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Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Winston Churchill Born, November 30, 1874

Today in 1874, Winston Leonard Spencer-Churchill was born in Oxfordshire, England. He is, without a doubt, one of the most influential Britons to ever live and one can easily put him in that rare group of people throughout history without whose existence life for all of us would be very, very different.

Churchill was born into comfortable wealth in a family with a multi-generational history of military service. He first joined the army in 1895 and was posted to India. He was not to stay there long, for he had a habit of chasing wars. He sought and was granted assignments to various conflagrations and by 1899 had served in India, the Sudan, South Africa and had visited both Cuba and the United States. After resigning his commission, he was elected to Parliament as a Conservative.

After joining the Liberal Party in 1904, Churchill held several important posts in government before being appointed First Lord of the Admiralty in 1911. As would be the case later in his life, Churchill sensed that a war in Europe was inevitable and worked to prepare the Royal Navy for the eventuality. In 1915, Churchill had a hand in planning the Dardanelles and Gallipoli campaigns, both of which ended in disaster for the Allied forces. He was excluded from government and resigned his post. He sought a commission in the Army and served several months on the Western Front in France. By 1917, he was back in government.

A return of England to the gold standard in 1924 (a move Churchill approved) resulted in an economic downturn and what became known as the General Strike of 1926. Churchill supposedly suggesting turning machine guns on striking miners and made positive comments about Benito Mussolini whose regime was staunchly anti-Communist. These missteps and his opposition to Indian Home Rule essentially put Churchill out to pasture when a new government was formed in 1931.

Between 1931 and 1939 (the “wilderness years” as they were referred to), Churchill spent most of his time writing. As the decade of the 30’s drew to a close, he tried, mostly in vain, to warn Britain of the impending war the Nazis were sure to bring to the Continent. When war did come in 1939, Churchill was once again appointed First Lord of the Admiralty.

In the spring of 1940, German forces introduced a new word to the English-speaking world: Blitzkrieg. The German lightning war caught Western Europe by surprise and by May, 1940 Germany was descending on France. Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain resigned and Churchill was appointed to fill his position. He created an all-party government and set to work. He created a new position, Minister of Defense, and filled the job himself. He quickly worked to get the nation’s war production up to full steam, for at point, England stood along against the Nazi menace.

It was Churchill’s good relationship with Franklin Roosevelt that cemented the “special relationship” that exists between Great Britain and the United States to this day. The United States quickly geared up to become the Arsenal of Democracy, sending the tools of war for use by the British Armed Forces before the US entered the war in December, 1941.

Churchill had a hand in dividing up Eastern Europe towards the end of the war, a topic we discussed on Monday night. Despite his anti-Communist sentiments, he believed that giving the Soviets large tracts of territory would reduce tensions that might arise between them and the other Allied powers after the war. He did oppose the Soviets’ influence in postwar Poland but could not stop it from happening.

In July, 1945, with war still raging in the Pacific, Churchill was defeated in an election and was forced to leave his position as Prime Minister. He had made enemies in his own nation, a reality he faced often in his career. He regained the position in 1951 and retired from the post in 1955. He remained in Parliament until 1964, one year before his death.

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