Unrecognized; Churchill's Cold War diplomacy.(BOOKS)

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), September 15, 2002 | Go to article overview
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Unrecognized; Churchill's Cold War diplomacy.(BOOKS)


In 1953, Britain's Prime Minister Winston Churchill was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature. The old warrior was bitterly disappointed. Klaus Larres' study of Churchill's Cold War diplomacy explains precisely why he was so unlike other Laureates. Being merely regarded as a great writer was not enough for Churchill; he wanted the Peace Prize. Above all, Winston wanted the world to recognize his attempts at saving the planet from nuclear suicide.

Churchill, like Lincoln and Napoleon have been written about to the point of utter exhaustion. Never has so much been written by so many for such increasingly smaller returns on investment, it seems. Not this time, however. In fact, Klaus Larres in "Churchill's Cold War" has produced a well-written, scrupulously documented account devoted largely to Churchill's final turn as Prime Minister, four years that most biographers prefer not to dwell on.

No wonder. The usual take on Churchill's return to Downing Street was that the man was too old, too sick, and had too little to show for the time spent in office. In short, the second time around was very much a damp squib. All this is largely true, but it is an incomplete account as the author demonstrates in overwhelming detail. It also leaves out some important phases of the early Cold War and avoids hard questions such as: After Stalin's death could the Cold War have been concluded, thus saving the American taxpayers, for example, trillions of dollars.

Mr. Larres considers these kinds of queries and to his credit weighs the evidence and comes to no final conclusions. That doubtless will sit unwell with Cold Warriors and revisionists alike. Too bad. But in the author's defense, as he points out, the record is far from complete with the old Soviet archives still largely closed on this question.

Still, there remains much to ponder and Churchill's role in attempting to terminate the East-West struggle on terms advantageous to us is well worth examining. So is his penchant for personal diplomacy, an endeavor frequently criticized in direct proportion to the critic's distance from high office. In fact, as the author demonstrates Churchill much before World War II was a vociferous proponent of personal diplomacy. To be exact, it was 1908 that young Winston became a member of the cabinet. It was not long after he was proposing to meet with top German officials in order to keep the two nation's budding naval rivalry from spilling into war. Churchill's older, but hardly wiser, colleagues were opposed and the two empires found themselves at war a few years later.

Churchill's preference for "parleys at the summit" could not be acted on until another war more than three decades later. His wartime meetings with Franklin Roosevelt, Harry Truman (once at Potsdam), Joseph Stalin, and (once in Cairo) Chiang Kai-shek are familiar even to casual students of 20th century history. The author wastes little time in regurgitating the familiar. But Churchill's objectives merit further consideration. Other than personal ambition and vanity (which the Duke of Marlborough's distinguished descendent had in abundance), Britain's wartime leader had a distinctly patriotic agenda.

First, he wished to promote allied cooperation, which is to say he wanted to be sure the Americans and the Soviets would stay in the war until the Nazis were finished - which was no sure thing, especially with the Russians. Next, he wanted his country to remain a great power. Finally, he wanted an enduring peace that would allow Britain to rebuild its fortunes after being bled white after four decades of war, depression, and war again, not to mention misguided domestic policies that destroyed genuine Victorian virtues to be replaced with utopian prescriptions from the left.

Churchill got some of what he wanted and Britain needed, but not everything.

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