Let’s forget why I decided to review a few seminal and critical books on the two leading players of the Second World War, Sir Winston Spencer Churchill and Herr Adolf Hitler. What has intrigued me since 2013 is the continued interest of these two controversial figures from the twentieth century.
For reasons unknown to me at this time, this is the most popular post on my blog, Readers are welcome to comment at any time of their choosing. My thoughts have also been altered since I began writing in response to a course called War and Literature back in 2013. It was an extension of work I did under another course on modern Romance literature. This field of study included the observation of literary texts originally written in German, Italian and Spanish.
Giorgio Bassani’s The Garden of the Finz-Continis and Jorge Amado’s Gabriella, Clove and Cinnamon have become two personal favourites, but Marquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude is a text I have chosen to put aside for now.
Because they were essentially warlords, neither Winston Spencer Churchill, nor Adolf Hitler, are endearing characters of world history for me. Neither Churchill, nor Hitler took advantage of a college or university education to enhance their leadership skills and capacity to serve their people rather than their chosen ideologies. They did, however, have one passion in common. They loved to paint, or draw. During his busy life, devoted to his vocations of politics and writing, Churchill spent many hours on his Chartwell estate composing colourful canvasses of nature.
Hitler used his intense fascination of architectural art to feed his delusional desires. While his resentment at being rejected from elite art schools in Vienna festered, he spent his idle hours gazing over architectural masterpieces and poring over reference works detailing architectural art through the ages, dreaming of a mighty German empire.
Hitler was an abject failure at drawing. Churchill, however, did not dwell long on his failings as a student, and did not mind much that he was not a great artist (in the painting sense) either. It helped him to relax from the vigour of his public life and lift the gloom of his chronic depression.
These men shared another art which turned out to be gifts. They were gifted in the art of public speaking, if we can call it such. In today’s era of modern media technology and quick sound bytes, not one political leader, or king, or queen, has matched their skills and the mass effects that they achieved as a result of their speeches.
Hitler preached an ideology of racial superiority and hate, taking advantage of growing resentment amongst impoverished Germans after their defeat during the first Great War and the Wall Street Crash of 1929.
Churchill’s stentorian voice became a motivating force for change in order to counter the threat of tyranny and promote the creation of a new world order. Ultimately and unintentionally, it could be argued, he contributed towards the creation of America’s superior economic and military status in the world and Russia’s counter as a supreme socialist and soviet republic.
Literally hundreds of texts have been devoted to these two men who have undoubtedly contributed towards the creation of the world we live in today. Perhaps unintentionally, just a selection of texts enabled my own visualization of the Holocaust against European Jews.
Richard Overy’s The Third Reich is aptly described as a chronicle.
Although it rushes through the rise and fall of the Reich, lead by Hitler, the Fuhrer, it leaves enough detailed foundations for further study, capturing the most significant events, such as Hitler’s purges shortly after becoming Germany’s dictator, the events that lead up to and surround Kristallnaght (Night of the Broken Glass) which precipitates the segregation of the German Jews into Ghetto’s and then ultimately to their deaths in the concentration camps, and Hitler’s indecisive and vain decision-making during the course of the Second World War.
Sir Ian Kershaw produced one of the most remarkable and detailed literary and biographical works on the German tyrant.
It was initially composed as two book volumes, but later, his publisher, Penguin, printed a paperback version of over a thousand pages. It is to date, the most detailed and, to all intents and purposes, accurate account of Adolf Hitler, from his family’s origins long before his birth to the closing moments of the siege of Berlin, just days after his death.
What makes this work stand out for me, is the manner in which Kershaw expresses his own loathing for Hitler, analysing introspectively the evil psychology behind the cult of the Fuhrer and substantiating it with a detailed biographical narrative alongside diary accounts of Hitler’s deranged and ardent supporter, Joseph Goebbels, Hitler’s minister of Propaganda.
Max Hasting’s work on Churchill is titled Finest Years.
This book’s title lays claim to the historical moment of the Second World War as Churchill’s best years. It is nothing of the sort. Or perhaps it is due to the book’s limitations in confining itself to the events of the war. What stands out in Hasting’s narrative is the criticism of Churchill’s leadership during those war years when critical decisions, allegedly made by Churchill alone, turned out to be poor or incorrect.
Less is said of the way Churchill rallied Great Britain and, indeed, the remainder of the British Empire and free world (barring Soviet Russia) with his speeches and courageous style of leading from the front. More is said of his penchant for dominance and gluttonous vices. Nevertheless, it remains a balanced account of Churchill’s war years as we are left to wonder at his humanity, showing emotion openly as he is recorded to have done while contemplating the consequences and tragedies of war. Such intimate moments can be compared to the lack of emotion shown by Hitler, callously disregarding human life, particularly that of the defeated Germans.
Martin Gilbert’s works, however, are head and shoulders above Hasting’s Finest Years.
Winston Churchill, The Wilderness Years is lean, but gives a more detailed analysis, placing emphasis on Churchill’s parliamentary speeches warning Britain of the looming dangers of Hitler’s tyranny and the intricate manner in which Churchill was able to obtain factual information and documented proof of the ways in which Hitler was equipping Germany for dominance through war.
There is also much reflection on Churchill’s private life, particularly on his estate of Chartwell, his relationship with his wife, Clementine and the fondness they both shared for their family and by extension their country.
Never Despair extends the private life of Churchill, this time in far greater detail, inserting countless letters between Gilbert’s narrative on Churchill, letters to and from Churchill and leaders around the world, particularly Harry Truman, the American president, and notes, letters and diary entries by critical and complementary associates of Churchill.
This book covers Churchill’s last years after the end of the Second World War. The narrative is poignant, documenting Churchill’s second stint as British Prime Minister during which time he guides the young Queen Elizabeth II and dictates the terms for the creation of a (peaceful) New World Order with the USA as its empirical head. It co-exists with Stalin’s Soviet Union. And the atomic bomb is shown up as an ominous bargaining chip to maintain a tenuous status quo.
My readings substantiated a popular claim that both Churchill and Hitler were gambling men.
Both men believed in their personal destinies, however delusional they proved to be at times.
How the world looks today is the consequence of what they envisioned and what they designed.
Today, Germany remains one of the world’s great nations. But its shape is not what Hitler had originally had in mind.
It was thanks to its acceding to the protective custody of the West (as he begrudgingly preferred) rather than capitulating to the perceived menace of the Soviet Union.
The United Kingdom remains a strong nation in the eyes of the world, still carrying the legacy of constructive legislations designed and engineered by Churchill since the turn of the twentieth century, in essence to serve its people rather than subjugate them.
The state of the world today, whether ominous or for the greater good, still leaves some of Churchill’s customary warnings unheeded and Hitler’s prophesies unfulfilled.
Now, only time will tell whether the world heeds Winston Spencer Churchill’s warnings, or whether it realises Hitler’s prophetic vision of its future.
For better or for worse.