“Churchill: The End of Glory” by John Charmley

“Churchill: The End of Glory” by John Charmley

Q: I have just been giv­en a copy of Churchill: The End of Glo­ry, A Polit­i­cal Biog­ra­phy by John Charm­ley (1993) and am oblig­ed to say that it has the most con­fused index I have ever come across.  It may be idle schol­ar­ship on my part but when I open a book that is new to me the first thing that I do is look through the index to see if it con­tains mat­ters that I con­sid­er it should and the next thing I check is the bib­li­og­ra­phy.  I looked for Sin­ga­pore and its British com­man­der, Lieu­tenant-Gen­er­al Arthur Ernest Per­ci­val but could not find any men­tions. 

Charmley reviewed

The Hills­dale Col­lege Churchill Project offers summ­raries of books about Churchill from 1905 on. For The End of Glo­ry we write….
What pub­li­cized this work was a sec­tion argu­ing that Churchill should have backed away from fight­ing Ger­many in 1940 in order to pre­serve Britain’s wealth, pow­er and empire. (Charm­ley did not say “make peace with Hitler,” as some review­ers stat­ed.) Per the author, Churchill chose instead to make Britain a client state of Amer­i­ca, allow­ing Sovi­et pow­er to wax and the British Empire to wane. What­ev­er we may think of that argu­ment, this is a well writ­ten, crit­i­cal biog­ra­phy from a self-described “Thatcherite his­to­ri­an.” The bib­li­og­ra­phy lists every sig­nif­i­cant book in Eng­lish relat­ing to the polit­i­cal Churchill, but is light on for­eign works.

Prof. Charm­ley pro­vid­ed an enter­tain­ing inter­lude with his the­sis and the argu­ments over it 25 (can it be pos­si­ble?) years ago. You can down­load these issues by Googling “Finest Hour 78” and so on:

Finest Hour 78: Richard Lang­worth, “Elvis Lives: John Charmley’s Tabloid Win­ston,” pp 10-13
Let­ters col­umn, Finest Hour 79  (includ­ing Prof. Charmley’s reply), pp 32-34
Finest Hour 81: Review. Max Schoen­feld, “Glo­ri­ous Fail­ure,” pp 32-33
Finest Hour 81: Review. Lar­ry Arnn, “Too Easy to be Good,” pp 33-40
Let­ters col­umn, Finest Hour 83 (Prof. Charmley’s reply to reviews), p 40
Finest Hour 83: Man­fred Wei­d­horn, “Sal­vaging Charm­ley,” p 41
.
John Charmley’s book is well craft­ed, with­out the ven­om and hys­te­ria of more recent revi­sion­ists. His sequel, Churchill’s Grand Alliance, is worth read­ing for its painful account of how Britain fared at times in the not-so-spe­cial “Spe­cial Rela­tion­ship.” His biog­ra­phy of Duff Coop­er is mas­ter­ful. And John him­self is a gen­tle­man. After our exchanges he invit­ed me to lunch at his club. I promised to order the most expen­sive Pol Roger on the menu.

On Singapore

Charm­ley does men­tion Sin­ga­pore and Per­ci­val on page 487 (Lon­don edi­tion, “Grand Alliance” chap­ter) but this is a polit­i­cal biog­ra­phy, not a his­to­ry of the war. The defin­i­tive source for that is Mar­tin Gilbert’s Win­ston S. Churchill, vol. 7, Road to Vic­to­ry, avail­able from the Hills­dale Col­lege Book­store.
N.B.:
On the sink­ing of HMS Prince of Wales and Repulse off Malaya, see Chris Bell and Robin Brod­hurst, “Did Churchill Under­rate War­ship Vul­ner­a­bil­i­ty from the Air?” Inci­den­tal­ly, Churchill in Decem­ber 1924, new­ly become Chan­cel­lor of the Exche­quer, ques­tioned the nature of Singapore’s land­ward defences. These were based on sub­marines, pos­si­bly antic­i­pat­ing a seaborne inva­sion of the penin­su­la; Churchill thought air­craft would be more effec­tive, but he didn’t pur­sue the mat­ter. Through 1939 he was con­vinced that a Japan­ese attack on Sin­ga­pore was unlike­ly. Of course, a lot changed between 1939 and 1941.

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