If you are going through Hell, keep going

Few days ago, whilst searching for reviews of The Last Lion – an exhaustive, 3.000 page trilogy/biography of Winston Spencer Churchill, I peeked at a Goodreads page of Churchill: A Life, Martin Gilbert’s take on WSC’s biography of modest 900 pages. I looked for comparison, because that one I have read, twice, and I wanted to know – shall I spend the time and money on the other monster-of-a-book? But that is not what I want to share today.

Winston Churchill is a figure that does not cease to amaze me – his life was a constant sinusoid of ups and downs, struggle, victories and defeats, joy and sorrow. What follows is a beautiful Goodreads review/summary written by Leah Walker of Churchill: A Life. Consider for yourself:

“Ok so I am not done, but I need to talk about it all the same.

Turns out that I knew very little about Winston Churchill.   …  Churchill belongs to that category of those who triumph over childhoods miseries and failures. He was dumped in a boarding school at the age of 7 and rarely saw his parents. He was sickly, difficult and stupid.  His education path was turned towards the army because his parents didn’t think he was smart enough to be a lawyer!

After 3 failed attempts he [barely] passes the entrance exam into officer’s training for the cavalry (he wasn’t smart enough for the infantry… Who Knew?). His father dies from syphyllis and his last letter to his son berated him for his many failures. [Also his mother frequently told him that if he couldn’t put himself together, then he may grew up into nobody]

THEN… all of a sudden this quiet sullen boy turns into a super confident(arrogant) super hero! He fights in battles in India [and Sudan]. He is regularly the hero of the battle and saves the day. He spurns death regularly. His exploits lead him to journalism and then memoirs. He is taken a prisoner of war and escapes by hiding in a mine shaft for 5 days and then jumping on to a train. By the age of 25 he is the most sought after lecturer in England (despite his lisp), he has written 5 books and has been voted into the House of Commons. His command of the english language is suddenly brilliant. (What is it about the loss of aristocracy and the crossing of a continent that has depleted our own english abilities. No offense but can an american ever out write the english?)

One may fall under the illusion that this is a happy ending. And yet – in the first couple of  elections, he is defeated (despite being a son of a well-known and much respected politician Randolph Churchill). Finally, he makes it into the parliament as a member of Conservative party. Soon though, the party’s and his view on free trade & tariffs differ dramatically, and he crosses the Parliament floor and sits at “the other side” – among Liberals. He would carry this decision to stay true to his beliefs as stigma, and for decades to come would mark him as an opponent in eyes of many conservatives.

He would be blamed (and still is by ignorant, uninformed people) for the failure of Gallipoli campaign. Nearly quarter of a million casualties and wasted Allied effort would be attributed to him. The then PM Mr. Asquith would not allow materials from government & Admiralty archives be published & used by WSC in his defense (they would prove that real responsibility lay elsewhere, most likely on general Kitchener). MPs would regularly shout “…and what about Dardanels?” whenever he spoke in the Parliament.

He became an outcast. In thirties, whenever he warned the Parliament about Hitler, reproached the government for cutting down on Naval and Army expenses, and accused it of neglecting Airforce development and research – all in the face of German rearmament – he would be called a warmonger, opponent of peace, and hissed at. They would not listen until the dark day of September 1, 1939. Since May 1940, when he became the Prime Minister, he would be expected to win the war – despite the critical un-preparedness of the Empire for war [here I shall mention a great point of historian J. Lukacs, who said “Churchill did not win the war. More critically, in 1940-41, he did not lose it.”]

Right after the war was won, he lost the elections and once again had to sit on the sidelines and watch the leaders of Allies at the peace conference plunge from WWII straight into the Cold War, something he knew was happening from very early on [as soon as 1942 I believe].

Many a time people thought Churchill was done and ripe for retirement. That happened during 1920s, 1930s, and after the war. Every single time, he would answer the critics with zeal, perseverance, wisdom and fire. He makes a formidable figure and a true example that when you walk through hell, for Pete’s sake, keep on walking. And of course:

“Never give in. Never give in. Never, never, never, never—in nothing, great or small, large or petty—never give in, except to convictions of honour and good sense. Never yield to force. Never yield to the apparently overwhelming might of the enemy.”

– Winston S. Churchill

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About Petr Klíma