History: Relentless and Ruthless


In May 2014 I bought Winston Churchill’s six volumes The Second World War, and started reading. I don’t think I had ever attempted reading anything quite as ambitious as this before (except perhaps Alastair Campbell’s diaries) and I have only just finished. I have read many other books alongside, and for some periods of time I stopped reading the Churchills, but came back to them. The first few volumes were hard going – partly because the style was unfamiliar (lots of official telegrams), but also because the early phases of the war were relentlessly bad news for the British and their few allies. It wasn’t until the Germans attacked Russia, and Japan attacked USA (at Pearl Harbour) that Churchill knew that the war was won (given the combined resources of the USA, British Empire and Soviet Russia). The outcome was inevitable, but the route there was not; a lot of really tough decisions were required. 

There are several major things that I take away from reading this extended tale: firstly, Churchill’s grasp of the big picture and understanding of the strategic consequences of events was striking. He was also immersed in detail, but always with an eye on the big strategic picture, as far as I can see. The war was huge and wide ranging, and needed a central figure who could see the whole. Secondly, Churchill’s moral purpose was indefatigable and relentless. The result of these two together generated extraordinary resilience and implementation. Thirdly, the war drove an economic and industrial transformation in the main countries. The logistics involved in fighting were huge and complex, with rapid scientific advances also required. This also demonstrates what can be achieved. But, if the Germans had got to the atomic bomb first……

Life, and History, flow; they ebb and flow, sometimes up and sometimes down. The Churchills took me on such a journey, whilst allowing me to step back and see that this was the case. The finish was not all triumphalism and bombast, either. For a start there was the clear development of the Iron Curtain and the start of the great battle between the liberal democracies and Communism (which Churchill spotted early), indeed, the sixth volume is subtitled “Triumph and Tragedy”. And Churchill lost the General Election of 1945 and was suddenly no longer at the top table. Life, and History, can be relentless and ruthless.

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3 thoughts on “History: Relentless and Ruthless

      1. Leah K Stewart

        Not read that one, but have made a note – thanks! In terms of historical biographies I’ve absolutely loved John Adams by David McCullough, which is also a TV series but the book is brilliantly researched and written. Another is The Age of Wonder by Richard Holmes, an incredibly talented writer. In fact, I shamelessly drew quite heavily on his book for this blog post http://leahkstewart.com/claimyourcollege/ experimenting with that 21st Century Teachers can learn from the 19th Century Scientists that Holmes depicted.

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