A Matter of History; Legacy: Why Do Our Leaders Seem So Small Compared with the World War II Generation? Wait for the Secret Memos to Come out, and Bush and Blair May Someday Look Much Larger Than They Do Now

Newsweek International, December 1, 2004 | Go to article overview

A Matter of History; Legacy: Why Do Our Leaders Seem So Small Compared with the World War II Generation? Wait for the Secret Memos to Come out, and Bush and Blair May Someday Look Much Larger Than They Do Now


Byline: Sir Martin Gilbert (Martin Gilbert is a leading historian. Among his books are "Churchill: A Life" and "Israel: A History.")

People often ask how history will remember our generation of leaders in comparison with the second world war leaders Winston Churchill and Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Many comment that today's leaders look small compared with the giants of the past. This is, I believe, a misconception. In their day, both Churchill and Roosevelt were frequently criticized, often savagely, by their fellow countrymen, including legislators who had little knowledge of the behind-the-scenes reality of the war.

The passage of time both elevates and reduces reputations. Today there is a cult of Churchill, particularly in the United States, but also far greater scholarly criticism, which regards him, increasingly, as a flawed war leader. The same is true of Roosevelt: his recent biographers are constantly revealing--to their satisfaction, at least--feet of clay.

Although it can easily be argued that George W. Bush and Tony Blair face a far lesser challenge than Roosevelt and Churchill did--that the war on terror is not a third world war--they may well, with the passage of time and the opening of the archives, join the ranks of Roosevelt and Churchill. Their own societies are too divided today to deliver a calm judgment, and many of their achievements may be in the future: when Iraq has a stable democracy, with Al Qaeda neutralized, and when Israel and the Palestinian Authority are independent democracies, living side by side in constructive economic cooperation. If they can move this latter aim, to which Bush and Blair pledged themselves on Nov. 12, it will be a leadership achievement of historic proportions.

The leadership of Churchill and Roosevelt in the second world war was conducted in such a way that only many years after the war were its true parameters clear. This is also true of Bush and Blair: only when the secret telegrams and conversations become available will we really know who did what, who influenced whom. Before the war against Saddam Hussein, Blair's emissary Sir David Manning was flying almost weekly to Washington, but it may be many years before we know what decisions were reached during these journeys. Any accurate assessment of Bush and Blair must wait, perhaps a decade or longer, until the record can be scrutinized.

Yet some comparisons are already clear.

Controversy was never absent in the second world war, either. When Churchill became prime minister in May 1940, he had to struggle to overcome defeatists who urged a negotiated peace with Hitler. Similarly, Blair overcame opposition from within his own Labour Party to the war in Iraq, prevailing over the doubters in parliamentary debate on the eve of the Iraq war.

President Roosevelt faced a Congress resolutely opposed to going to war against Hitler. He used every means to circumvent America's neutrality legislation, and to provide Britain with essential war material (some of it by the back door, across the border to Canada). Bush faced no such hurdle: Congress approved the overthrow of Hussein.

It would be wrong to minimize the challenges facing Blair and Bush. "Even in miniature," Churchill oncewrote, "war is hideous and appalling." Both men had to deploy all their persuasive skills to make the case for overthrowing Hussein, despite the obvious evil of his regime. Hitler's bombing of civilians, including in Warsaw, Rotterdam, Coventry, London and Belgrade; his submarine sinking of merchant ships, and his evil racial policies left no room for doubt as to his nature.

Another burden Blair and Bush share with the earlier generation is that of explaining the troubled course of the war. Between 1939 and 1945 there were many setbacks that alarmed Britain and America, among them the Dunkirk evacuation, the Dieppe raid and the loss of the Philippines, then an American possession. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

A Matter of History; Legacy: Why Do Our Leaders Seem So Small Compared with the World War II Generation? Wait for the Secret Memos to Come out, and Bush and Blair May Someday Look Much Larger Than They Do Now
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.