Sunday, February 7, 2010
Paul Johnson, the distinquished British author recently published a short biography of Winston Churchill. Johnson is an admiring but not fawning biographer. He makes it clear that Churchill was a man of enormous talents and singificant flaws. He enjoyed breathtaking successes and soul-shattering failures. He ascended to great power at a relative young age, sunk to the depths in late middle age, only to rise to unparalleled heights in his old age, He was a man of enormouse appetites, prodigious talents, and phenomenal energy. According to Johnson he spent fifty-five years in the house of commons, thirty-one years as a minister, and nine years as prime minister. He was a major figure in the First World War and a "dominant one in the second." But his political accomplishments, as enduring as the are, were not his only accomplishments. During his lifetime he published 10 million words and won the Nobel Prize for literature. H also painted over five hundren canvases "more than most profesisonal painters." The list goes on and on. Politically he was complex. At one time or another he was a member of both the Liberals and Conservatives in Great Britain. He was concerned deeply about the plight of ordinary Englishmen. But he insisted on social order. He was a paternalistic emperialist. He wanted to keep the colonies in the empire and argued this could only be done by treating them well. He wanted to avoid war, but fought ruthlessly when it was ineivtable. Johnson has no doubt he would have used the atomic bomb on Germany had it become available. He battled hard against his political opponents, but didn't hold grudges or seek revenge when in power. He was a traditionalist and an egalitarian. He is nearly as famous as President Abraham Lincoln for his bon mots. He had little use for organized religion. Parliament was his religion and the House of Commons his church. His life towered over the 20th century and still cast its shadow to this day. Johnson's book concludes with moral lesson from Churchill's life. They are well worth pondering. The book is breif and elegantly written. I recommend it.