Thursday, June 11, 2009

More of my love affair with Winston

Their Finest Hour continues to captivate. I absolutely love that Winston includes so many documents--it makes me feel that I am really in the moment. Kami pointed out to me that I might like the documents because I'm a historian. Point taken. Still, I can't imagine anyone not enjoying feeling like he's at Winston's elbow as Winston tries to fortify his island and outguess Hitler.

On top of the documents, you get Winston's casually brilliant turn of phrase peppered throughout. I'm including some of my favorites (so far) here, for your enjoyment.

Pg. 115: Churchill's remarking on Italy's joining the war on Hitler's side. He says, "The rush for the spoils had begun. But Mussolini was not the only hungry animal seeking prey. To join the Jackal came the Bear." The Bear being, obviously, Russia.

Pg. 125: "Never has a great nation been so naked before her foes." Churchill was commenting on how under-armed Britain was following Dunkirk. He called it the "dark side" of Dunkirk, meaning that while boats were able to evacuate men, they were not able to evacuate weapons and so the British army was essentially hamstringed.

Pg. 126: "I see only one way through now, to wit, that Hitler should attack this country, and in so doing, break his air weapon." Churchill displaying his uncanny grasp of the future.

Pg. 132: "I displayed the smiling countenance and confident air which are thought suitable when things are very bad . . .." Churchill smiled??? When?? This is, without question, the most hard to swallow statement Churchill has made thus far.

Pg. 134: "On this I said that I was not a military expert, but that my technical advisors were of the opinion that the best method of dealing with German invasion on the island of Britain was to drown as many as possible on the way over and knock the others on the head as they crawled ashore."

Pg. 143: "I had always hankered for the name 'Home Guard.'"

Pg. 144: Churchill explains that his commanding officers asked if they could fire a practice round of ammo to teach their novice troops how to use certain weapons. Churchill replied that the ammunition could not be spared. That is how hard up the British were for ammunition and weapons immediately following the fall of France.

Pg. 147: Churchill is explaining how the press will report certain eventualities of the war. He indicated that air raids were never to be headlined and treated as "ordinary routine." It is interesting because I've learned quite a bit about American propaganda, but I've never studied British propaganda. It appears they handled everything in the generally accepted understated British fashion. Makes sense.

Pg. 161: I didn't realize that President Roosevelt was facing his third presidential election when the Battle of the Bulge was underway. FDR was extremely committed to the war years before public opinion started to shift in that direction. In many respects, Pearl Harbor was a relief for him. I hadn't realized that the election forced him to damper support efforts, rather than simply Congressional opinion. Now I am curious what Congress itself was thinking, separate from its constituencies.

Pg. 206: After the fall of France, Britain was forced to eliminate the threat of the French navy. It sunk several ships and commandered others. In the process, several Frenchmen were killed. Churchill records this story: "In a village near Toulon dwelt two peasant families, each of whom had lost their sailor son by British fire at Oran. A funeral service was arranged to which all their neighbours sought to go. Both families requested that the Union Jack should lie upon the coffins side by side with the Tricolour, and their wishes were respectfully observed. In this we may see how the comprehending spirit of single folk touches the sublime."

Pg. 254: "A very careful study was made of the moon and the tides." I read this sentence and giggled. Taken out of context it sounds like the British had given up all hope and turned to some sort of voodoo astrology. That's what first came to my mind when I read it. Then I remembered that England is an island and the British the naval kings. Tides are important for people on boats.

Pg. 254-255: "One could not help being inwardly excited alike by the atmosphere and the evidence of Hitler's intentions which streamed in upon us. There were, indeed, some who, on purely technical grounds , and for the sake of the effect the total defeat and destruction of his [Hitler] expedition would have on the general war, were quite content to see him try." That is pure Churchill. Guaranteed he was one of those who wished, secretly, to see Hitler try to invade England.

Pg. 255: "Certainly those who knew most were the least scared." Churchill on the feelings in England in the face of an invasion by the Germans.

No comments: