My Cardboard Box

A Near Thing

with 5 comments

On occasion, I’ll read Orson Scott Card:

churchill.jpgThe picture most of us have is of Churchill standing alone until Hitler finally revealed his evil plans. Then, as Hitler’s tanks rolled through France, Churchill was elevated to the Prime Ministership and led Britain courageously through the war. Partly true. Churchill did all that we think he did. But he was not alone.

There were Tory Members of Parliament (MPs) who listened to him and knew he was right. They had their own sources of information, too, and were alarmed at the sheer stupidity of Neville Chamberlain’s policies. These “troublesome young men” in Parliament understood the truth: That Hitler responded to every concession as if it were a message telling him that Britain would not stand against him no matter what he did.

Chamberlain was, above all, a politician. As soon as war was declared, he understood that the voters would demand that Churchill be part of the government. So he took Churchill into the cabinet and gave him responsibility for the war. From that moment, Churchill became a loyal cabinet member and never spoke a word against Chamberlain. Nor did he plot or conspire against him. His sense of honor would not allow it. Once he took office in Chamberlain’s cabinet, he became Chamberlain’s man.

Yet Chamberlain remained completely unwilling and incompetent when it came to war. He had to be booted out, and Churchill was the only one who could replace him. Yet Churchill would do nothing to accomplish this. So who did it?

Anthony Eden’s heart was in the right place, and he was the natural leader of this group. But he was also an ambitious politician, and he would take no action that might be seen as disloyal to his party. It was a group of brave young MPs whose names are almost forgotten. And what marked the ones who made a difference was their supreme courage and willingness to sacrifice their own political careers. Leadership fell upon those with the courage to act. Harold Macmillan, Robert Boothby, Ronald Cartland, Harold Nicolson, Alfred Duff Cooper, Richard Law — and a couple of women, Lady Violet Bonham Carter and the Duchess of Atholl — took the steps that had to be taken.

In the end, it was a close-fought thing. In fact, in the vote of confidence in Parliament in which the “troublesome young men” tried to remove Chamberlain, Chamberlain actually won. And he thought, for about a day, that he could go on ruling Britain. However, the revolt in his own party made it plain that he had to change the government. He needed to have a coalition government that included the other parties. But the Tory rebels had done a good job of convincing everyone in the other parties that they must stand firm against Chamberlain’s continuing in power.

To have a coalition “unity government” to run the war required that someone other than Chamberlain be at its head. In the end, without any help from Churchill, it was Churchill who was chosen.

In hindsight, it seems inevitable. But it was not. It took enormous courage. Worse yet, the “troublesome young men” paid a high political price. Because Churchill himself valued loyalty so highly that he did not reward those who installed him in power. Instead, most of them were virtually shut out of significant roles in the wartime government.

Waffling Anthony Eden ended up Prime Minister, eventually, for a few minutes, anyway. And Macmillan was able to rise to the Prime Ministership many years after the war. But others who saved Britain by dumping Chamberlain never recovered, politically. They paid the price of their boldness. But they saved the world. For if Churchill had not headed the government of Britain, it is doubtful that anyone would have been able to stand against Hitler.

That was World War II. We take it for granted that Nazism was destroyed. We forget what a near thing it was.


Written by PappyBro

June 23, 2007 at 18:39

Posted in Politix, WoT

5 Responses

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  1. Goodness. Thank you, Pappy. Once again you picked something that deepened my understanding — this time of what lay behind a key moment in history. I hope those troublesome young men were comforted by the awareness of how important their sacrifice was to all of humanity, and were able to forgive Churchill his particular human pettiness. Knowing this, I feel somewhat better that Churchill was voted out of office after the war.

    trailing wife

    June 23, 2007 at 19:19

  2. OSC got it wrong, Pappy. Chamberlain actually overcame the Conservative opposition; it was Attlee and Labour who put Churchill in as PM simply through their refusal to serve in a national unity government with Chamberlain at its head. Churchill’s “History of the Second World War” discusses this at length, as do Martin Gilbert’s biography of Churchill and Kenneth Harris’ biography of Attlee.


    June 30, 2007 at 22:36

  3. The King didn’t want Churchill as PM, either. George VI’s man was Halifax, one of the master craftsmen of the appeasement policy.


    July 1, 2007 at 14:39

  4. Chamberlain was the flag-bearer of a large segment of the west who opposed confronting Hitler. Some feared another war – ‘Peace at any price’. Others feared Stalin more than Hitler and, until August 1939 & the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, thought it better to have a somewhat stronger Germany as a buffer between them and the Soviet Union. They had a valid point. Until sometime in late 1942, of the three key powers in Europe – Germany, USSR, & Western Alliance, the Western Alliance was the weakest. It is scary to think what would have happened if Hitler and Stalin had maintained their non-aggression pact for a few more years. Dictators like them have such huge egos that such non-competition is hard for them to manage though. Also, they are so deceitful themselves that they can never trust their ally not to ‘Do unto others …, but do it first.’


    July 2, 2007 at 06:48

  5. Once Churchill was in any government, Liberal, Tory or National he was always loyal, he qauit before bashing.


    July 2, 2007 at 15:49

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