“Churchill and his Military Commanders”

“Churchill and his Military Commanders”

Part I: “War States­man­ship,” in “Churchill and his Mil­i­tary Com­man­ders,” by Eliot A. Cohen. Read in full on the Hills­dale Col­lege Churchill Project.

Churchill and his military commanders.“The gen­er­als had in mind a con­cept of civ­il-mil­i­tary rela­tions to which many still, amaz­ing­ly, pay lip ser­vice: a world in which civil­ians pro­vide resources, set goals, and step out of the way to let pro­fes­sion­als do their work. War states­man­ship, in Churchill’s view, focused at the apex of gov­ern­ment an array of con­sid­er­a­tions and cal­cu­la­tions that even those one rung down could not ful­ly fathom.” 

Eliot A. Cohen is pro­fes­sor of strate­gic stud­ies at Johns Hop­kins School of Advanced Inter­na­tion­al Stud­ies, and has served as Coun­selor of the Depart­ment of State. He is the author of the prize-win­ning book Supreme Com­mand: Sol­diers, States­men, and Lead­er­ship in Wartime (2002).

Excerpt: The Military Critics

Sir Geof­frey Elton wrote: ‘There are times when I incline to judge all his­to­ri­ans by their opin­ion of Win­ston Churchill: whether they can see that, no mat­ter how much bet­ter the details, often dam­ag­ing, of man and career become known, he still remains, quite sim­ply, a great man.’

“Judged by Elton’s stan­dards, many con­tem­po­rary his­to­ri­ans fail. For the last sev­er­al decades, Churchill’s war lead­er­ship has come under increas­ing­ly severe attack, par­tic­u­lar­ly in cer­tain sav­age and per­verse biographies.

“The spate of crit­i­cism rep­re­sents mere­ly one of sev­er­al waves of post­war attacks on Churchill as war­lord. The first surge of crit­i­cism came pri­mar­i­ly from mil­i­tary authors, in par­tic­u­lar Churchill’s own chair­man of the Chiefs of Staff, and Chief of the Impe­r­i­al Gen­er­al Staff, Alan Brooke.

“In his first pub­lished work, Brooke with­held some of the more point­ed crit­i­cisms of the Prime Min­is­ter, which he often wrote after late-night argu­ments with Churchill. If any­thing, his anger grew as the war went on. Oth­ers expressed them­selves in lan­guage more tem­per­ate, but had, one sus­pects, no less severe opinions.

Nor­man Brook, sec­re­tary of the Cab­i­net under Churchill, wrote to Hast­ings Ismay, the for­mer sec­re­tary to the Chiefs of Staff, a reveal­ing obser­va­tion: ‘Churchill has said to me, in pri­vate con­ver­sa­tion, that this increased civil­ian author­i­ty was part­ly due to the extent to which the Gen­er­als had been dis­cred­it­ed in the First War—which meant that, in the Sec­ond War, their suc­ces­sors could not pre­tend to be pro­fes­sion­al­ly infallible.’”

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