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Monday, 17th December 2007

eroes are probably a dying breed. It might be there are just not enough things to be heroic about any longer. A lot of our environment has been conquered, even going to the moon became routine in the end and space travel does not get a mention unless it goes wrong. Every so often a person does a single act for which he is dubbed a hero but rarely will this status last longer than a week but for a close circle of friends. Maybe the day of the hero is over but it does not mean they did not exist and it is not to say that heroes did not have a positive effect on those that considered them as such. The modern age with the constant stream of information could well be part of the reason for the decline of the hero, afterall, nobody can survive in the glare of the media for long without shrivelling under the intensity.

Winston Churchill is possibly the greatest British hero of the 20th century.

Churchill was not impressed and made his views well known.

It could have been very different. Churchill was a political throwback who refused to accept the decline of the British Empire, his views were outmoded even in the early 1930's. This meant he spent most of the 1930's on the backbenches being rather ineffective. In 1931 he stormed out of the shadow cabinet over the issue of India seeking independence. He was quite happy to swap political allegiance between the Liberal party and the Conservative party, generally he was isolated and distrusted..

He had a certain amount of fame but if he had died before his 65th birthday he would not have been one of the greatest statesmen of our time.

He was more British than the Union Jack, he saw the British people as natural leaders of the world and a nation of heroes. It was his belief more than anything else which dragged Britain into the Second World War.

It might not be a very popular thing to say but a lot of the British were fairly content to leave Hitler to fight his war in Europe. We had been promised a peace with Germany. Hitler wanted Europe and we could keep our Empire. Hitler even claimed to rather like the British and there is a reasonable amount of evidence that he did, although there was a tendency for his mind to change when required.

Godfrey Phillips, Personalities of Today [1932]
G.Phillips Personalities of Today
Rt Hon Winston Churchill, M.P
Eldest son of the late Lord Randolph Churchill was born in 1874, and has a distinguished record as a soldier, journalist, statesman and author. He saw much military service in Indian, the Soudan and South Africa, acting as war correspondent for the Morning Post in the South Africa campaign. He has filled many Cabinet posts including that of Chancellor of the Exchequer, 1924-29. His best-known books are his life of his father, and a monumental work on the Great War.
This set was produced in 1932, before his finest hour. An interesting set the artwork has something of a nightmarish quality to it. For me anyway as I was always slightly frightened of those childrens puppet shows with the angular puppets which had more to do with Frankenstien's monster than real people (hopefully) Well I was small at the time. They seem to have been pretty 'aggressive' with Winston Churchill though. Mind you he did used to draw moustaches on great works of art that used to hang in Downing Street by all accounts so perhaps it is 'artistic' revenge we are looking at here.

It was popular stuff, appeasement was in the air. When Chamberlain landed on British soil with his famous bit of paper, claiming 'Peace in our time' he was not considered the fool we think of him today, everyone was thrilled. The war was in Europe and there was more than a little isolationist sentiment and rather more distastefully fascist sympathy. The First World War had been horrific and the country was not prepared to go to war once more with someone that seemed ready to keep the peace.

Churchill was not impressed and made his views well known. For this he was attacked in the British press as a warmonger and within the Houses of Parliament considered something of a drunken adventurer.

Most people did not know how unprepared we actually were at the time. Churchill planned total war, it was going to strip the country of every resource and he was prepared to do it.

Britain eventually backed itself into a situation where war was necessary, almost to save face. We had rattled our chains enough and been pushed back again and again by Hitler's advance. Churchill got into the Government as First Lord of the Admiralty. It would not have been good not to give one of the few men that said war was necessary not to have a job when war did break out.

In May 1940 Churchill became Prime Minister.

Churchill saw himself as an elected dictator and had one mission, too smash Hitler.

He shuffled the cabinet to reduce the number of people who failed to want the War. The British public did not really want the war and it was going to be difficult to persuade them if half the cabinet was wanting peace.

Churchill's finest hour was the radio broadcasts, a country that did not want to fight suddenly saw itself as the protector of civilisation, it was our duty to fight and it was our mission to win.

Looking back we know what happened but nobody could have foreseen what was going to happen then. 1940-41 was Churchill's greatest achievement. Hitler was winning the war, he was in control of Europe, if he had gone for Britain then it would probably be a very different world we would be living in now.

Instead Hitler broke the Nazi-Soviet pact, something which would lead to his defeat as Russia by sheer weight of number, and with the spirit of people fighting for their own freedom, ground the mighty German army into the icy wastes.

The Japanese decided a surprise attack on an isolationist USA was the best way to fight a war. Dragging the US into the war ensured the UK had all the allies it could ever need and slowly the tide would turn for the allies.

It could have been so different. If Churchill had not, through sheer strength of will, kept us in the War Russia would have been left to stand alone against a superior Germany army.

Churchill was no great strategist, he left the large parts of the Empire to fend for themselves with no real idea of how to save them. He was to allow the bombing of Dresden in 1945 when the war was all but over, it had no military impact but it is a blot in our history as a result of all the civilian casualties incurred.

His post war record is worse. He lost the 1945 election, although with the campaign he ran it was more like handing it over on a plate.

As a Leader of the Opposition he was almost never available and was ineffective.

In 1951 the Conservatives were returned to power and the Government was a fiasco. A severe stroke reduced his capacity to govern but he dragged on regardless.

A strong case can be made that the years 1951-1955 were wasted at a time when Britain needed to reposition itself in a post-Empire world instead of having a leader who refused the idea of giving up an Empire which had become to expensive to administer and rather repugnant to many countries who wanted independence. The result was a somewhat hasty and disorganised collapse of the British Empire and a good many years of unpleasantness afterwards.

Churchill, a hero?

He was flawed. Not the superhero we like to think of him as. He did not rescue a heroic country from spineless government. Few wanted a war. He was considered a warmonger, he was disliked, distrusted. But it was his single-minded determination that dragged us into a war most did not want and realistically were going to lose. He saved us despite ourselves and was right to do so and, being on the winning side, means Britain can call him a hero.