Winston Churchill on War, Part 3: Anthony Montague Browne

Winston Churchill on War, Part 3: Anthony Montague Browne

3. Ruminations with Anthony (concluded from part 2)

Sir Antho­ny Mon­tague Browne KCMG CBE DFC (1923-2013) was an RAF fight­er pilot and a diplo­mat who gave up a promis­ing For­eign Office career to serve as Churchill’s pri­vate sec­re­tary from 1952 to 1965. His essen­tial and poignant mem­oir, Long Sun­set, is avail­able in var­i­ous formats.


For 20 years begin­ning 1983 I had the priv­i­lege of sev­er­al long vis­its with AMB. (He had a score of WSC’s books, all fine­ly bound and per­son­al­ly inscribed. “What do you think of them?” he smiled. “Well,” I said, you’ve made a fair­ly good start.”)

We some­times pon­dered Sir Winston’s late-life despon­den­cy. “He’d made a deep study of his­to­ry,” Antho­ny said. “And he had an extreme sen­si­tiv­i­ty to the winds and cross­cur­rents of world situations.”

I had the great­est respect for Anthony’s opin­ions from so unique a van­tage point, and have quot­ed those words often. But in con­sid­er­ing Churchill’s views on the great issues of peace and war, it is always appro­pri­ate to have Anthony’s fuller thoughts.

“Peace does not sit untroubled…”

Churchill was not always upbeat about the abil­i­ty of humankind to save itself. A hint of future fore­bod­ings came in Cana­da while he was still prime minister:

What is the scene which unfolds before us tonight? It is cer­tain­ly not what we had hoped to find after all our ene­mies had sur­ren­dered uncon­di­tion­al­ly and the great world instru­ment of the Unit­ed Nations had been set up to make sure that the wars were end­ed. It is cer­tain­ly not that. Peace does not sit untrou­bled in her vine­yard. —Win­ston S. Churchill, 14 Jan­u­ary 1952, Chateau Lau­ri­er, Ottawa

“Cureless folly done and said…”

His morose thoughts mul­ti­plied. Dur­ing the Cuban Mis­sile Cri­sis in 1962 he mur­mured, “we’re all going to be blown up.” Toward the end of his life, the old lion who had implored, “Nev­er Despair,” was gripped by melan­choly. His despon­dence has been not­ed in vary­ing degrees by crit­ics and cham­pi­ons, his­to­ri­ans and ana­lysts, fam­i­ly and con­tem­po­raries. What was at the root of it? Antho­ny reflected:

I think that towards the end of his life his prophet­ic pow­er was an unhap­pi­ness to him. He saw all too clear­ly what was hap­pen­ing to the civilised world, and to the stern val­ues that stand out so clear­ly in his life’s work…. He used to quote this sad verse of Hous­man‘s: “Cure­less fol­ly done and said, and the love­ly way that led, to the slimepit and the mire, and the ever­last­ing fire.”

I tried to ral­ly him. I spoke of the extra­or­di­nary life he had enjoyed, cul­mi­nat­ing in the fact that at the end, with all he had said and done, he was almost uni­ver­sal­ly pop­u­lar and admired. When he received the Charle­magne Prize in Ger­many in 1956, as he drove through the streets of Aachen and Bonn, he was cheered. It aston­ished him. After all, it was not very long after the end of the war. I referred to that, to his Nobel Prize for Lit­er­a­ture, the vast scope of his activ­i­ties. How, I con­clud­ed, could he be so down­cast, when he had achieved so much?

I not­ed his reply ver­ba­tim, and he said the same thing on oth­er occa­sions: “Yes, I worked very hard all my life, and I have achieved a great deal—in the end to achieve nothing.”

Triumph and Tragedy

In 1985 I offered Antho­ny two rea­sons why Sir Win­ston might have felt that way. The first was the real­iza­tion, prob­a­bly as ear­ly as the Teheran Con­fer­ence, that he had fought down one mon­ster only to cre­ate anoth­er, and lat­er that the set­tled peace he strove for had nev­er mate­ri­al­ized. The sec­ond was that the Eng­lish-Speak­ing Peo­ples nev­er forged the close rela­tion­ship on which he placed so much hope.

Anthony’s reply did not come right away. He saved it for a speech he made at a din­ner in his hon­or at the Savoy, lat­er that year:

I think that is a very inci­sive view. I do indeed believe that the lack of true coop­er­a­tion between the three great pow­ers had been a ter­ri­ble and increas­ing dis­ap­point­ment to him, going back as far as Teheran and Yal­ta. At that time I was not with him, but this is cer­tain­ly the impres­sion he gave me in his lat­er years.

I do not think in his heart of hearts that he ever expect­ed any­thing very dif­fer­ent from the Sovi­et Union, though he had hopes—dismally unfulfilled—of a change of heart after vic­to­ry. But the eupho­ria of the ear­ly rela­tion­ship with Pres­i­dent Roo­sevelt dur­ing the first years of the war was grad­u­al­ly to die away, as the Amer­i­can admin­is­tra­tion believed that it could do busi­ness with “Uncle Joe.” Some business.

The so-called “spe­cial rela­tion­ship” with the Unit­ed States was large­ly of British mak­ing, and some­thing of an illu­sion even from the very start. It was not for noth­ing that Win­ston Churchill called the last vol­ume of his war mem­oirs Tri­umph and Tragedy.

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