Michael Lind: Neocons Should Hesitate Before Embracing Winston Churchill

Roundup: Talking About History

Michael Lind, in the Spectator (April 24, 2004):

Soon after the installation by the Republican-majority Supreme Court of George the Second of the House of Bush, the American people learned that they had a new Founding Father: Winston Churchill. President George W. Bush let it be known that he had placed a bust of the British statesman in the White House Oval Office he had inherited from his dad. After the attack on the World Trade Center, the President’s speeches became self-consciously Churchillian. Earlier this year, marking the opening of a Churchill exhibition at the Library of Congress, Bush observed that Churchill was not just ‘the rallying voice of the second world war’ but also ‘a prophet of the Cold War’.

Like his grand strategy, with its combination of unilateral American world domination with nearly indiscriminate support for Israel’s Ariel Sharon, the cult of Churchill has been adopted by Bush from American neoconservatives. Churchill looms far larger in the mythology of neoconservatives than in the minds of mainstream Americans, who think of him as the brave and witty ally of President Franklin Roosevelt in the war against Hitler.

The Weekly Standard, the neoconservative magazine funded by Rupert Murdoch and edited by William Kristol, has become the centre of the neocon Churchill cult. A Nexus search of the Weekly Standard of the past five years alone reveals 122 articles that mention Churchill. Typical is an essay of 4 March 1999 entitled ‘How Winston Churchill Can Save Us — Again’ by one Larry Arn, a frequent contributor who is an academic adviser to something called the International Churchill Society.

On 10 January 2000, the Weekly Standard declared that Winston Churchill was ‘Man of the Century’. This view is the consensus among the neocons. Charles Krauthammer, the Canadian émigré pundit, has written, ‘After having single-handedly saved Western civilisation from Nazi barbarism — Churchill was, of course, not sufficient in bringing victory, but he was uniquely necessary — he then immediately rose to warn prophetically against its sister barbarism, Soviet communism.’ Krauthammer’s fellow Canadian émigré, David Frum, denounced Bill Clinton for declaring that Franklin Roosevelt was the ‘Man of the Century’. According to Frum, who was still a subject of Her Majesty when he was hired as a speechwriter by George W. Bush’s White House, ‘FDR has to be found wanting. Of the three great killers of this century, one (Mao) was aided by Communist sympathisers within the Roosevelt administration ...Another (Stalin) benefited from Roosevelt’s almost wilful naiveté about the Soviet Union ...Roosevelt’s record even on the third killer, Hitler, is spotty. Roosevelt recognised Hitler’s danger early, but he hesitated to jeopardise his hopes for an unprecedented third term by riling isolationist opinion...’. Reading Krauthammer and Frum, you have to wonder whether Winston Churchill might not have ‘single-handedly’ won the second world war and saved civilisation even sooner, if he had not been handicapped by his alliance with the United States.

Only a Canadian like Frum could claim that FDR was an appeaser, compared with Churchill. It was Churchill who, in 1937, wrote in his book Great Contemporaries, ‘One may dislike Hitler’s system and yet admire his patriotic achievement. If our country were defeated, I hope we should find a champion as indomitable to restore our courage and lead us back to our place among the nations.’ Churchill’s posthumous reputation as an uncompromising anti-Soviet hardliner is another neocon myth. True, Churchill’s ‘Iron Curtain’ speech of 1946 was seen as too strident by the Truman administration and much of the American public. But during the war it was Churchill, not FDR, who haggled with Stalin over ‘percentages’ of postwar influence in Eastern Europe and the Balkans. And in the mid-Fifties Churchill thought that Eisenhower was too hard on the Soviets and kept pushing the naive idea that a big-power summit could end the Cold War. The neocons never quote Churchill’s statement of 1954, ‘To jaw-jaw is always better than to war-war.’ The neocon goal of promoting democracy worldwide was shared by FDR and Woodrow Wilson, but not by the Tory Prime Minister who called Gandhi a ‘fakir’ and announced that he would not preside over the dissolution of the British Empire....

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