Nashville (5). The Myth that Churchill Admired Hitler

Nashville (5). The Myth that Churchill Admired Hitler

Part 5 of Win­ston Churchill, Myth and Real­i­ty exam­ines mul­ti­ply­ing fables between the two World Wars. Churchill was an alco­holic, we are often assured. He flip-flopped over Bol­she­vism. All Jews were com­mu­nists, he said. He despised Gand­hi. A clos­et fas­cist, he sup­port­ed Mus­soli­ni. But one tall tale per­haps eclipses all the oth­ers. It is the idea that Churchill admired Hitler. Remarks to the Churchill Soci­ety of Ten­nessee, Nashville, 14 Octo­ber 2017. Con­tin­ued from Part 4

Judging Hitler for what he was

Hitler
Lord Rother­mere believed far more in Hitler than he was com­fort­able admit­ting, par­tic­u­lar­ly after 1940. (The Guardian)

It is impor­tant to under­stand just how right Churchill was about Hitler. In May 1935 the Führer wrote a reveal­ing let­ter to the British news­pa­per mag­nate Esmond Harmsworth, Lord Rother­mere, one of his pro­mot­ers. Hitler declared he was for Anglo-Ger­man under­stand­ing. He’d worked for it for fif­teen years. Their mutu­al ene­my was Bolshevism.

An Anglo-Ger­man alliance, Hitler wrote, would com­bine “the unique colo­nial abil­i­ty and sea-pow­er of Eng­land” with “one of the great­est sol­dier-races of the world.” Togeth­er, Britain and Ger­many could ensure gen­er­a­tions of peace—a broth­er­hood of man. Except for ref­er­ences to Aryan suprema­cy, the Pope might have been writ­ing this screed.

Rother­mere enthu­si­as­ti­cal­ly for­ward­ed the Hitler note to Churchill—whose reply was defin­i­tive. If Hitler was sug­gest­ing Britain agree to Ger­many dom­i­nat­ing the con­ti­nent, Churchill replied, it would be counter to his­to­ry. Britain had always been on the side of Europe’s sec­ond strongest pow­er: “Thus Eliz­a­beth resist­ed Philip II of Spain. Thus William III and Marl­bor­ough resist­ed Louis XIV. Thus Pitt resist­ed Napoleon, and thus we all resist­ed William II of Germany.”

* * *

Around the same time, Churchill pub­lished an arti­cle on Hitler, lat­er reprint­ed in his 1937 book Great Con­tem­po­raries. Out of cour­tesy to the gov­ern­ment (cour­tesy exist­ed among politi­cians in those days), Churchill sub­mit­ted his draft to the For­eign Office. They thought it too harsh. Churchill toned it down. They still didn’t like it. (“Don’t Let’s be Beast­ly to the Ger­mans,” as Noël Cow­ard lat­er sang.)

In a sec­ond arti­cle, again prod­ded by the For­eign Office, Churchill insert­ed this: “…his­to­ry will pro­nounce Hitler either a mon­ster or a hero…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.” None of those words mate­ri­al­ly alters Churchill’s view of the Führer.

“A Champion as Indomitable…”

Hitler
The Hitler essay appeared again in Churchill’s 1937 book of char­ac­ter sketch­es. (Pho­to: Mark Weber)

Ah, replied Pat Buchanan, but what about this: “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.”

With­out con­text, “a cham­pi­on as indomitable” almost seems like a tes­ti­mo­ni­al. But Churchill had pre­ced­ed that by say­ing: “One may dis­like Hitler’s sys­tem and yet admire his patri­ot­ic achieve­ment.” And Buchanan leaves out the rest:

I am sor­ry, how­ev­er, that he has not been mel­lowed by the great suc­cess that has attend­ed him. Every­one would rejoice to see in Hitler acts of mag­na­nim­i­ty and of mer­cy and of pity to the for­lorn and friend­less, to the weak and poor….let this great man search his own heart and con­science before he accus­es any­one of being a warmonger.

Churchill insist­ed he was no ene­my of Ger­many. But he said what he thought the peo­ple should hear. So he declared that Britain would reject the “bru­tal intol­er­ances of Nazidom” and “the pagan­ism on which they are based.”

As a politi­cian, Churchill obvi­ous­ly appre­ci­at­ed Hitler’s skill and nerve. With his innate opti­mism, he hoped briefly that Hitler might mel­low. But in his fun­da­men­tal under­stand­ing, Churchill nev­er wavered. He was right all along. Dead right.

World War II: Firebombing Dresden

Next: World War II is the largest source of myths. An actor deliv­ered his broad­casts. Churchill opposed the Sec­ond Front in France. He exac­er­bat­ed the Ben­gal famine and destroyed Monte Cassi­no abbey. He refused to bomb Auschwitz or to feed the oppressed in occu­pied Europe. Well, no. But no World War II canard is more per­sis­tent than the sto­ry that Churchill fire­bombed Dres­den in hatred and revenge for the bomb­ing of Coven­try. Con­tin­ued in Part 6…

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