, boredom and slackness" of the "first generation in European history which had been brought up to expect that there would not be another war." America today is desperately in need of a clarion call that will rouse us from our lethargy and remind us, clearly and definitively, that we too are in a fight for our lives.  

There are other lessons to be gleaned from those years: the cost of military un-preparedness; the fantasy that evil can be appeased; the romantic notion that enslaved people will rise up against their oppressors are but a few. Churchill's unifying gesture in making his predecessor the discredited Neville Chamberlain a member of his War Cabinet, a man for whom he nonetheless felt much sympathy, is an example many of today's politicians might follow.

Perhaps the overriding lesson is this: those who can't remember the past are condemned to repeat it.