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#196 Winston Churchill (Defiance During the Blitz)
August 7th, 2021 | E196

What I learned from reading The Splendid and the Vile: A Saga of Churchill, Family, and Defiance During the Blitz by Erik Larson. 


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I  wondered how on earth anyone could have endured it: fifty-seven consecutive nights of bombing, followed by an intensifying series of nighttime raids over the next six months. In particular I thought about Winston Churchill: How did he withstand it? 

It is one to say "Carry on," quite another to do it.

History is a lively abode, full of surprises.

The only effective defense lay in offense.

The king harbored a general distrust of Churchill's independence.

He had lived his entire life for this moment. That it had come at such a dark time did not matter. If anything, it made his appointment all the more exquisite.

At last I had the authority to give directions over the whole scene. I felt as if I were walking with destiny, and that all my past life had been but a preparation for this hour and for this trial.

Churchill brought a naked confidence that under his leadership Britain would win the war, even though any objective appraisal would have said he did not have a chance. 

Churchill knew that his challenge now was to make everyone else believe it too.

He considered Churchill to be inclined toward dynamic action in every direction at once.

"If I had to spend my whole life with a man," she wrote, "I'd choose Chamberlain, but I think I would sooner have Mr Churchill if there was a storm and I was shipwrecked.”

Churchill was flamboyant, electric, and wholly unpredictable.

Churchill issued directives in brief memoranda.

No detail was too small to draw his attention.

Churchill was particularly insistent that ministers compose memoranda with brevity and limit their length to one page or less. "It is slothful not to compress your thoughts," he said.

Anything that was not of immediate importance and a concern to him was of no value.

Churchill wanted Germans to "bleed and burn."

I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears and sweat.

In the Churchill household defeatist talk inspired only rage.

"It would be foolish to disguise the gravity of the hour," Churchill said. "It would be still more foolish to lose heart and courage.”

Churchill said, "We shall not hesitate to take every step-even the most drastic-to call forth from our people the last ounce and inch of effort of which they are capable.”

Recognizing that confidence and fearlessness were attitudes that could be adopted and taught by example, Churchill issued a directive to all ministers to put on a strong, positive front.

If this long island story of ours is to end at last, let it end only when each of us lies choking in his own blood upon the ground.

Churchill demonstrated a striking trait: his knack for making people feel loftier, stronger, and, above all, more courageous. 

We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender.

Let us therefore brace ourselves to our duty and so bear ourselves that if the British Commonwealth and Empire lasts for a thousand years, men will still say, This was their finest hour.

He had been fond of quoting a French maxim: "One leads by calm."

“Your idle & lazy life is very offensive to me," Churchill wrote. "You appear to be leading a perfectly useless existence." 

So confident was Hitler that England would negotiate, he demobilized 25 percent of his army. But Churchill was not behaving like a sane man.

Churchill’s message was clear. “We shall not stop fighting until freedom, for ourselves and others, is secure.”

Nothing must now be said which would disturb morale or lead people to think that we should not fight it out here."

It typified the uniquely unpredictable magic that was Churchill—his ability to transform the despondent misery of disaster into a grimly certain stepping stone to ultimate victory.

There was still no sign that Churchill was beginning to waver.

When raids occurred, he dispatched his staff to the shelter below but did not himself follow, returning instead to his desk to continue working.

Churchill did many things well, but waiting was not one of them.

Churchill’s resilience continued to perplex German leaders. "When will that creature Churchill finally surrender?" 

Brush aside despondency and alarm and push on irresistibly towards the final goal.

Goebbels confessed in his diary to feeling a new respect for Churchill. "This man is a strange mixture of heroism and cunning. If he had come to power in 1933, we would not be where we are today. And I believe that he will give us a few more problems yet. He is not to be taken as lightly as we usually take him.

To be stupid about one's life is a crime.

She told Churchill that the best thing he had done was to give people courage. He did not agree. "I never gave them courage," he said. "I was able to focus theirs.”


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