In This Review

Churchill's Grand Alliance: The Anglo-American Special Relationship, 1940-1957
Churchill's Grand Alliance: The Anglo-American Special Relationship, 1940-1957
By John Charmley
Harcourt Brace, 1995, 427 pp

In this third installment of his iconoclastic reassessment of British world policy since the 1930s, Charmley condemns Churchill for having forged a "special relationship" with the United States that turned a great power into the 51st state of the American empire. The hero of the book--improbably enough--is Sir Anthony Eden, whom he describes as a statesman devoted to the pursuit of purely British national interests, a kind of British de Gaulle. In Charmley's view, Churchill was incapable of seeing beyond victory in World War II and the American alliance, whereas Eden was aware of the differences in interests between a simplistically ideological, imperial, and power-greedy America and a United Kingdom steadily eroded by American anticolonialism, free trade, Middle Eastern ambitions, and containment. All this makes for a very good read--if one likes intelligently argued revisionism. Charmley writes pungently. And yet--his preferred foreign policy is, to put it mildly, unconvincing. He would have wanted Britain to appease (i.e., agree on spheres of influence with) Hitler before the war, and Stalin after. He would have liked Britain to keep strong positions and influence in territories that, in his view, were not ripe for self-rule. He would have kept England out of a European integration enterprise that he dismisses as a federalist utopia. Could London really have remained outside Europe and also kept its distance from America? Was the kind of control France continues to exercise in parts of its former African Empire a serious model for Britain? Above all, would Hitler ever have practiced balance-of-power politics, and would Britain have been better off if Hitler had dominated the European continent and pursued his plans for global power? De Gaulle, whom Charmley admires, had not exactly preached appeasement of either Hitler or Stalin, and even though he did not want France to dissolve in the European brew, he aimed at a strong and autonomous European entity.