Two Dynamic Statesmen Who Led Britain in War

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The two men who each led Britain through a great 20th-century world war are seldom bracketed together either by historians or the general public. Perhaps this is because the differences between David Lloyd George and Winston Churchill are so obvious. One, a poor self-made Welsh lawyer was one of the most radical forces in British political history, opposing the Boer War and putting into place the foundations of the welfare state and a national health system and paying for them by revamping taxation of income and capital. The other, a scion of one of England's most illustrious political, military and aristocratic families, is remembered today as an arch-imperialist and almost the personification of the dyed-in-the-wool Tory conservative.

Even as war leaders, the perception of their accomplishments is very different. Both men took over prosecution of a titanic global struggle at a desperate time in its course and by dint of their energy, positive attitude and dynamism, turned the tide and achieved victory. But while Churchill's stands as a triumphant achievement, Lloyd George's resulted in the punitive Treaty of Versailles, widely credited with making inevitable the next, even more terrible, conflict.

Yet few remember today that these two men, born only 11 years apart, were close colleagues in the government which enacted Lloyd George's radical domestic program and prosecuted World War I. For, though many British politicians have crossed the floor of the House of Commons from one political party to another, very few have successfully done it only to cross back to the original one, managing to hold high office in both Liberal and Conservative governments, as Churchill did.

One of the best things about "David & Winston" is its emphasis on the bonds which joined these two forces of nature and thus is a salutary corrective of the tendency to concentrate on the (albeit very real) differences between them. Unlike his second cousin, the Canadian historian Margaret MacMillan, who showed no partisanship towards her distinguished forebear in her dispassionate study "Versailles 1919," Robert Lloyd George is, I think it is fair to say, an advocate for his great-grandfather. Still, this does not stop him from making biting criticisms of him and of quoting other people's:

"Even after Chamberlain's death in November 1940 Lloyd George made excuses as to why he would not join Churchill's Coalition Cabinet . . . . Lloyd George, who was now seventy-seven, responded unconvincingly that he could do much more for the country outside the Government. His son Dick wrote: 'He had lost his nerve. The old war horse had lorded it in peaceful pastures so long that the weight of armour frightened him.'. . . . Perhaps the truth was that he did not want to play second fiddle to Churchill."

It is interesting to note that both these great statesmen are blessed with descendants who have made contributions to the literature about them. Churchill's son Randolph wrote the first volumes of his father's official Life before his untimely death only a few years after Winston's and his daughter Mary Soames and granddaughter Celia Sandys have written movingly about him. …