Did Churchill Ever Admire Hitler? 1/3
Part 1: “Government by Dictators”
The Hitler chapter in Churchill’s book Great Contemporaries, like the rest of the volume, was derived from a previous article. In this case the original was “The Truth about Hitler,” in The Strand Magazine of November 1935 (Cohen C481). Ronald Cohen notes in his Bibliography that Strand editor Reeves Shaw, who paid WSC £250 for the article, wanted Churchill to make it “as outspoken as you possibly can…absolutely frank in your judgment of [Hitler’s] methods.” It was.
Two years later, when Churchill was preparing his Hitler essay for Great Contemporaries, he characteristically submitted it to the Foreign Office, which asked that he tone it down. Preferring that he not publish it at all, they were somewhat mollified by the result. (See Martin Gilbert, Churchill: A Life, London: Heinemann, 1991, 580-81). As a result of his “toning down”, the belief has persisted that Churchill wrote approvingly of Hitler, in either his book or his article—or in other writings for the British press.
On 10 October 1937, six days after publication of Great Contemporaries, Churchill published an article, “This Age of Government by Great Dictators,” his seventh installment in the series “Great Events of Our Time” for News of the World (Cohen C535.7). Here he traced the evolution of the British democracy from the feudal ages, the destruction of continental monarchies during the Great War, and the rise of the Bolsheviks, Fascists and Nazis. His Hitler paragraphs in this piece are mainly—but not wholly—from his Great Contemporaries text.
In his opening about Hitler, Churchill retreaded language from his 1935 Strand article which he had combed out of Great Contemporaries. He wrote of Hitler’s “guilt of blood” and “wicked” methods. He also inserted two sentences from the Strand which are omitted from his book:
It is on this mystery of the future that history will pronounce Hitler either a monster or a hero. It is this which will determine whether he will rank in Valhalla with Pericles, with Augustus and with Washington, or welter in the inferno of human scorn with Attila and Tamerlane.
Were those words from his Strand article retained in defiance of the Foreign Office’s wishes? Or were they there because Churchill was too good a writer not to re-use lines carefully composed two years earlier? Whatever the reason, they do not materially change Churchill’s view of Hitler—and his considerable doubt that history would come to regard Hitler in a positive light.