In many conservative circles, particularly in the United States, Winston Churchill is beyond criticism. Mention his errors – the Gallipoli debacle, the return to gold at the pre-1914 rate, the contracting out of domestic policy to the Left after 1940, the second premiership – and you provoke a Bateman cartoon scene.
Fair enough. Winnie got the big calls right. His popularity on the other side of the Atlantic is appropriate, for he is perhaps the supreme Anglosphere politician – apostle, champion, exemplar and historian of English-speaking unity.
What makes the Anglosphere special? I’m taken with Mark Steyn’s observation that the list of countries on the right side in both the world wars and the cold war is short, but it contains the main English-speaking democracies. What made them all pile in? Was it linguistic solidarity, anidentification with kith-and-kin? Yes, partly. But that’s not all it was. Those mighty struggles were not simply ethnic conflicts, bloodier versions of the Hutu-Tutsi wars. The Anglosphere peoples believed, because their institutions had taught them to believe, that individual liberty, limited government and the rule of law were worth preserving – with force of arms if necessary.
Churchill played a brave role in all three great twentieth century conflicts, fighting in the first, leading the democracies to victory in the second and defining the third. The transition from victorious leader to Cold Warrior can be traced to one speech, delivered on 5 March 1946 at Fulton, Missouri. That speech, the subject of a newly published book by Philip White, is remembered for this sentence:
From Stettin in the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic an iron curtain has descended across the Continent.
White conjures atmosphere beautifully. Here is a detailed account of the place where the speech was given, and the timbre of the times. The USSR, so recently an ally, had occupied the countries for which Britain had gone to war in the first place, and any hope that the United Nations would be a guarantor of a peaceful post-fascist world had been dashed.