Sunday, April 29, 2018

Jottings - slice of life - 206 ( Churchill’s finest hour)

Jottings - slice of life - 206 ( Churchill’s finest hour)
“Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.”
The core episodes of history, more often than not, are electrifying narratives of right leaders showing up at right moments to transform or change the course of a nation’s history, and consequently affect the fortunes of world at large. Who could deny that If not for Alexander’s daring expedition to the east with no more than a few thousand men to battle, the geographical boundaries of the modern world would have been different; If not for Julius Caesar’s flamboyance, courage and consummate tact in unifying Rome and establishing the first true republic encompassing most parts of Europe, the western civilization, as we know it wouldn’t have evolved; or Charlemagne’s unifying rule; or Ashoka’s spiritual influence , or the sagacity and ruthlessness of Peter the great - such names can roll on. It is nature’s law that from the crucible of society’s predicament and turmoil, there will arise leaders whose vision overwhelms the vacillating and weak chatter of lesser mortals. Their energy, fanatical convictions and overpowering stature - Physical, intellectual and emotional - will wipe away feebleness from their path and empower a nation with renewed strength and vitality. In retrospect, history may judge many of these leaders as dictators, megalomaniacs or power mongers. It may criticize and cast aspersions on their conduct and integrity; but at the time they acted, there were no doubts or misgivings in their minds on what course to take. They did what they had do with unwavering resolution, and all seemed right.
Over the last few decades, the role of Sir Winston Churchill as the Prime Minister who led England into second world war, amidst political and ideological divisions, has led to lot of speculation in literature and movies. He is often referred to as the “war time leader”. His round face, rotund body with a perpetual cigar in his mouth, his proud bearing and arrogance of belonging to a imperial race, his slivery tongue which could lash out at moments notice to disparage or elevate his opponent, his unequivocal belief in imperialism and Britains omnipotent role in world politics, his hunger for war and preparedness for it, his didactic and wide erudition forged with brilliant eloquence when needed - have all become iconic and recognizable across the globe. In 1940, when second world war was precipitating, Churchill’s brave decision to confront Hitler’s germany head-on with minimum preparation on land, air or sea, puzzled the nation and its leaders. King George VI was alarmed, and so were many of his senior cabinet ministers. But they had no choice. With the peril of Germany advancing each day, Chamberlain - the previous incumbent, was reluctant, old and bodily sick to commit England to war. They were waiting for an arbiter to negotiate an improbable peace. However at home, English soldiers were dying each day on the borders of England, and the rise of Hitler and the banality of his policies were beginning to frighten this proud nation. People wanted their leaders to act with authority and not cuddle with a ruthless dictator. Public pressure mounted and chamberlain had to be replaced. The only choice to assuage the expectations of the public was to appoint a man who can stand up-to Hitler, a man who had been warning the country about the looming menace of Hitler, and a man who wouldn’t shy away from acting decisively, if needed. In a long political career spanning more than 40 years, Churchill’s education and professional positions had helped prepare him for this moment. His time in the war departments during 1920 and 30’s, both on land and sea, gave him good understanding on state of armaments, and where Britain stood in terms of fighting power. The tug of destiny was pulling Winston inexorably to meet the needs of this crucial moment. So, when the king offered him the prime ministership after Chamberlain resigned, Churchill accepted the appointment, no doubt, with slight trepidation on the enormity of the task ahead, but didn’t miss the opportunity to remind the King that he would accept this position except on his own terms. King George didn’t like Winston very much, but had no choice and had to accede. With Churchill at the helm, the course of second world war irrevocably changed, war became a certainty, reaching its climax in 1945 with the surrender of Germany to allied forces.
As I wrote in the beginning of this essay: The moment brings out the right man. At that crucial juncture in British history, none but Churchill could have swayed the tide towards fighting a full fledged war with Hitler. Though he was by nature arrogant, irritable and had no connect with public, held racist views, got it completely wrong about Britains imperial ambitions, humiliated at Gallipoli in the first world war - he had however correctly sensed the rise of Hitler much before anyone else on the world stage. The massive rearmament of Germany in the 1930’s, the chilling calm before the storm in German hinterland during that time signaled to Winston an imminent world crisis precipitating at rapid pace. He read the mind of Hitler better than anyone else; and unlike many British leaders, loved a righteous fight. By nature, he wasn't built to shy away from one. And like all great leaders, Winston was a superb orator and writer. His private life was artistic. He was a sketch artist, a writer of English history and magnificent biographies, he loved travelling and jotting down travel adventures. Along with these Winston had a knack of articulating his thoughts in precise, forceful and succinct manner; just as his books and paintings did.
Churchill’s masterstroke was his realization of what his people wanted at the right time. Shedding his royal demeanor when it was needed, he polled the pulse of the nation and smelt the simmering stench of hopelessness in his people. He knew that English people wanted Hitler repelled, no matter what price they had to pay. They simply didn’t like Hitler. Once he understood that, his speeches in the house of commons grew more audacious and touched the raw nerve of honor and pride, which Britain always held in high esteem. He sprinkled his speeches with phrases that resonated at the deepest level. As a gifted orator for whom words were never far away, he wrenched confidence from the guts of his listeners through passages such as - “We shall go on to the end. We shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be. 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..” Such simple words uttered with tremendous confidence and clarity roused the nation to new sense of identity and purpose. As is always the case, once raw courage is awakened, grace and luck inevitably follows. The unbelievable tale at Dunkirk, when from sure annihilation, thousands of British soldiers escaped unscathed, to Hitler altering his war plans to accommodate the tactical maneuvers of Churchill; Britain met with success after success until USA joined the war to put finally end Germany’s plans.
Gary Oldman as Winston Churchill won the academy award this year for the film “The darkest hour”. A magnificent portrayal of Sir Winston Churchill during his first few months as Prime minister. In it, one gets a glimpse of the man torn by opposing passions. Unruly, unkempt and irritable; at the same time capable of highest levels of intellectual deliberation and action, Churchill stands before us as a leader chiseled for his time. A man like him was needed to strike fear into Hitlers heart. In one beautiful scene in the movie, King George meets Winston alone at his home and promises his unconditional support. Winston is surprised because the King didn’t particularly like him. When pressed to explain this sudden change of heart, George says “ If Hitler is frightened, then there must be something about you as Prime minister”. Both chuckle, and little tear wells up in their eyes. The pact is sealed. Britain is now irrevocably committed to war.
The quote at the beginning of this essay is attributed to Winston Churchill. But we dont know if he really said that. Nevertheless, its message is very clearly Winston’s. As a avid student of history, he knew that in every age successes and failures must be redefined afresh, and there is no finality about both. It is the courageous journey which matters. It is debatable, and it still debated, if Churchill turned the tides of war. There may not be a consensus anytime soon. But one thing is clear: if not for him, the gathering of world powers to meet the challenge of tyrannical regime wouldn't have found momentum. His words galvanized the nation into action. Hitler realized he was dealing with a man who wouldn't accept defeat. Hitler's entire campaign was conceived in light of the fact that Britain will not interfere in his plans, or that they were too weak to do so. But with Churchill entering the fray, equations changed, which in turn provoked changes in Germany's thinking. To that extent, at least, we owe the outcome to Winston Leonard Spencer-Churchill.
God bless..
yours in mortality,
Bala


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