Courtesy Reuters

The End of Churchillism?: Reappraising the Legend

In This Review

Churchill: A Major New Assessment of His Life in Peace and War

Edited by Robert Blake and Wm. Roger Louis
W. W. Norton & Co., 1993

Churchill, The End of Glory: A Political Biography

By John Charmley
Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1993
752 pp. $32.95

Winston Churchill is probably more revered today in the United States than he is in Britain. For the British he is a great statesman, certainly, and one to whom we owe it that 1940 was our finest hour rather than a year of humiliation and disaster. But he stands in a line of other great statesmen-the two William Pitts, the Duke of Wellington, perhaps David Lloyd George-who brought us through comparable trials.

In the United States, however, Churchill is seen as a chevalier sans peur et sans reproche, surpassing any comparable American figure-with the possible exception of Abraham Lincoln-in his goodness and greatness. Shrines to his memory proliferate across the United States. American presidents from Kennedy to Bush, perhaps unable to find appropriate figures among their own predecessors, have taken him implicitly or explicitly as a role model, focusing on his supposed shrewdness of judgment in peacetime and his undoubted qualities of leadership in time of war. The well-founded suspicions felt for him by his American contemporaries, that he was primarily concerned with harnessing American power to the service of British interests, have largely melted away. Churchill is now seen as the last great leader of the West, one whose like we shall not see again.

This is understandable enough. In spite of his indomitable John Bullishness, Churchill took far after his American ancestors far more than his English ones, something for which anyone who reads, in the Blake-Louis volume reviewed here, David Cannadine's hilarious account of the drunken, degenerate, spendthrift family from which he sprang has cause to be grateful. His arrogance, his egocentricity, his flamboyance, his emotionalism, his unpredictability, his remorseless energy, not least his eccentric taste in friends and generous indulgence in drink made him an outsider to the British "establishment" from the moment he entered politics at the beginning of the century until the day in May 1940 when they turned to him in despair because there was no one else to whom they could turn.

More importantly, Churchill

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