Cold War Statesmen Confront the Bomb: Nuclear Diplomacy since 1945

By John Lewis Gaddis; Philip H. Gordon et al. | Go to book overview

8
Before the Bomb and After: Winston Churchill and the Use of Force

JONATHAN ROSENBERG

SEATED at his dining-room table one evening in 1928, Chancellor of the Exchequer Winston Churchill refought the Battle of Jutland. The Chancellor's barking provided the roar of the great guns, while decanters and wineglasses, the ships of the opposing fleets, manœuvred to and fro. Churchill's cigar supplied a haze of gun smoke, which floated over the battle scene, as the former First Lord of the Admiralty, excited as a schoolboy, spent two hours recreating the historic engagement of the First World War. 1 Winston Churchill was not averse to revelling in the glory of past martial encounters; the use of force caused him little discomfort. As an observer wrote in 1913, Churchill was always playing 'an heroic part. . . . Moving through the smoke of battle. . . his brow clothed with thunder. . . He thinks of Napoleon . . . of [Marlborough]. . . . There are always great deeds afoot with himself cast by destiny in the Agamemnon role.' 2

On the battlefield and in politics, Winston Churchill's active life spanned nearly six decades. These were years of enormous change: Britain's power and influence depreciated sharply; a bipolar system emerged from the multipolarity of the pre-World War II years; and most significantly for this essay, the development of the atomic and hydrogen bombs profoundly transformed the technology of war. The young soldier who had fought on the bloody fringe of empire in the 1890s, and would someday lead his country to victory over Nazi Germany, would, in the years after 1945, confront one of the great diplomatic challenges of the age: the development and deployment of nuclear weapons. For the man who had enthusiastically confronted the Dervishes at Khartoum, and had experienced feelings of happiness on the eve of World War I, the emergence of the bomb would transform his attitude toward the use of force. But this was no sudden transformation, for the first light of the atomic age did not cause the great war leader immediately to abjure force as an instrument of state action. Instead, between 1945 and 1955, Churchill's thinking evolved, his attitude toward the use of force becoming more and more circumspect. During these ten years, Churchill became increasingly convinced that the

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