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Churchill: Walking With Destiny

Our American Stories / Lee Habeeb
The Truth Network Radio
May 13, 2024 3:00 am

Churchill: Walking With Destiny

Our American Stories / Lee Habeeb

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May 13, 2024 3:00 am

On this episode of Our American Stories, Sir Andrew Roberts' landmark biography of Winston Churchill is a brilliant feat of storytelling that is enjoyable and easy to understand. Winston Churchill became Prime Minister of the United Kingdom on May 10, 2024.

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The best conversations I have with my colleagues are the ones that happen when no one is looking, when we're not 100% sure yet what to write. Hopefully having conversations like this can help you figure out your own point of view.

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You can go to I Heart Radio's app or wherever you get your podcast to listen to the show. Speaking of a slightly American people, there are two British prime ministers with interesting connections to our country. Boris Johnson was born in New York City. So too was Winston Churchill's mother, who was born more accurately, more precisely in Brooklyn. Here to tell the story of Churchill is English historian Andrew Roberts, the author of Churchill Walking with Destiny. And we're telling you this story because on this day in 1940, Winston Churchill became prime minister. On the 10th of May 1940, Winston Churchill became prime minister at about six o'clock in the evening.

But on the morning of that day at dawn, Adolf Hitler invaded in the West, attacking Belgium and Luxembourg and Holland shortly afterwards also to invade France. And Churchill said of that day, I felt as if I were walking with destiny and that all my past life had been a preparation for this hour and for this trial. One of the things that gave him this tremendous sense of destiny was the very many brushes with death that he had had in his life. He had nearly died of pneumonia at the age of 10. He had nearly died in a drowning accident on Lake Geneva, nearly died also in a house fire. He'd been involved in two car crashes and two plane crashes.

He was very nearly run over by a taxi in New York as well. And of course, those were all in peacetime. And in wartime, of course, he had endless brushes with death as well. He once said that there's nothing more exhilarating in life than to be shot at without result. And he was shot at without result from his 21st birthday in Cuba all the way through to when he was an ex cabinet minister in the First World War in the trenches. Churchill was involved in the last great cavalry charge.

He took part in this cavalry charge at the Battle of Omdemann in September 1898. He killed four dervishes on that day. It was a tremendously vicious and bloody melee and he very nearly was killed himself. And Churchill was captured in 1899 and put in a prisoner of war camp. And he, in a great sensational prison escape, managed to climb over the wall and cross 300 miles of enemy territory and get back to British controlled territory. And on one occasion during the First World War, he went outside his trench, his dugout of his trench.

And a German whizbang high explosive shell came and hit the dugout and decapitated everyone inside. So he saw war close up. He knew the horrors of it, he knew the pain of it, he knew the sheer terror of it.

And so when he sent men into battle himself later on, he knew exactly what he was doing. Winston Churchill grew up at the very apex of Victorian society. He was the grandson of the Duke. He was born in a palace, and not just any old palace. Blenheim Palace is the grandest of all the British palaces.

In fact, when King George III went around it, he said, we have nothing like this, meaning the royal family had no palaces anything like so grand as Blenheim, and it's true. Yet it doesn't necessarily mean that his childhood, for all the entitlement of that and the privilege, was a happy one, because his relationship with his parents was always extremely difficult. Churchill's father, Lord Randolph Churchill, who was a very successful Victorian politician, he became Chancellor of the Exchequer, was somebody who never saw the incipient greatness in Winston Churchill, never really thought very much of him at all, and actually treated him very often with contempt. Despite being despised by his father, Churchill did not allow that to affect him, and he continued to love his father, even after his father's death in 1895 when Churchill was 20 years old. And he wrote his father's two-volume biography, he sought out his father's friends to hear anecdotes about his father, he adopted his father's political views, the Tory democracy, and his father's way of actually holding himself.

He very much loved his father, and saw his whole life as an attempt to impress the shade of his long dead father. Winston Churchill's mother, Jenny Jerome, was born in Brooklyn, but she was very un-American, really, in regard to her motherhood owing to the fact that she never took much notice of her children, either Winston or Winston's younger brother Jack. She was going to parties constantly, she was a great society beauty, but she was not somebody who spent very much time with her children, to the point that in the year 1884, when Winston was 10 years old, she only spent six hours with him in the first six and a half months of that year. Just as with his father, his mother's taking no notice of him didn't allow Churchill to hold it against them, he worshipped his mother, he continued all his life to help her and to bail her out financially, and to love her, and he said when she died that she shone for me like the evening star, brilliant but at a distance, which I always think is a terrible thing to have to say about one's mother. But Churchill was very unlike the other Victorian aristocrats of his age and class and background in that he was willing to show emotion, they didn't like to do that, they had stiff upper lips. He on the other hand would actually cry on some 50 occasions in public during the Second World War, and so I think he was more of a sort of throwback to an earlier aristocratic era, the Regency era, when people didn't mind wearing their hearts on their sleeves. And this was a strength really because although people were surprised when they saw him cry in public, nonetheless they knew that it meant that he was feeling genuine emotions and not just bottling it all up. And you're listening to Andrew Roberts tell the story of Winston Churchill and his mother, my goodness, what a story about his mother, let's just say not a very present mother and yet he held it not against her at all, he shone for me like the evening star, brilliant but distant.

When we come back, more of this remarkable figure, not afraid to wear his heart on his sleeve and lead with emotion, here on Our American Stories. Folks, if you love the stories we tell about this great country and especially the stories of America's rich past, know that all of our stories about American history, from war to innovation, culture and faith, are brought to us by the great folks at Hillsdale College, a place where students study all the things that are beautiful in life and all the things that are good in life. And if you can't get to Hillsdale, Hillsdale will come to you with their free and terrific online courses.

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Better Help H-E-L-P dot com slash OAS. And we continue with our American stories and with British historian Andrew Roberts, author of Churchill Walking with Destiny. You can get the book by just going to your bookstore, calling them up. They'll order it for you. And we love to support our local bookstores.

And if not the bookstores, wherever you get your books. Let's pick up now where we last left off with Andrew Roberts talking about Winston Churchill. Churchill was the not only the first person, but actually for a long time in the 1930s, the only person to warn against Adolf Hitler and the Nazis. And I think that the thing that he had that helped him enormously in this foresight was partly that he was a Philo-Semite. He liked Jews. He'd always got on with Jews all his life. His father had liked Jews.

He'd gone on holiday with them. He was a Zionist. He welcomed the Balfour Declaration of 1917, giving a homeland to the Jews in Palestine. And so he had an early warning system when it came to Hitler and the Nazis. The second thing was that he was an historian, and he had seen in the threats to British independence from countries that wanted to invade Britain from the 16th century onwards, the same kind of tropes that you see with the Nazis and the dangers that they pose. Thirdly, he had faced fanatics in his own life, Islamic fundamentalist fanatics on the northwest frontier and in Sudan, and fanatics elsewhere in his career. And so he was better placed than a lot of the 1930s prime ministers, who had never seen any fanaticism in their lives before at all.

As well as having tremendous physical courage, Winston Churchill had very strong and profound moral courage, because even though in the 1930s he was ridiculed in the press, he was shouted down in Parliament, he was attacked by even people on his own side in Parliament, he was lambasted by people who thought he was a warmonger and so on. He never changed the warning of the threat posed by Adolf Hitler and the Nazis. He carried on saying the same thing regardless of what anybody said about him. I think that that's one of the greatest aspects of his career in many ways, was this extraordinary capacity for self-belief.

He never, for a moment, took any notice of opinion polls. He never hired a speechwriter, he never hired a spin doctor. He wrote all of his own speeches, even when he was prime minister in his 80s. And he wasn't somebody who was a natural public speaker, he put a lot of effort into it. He would practice again and again, sometimes he would actually practice speeches for as many hours as there were minutes in the speech. And this finally produced a sublime oratory, an oratory that was able to thrill the allied countries, and certainly the British people, and drive them on to ever more effective action. And that very much does come down to this sense of rhetoric which he had worked on since he was a 20-year-old boy, really.

And finally it came to its flourishing, of course, in the Second World War. And Churchill was once asked about the techniques, the sort of secrets of the trade, as it were. And he said really there were three things. The first was that you need to keep your sentences short. Don't have too many sub-clauses in the sentence, otherwise people lose the track of them. Then he said keep your words short. Don't show off how clever you are by using long words. Instead use the shortest words you possibly can in a sentence. And also, if possible, use old English. Try to use language that is perfectly understandable by the English people for the previous millennium.

Words that come from the Anglo-Saxon. And when you have all of those three things together in a sentence, they're much stronger and they make the point much more vividly than long-winded sentences with lots of foreign words and long words. And the British people trusted Winston Churchill, and that was tremendously important. Of course it is always important with any politician, but they knew that because he didn't have spin doctors and speech writers and other people who were influencing him from the outside, that what you heard from Winston Churchill came straight from him.

What you saw was what you got. That put him in a tremendously strong position when he became Prime Minister because they knew that he had been warning for a decade throughout the 1930s about Adolf Hitler and Nazism and the re-arming of Germany and so on. And therefore they trusted him. He showed personal and physical courage all the way through his life and so it was only to be expected that he certainly did in the Second World War as well. He would go to the front whenever he possibly could. He had to be held back by his soldiers and staff on many occasions from getting too close to the front. He would go up onto the Air Ministry roof during the London Blitz so as the shrapnel and the bombs were flying he would be up there.

His wife and his advisors hated it when he would do this but he felt it was absolutely necessary to be as close to the action as possible, as he had been all the way through his life. It was also tremendously brave that Winston Churchill spent so much time travelling. He was in many ways the person who kept the big three together of Roosevelt and Stalin. And he did that by travelling 110,000 miles outside the United Kingdom during the Second World War very often within the radius of the Luftwaffe. He crossed the Atlantic which of course was filled with U-boats.

He went in unpressurised cabins. On one occasion his plane was struck by lightning in the middle of the Atlantic and if the instrumentation had gone down that would have been the end of him. But it was a classic example really of his tremendous courage all the way through the Second World War. Some historians have claimed that Winston Churchill was opposed to D-Day.

This is absolute rubbish. Really since June 1940, so the same month that we were flung off the continent, he was already ordering the Chiefs of Staff to look into plans for getting us back onto the continent. What he didn't want though was an early, over-hasty and even more dangerous attack across the Channel before the Battle of the Atlantic was won and before there was complete air superiority over Normandy. Winston Churchill lost the General Election of the 26th of July 1945 even though the war against Japan was still going on and the war against Germany had only been won in that May. And this has surprised an awful lot of people because he was personally very popular in Britain. But we have a parliamentary system whereby he's only standing for one constituency, which of course he won, but where the Conservatives were standing in all of the constituencies and they were very unpopular, not least because they had been the government in power at the time of the outbreak of the Second World War, they had been responsible for appeasement, they were the largest party in the national government in the 1930s. And so it wasn't Winston Churchill who was personally being punished by the British electorate, it was the Conservative Party that he led, but nonetheless that did mean that he was forced out of office.

His wife Clementine said to him on that day that it might be a blessing in disguise and Churchill replied, well from where I'm sitting it seems quite remarkably well disguised. Winston Churchill very much considered himself to be half American because of his mother, but he also very much considered his views to be American, his belief in democracy, his belief in human rights. These are things that he recognised were very powerful transatlantic concepts and ones to which he dedicated his life. He visited America no fewer than 16 times and had visited well over 40 states by the time he became Prime Minister. And so he knew America far better than other politicians.

And a great job on the production by Monty Montgomery and a special thanks to Andrew Roberts. And again his book is Churchill Walking with Destiny and my goodness to have travelled 110,000 miles during combat. The physical and moral courage of this man, remarkable. But what really struck me most is that he had no pollster and he wrote his own speeches.

He became Prime Minister on this day in history in 1940. Join Winston Churchill's story here on Our American Stories. From BBC Radio 4, Britain's biggest paranormal podcast is going on a road trip. I thought in that moment, oh my God, we've summoned something from this board. This is Uncanny USA. He says somebody's in the house and I screamed. Listen to Uncanny USA wherever you get your BBC podcasts, if you dare.

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