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Jewish World Review March 22, 2002 / 9 Nisan, 5762

Bill Steigerwald

Bill Steigerwald
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Troublemaking intellectual puts Churchill in spotlight | Look out below.

Revisionist historians are toppling the statue of one of the greatest supermen of Western Civilization.

This time, the beloved victim is everybody's all-time favorite 20th-century leader, Winston Churchill, the brilliant, heroic and wartime prime minister of England.

Every American schoolchild has been raised to honor and revere Churchill for his country-rallying oratory and his near-singular ability to foresee the threat to Western Civilization posed first by the Nazis and then by the Commies.

Churchill is still a great man, Christopher Hitchens concludes in Atlantic Monthly, in another of his entertaining, erudite and provocative essays.

But Churchill's mythic reputation, built into near-cult status in America, has been brought hard to earth by a gang of historians who no longer are willing to leave out some of the true but unflattering stuff that previous historians have.

It's not just that the everyday Churchill was a ruthless, boorish, manipulative alcoholic who smoked too many cigars. Or that three of his famous 1940 radio broadcasts actually were delivered by an actor hired to impersonate him.

Or that brave Britain's beaches were never in danger of actually being invaded by the German army, whose High Command never drew up serious plans to do so. Or even that Churchill and Roosevelt seriously disliked and distrusted each other.

Churchill's amazing government career, says Hitchens and the 13 history books he employs to make his case, is strewn with "many defeats, fiascoes and dishonors."

The inglorious list includes Churchill's role in the World War I disaster at Gallipoli, his "ruling-class thuggery against the labor movement," his "diehard imperialism over India" and "his pre-war sympathy for fascism."

Pulling quotes left and right, Hitchens, the rumpled Vanity Fair columnist, prolific author and troublemaking intellectual, shows that Churchill was hardly the "resolute and unwavering opponent" of the dictators that prowled Europe in the 1930s, including Stalin and Hitler.

Yet, after many pages of chopping away at the reigning Churchill myth, Hitchens suddenly pivots 180 degrees and points to a 1938 speech in which Churchill "excoriated" the Nazi empire "as a wicked and nihilistic thing."

That sounds like a no-brainer today, but Hitchens says it was what makes Churchill pretty great after all. Churchill, "alone among his contemporaries," was a leader who saw the Nazi empire for what it really was - not as a threat to the wobbling British empire but a "pornographic and catastrophically destructive" evil.

Sen. Ted Kennedy will never be confused with Churchill, especially by American conservatives. But even Kennedy's staunchest ideological enemies might be shocked to see all the nice things Republicans and conservatives such as Trent Lott and President Bush say about "The Senate's Fighting Liberal" in the March 25 Nation.

Jack Newfield's excellently written piece declares Kennedy "the best and most effective senator of the past 100 years." He says that the key to his success is "his remarkable capacity to form warm, genuine friendships - more than mere working alliances - with GOP senators."

The Nation couldn't have produced a better 70th birthday present for Kennedy, who - no matter how little you think of his politics and his public private sins - is apparently a nice, honorable, decent guy when he's on the job.

JWR contributor Bill Steigerwald is an associate editor and columnist at the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. Comment by clicking here.

03/20/02: 10 minutes with ... Bill Bennett
03/18/02: Suddenly, it's cool again to be a man
03/12/02: 10 minutes with Ken Adelman
03/08/02: TIME asks the nation a scary question
03/05/02: 10 minutes with ... Rich Lowry
02/26/02: 10 minutes with ... Tony Snow
02/12/02: Has Soldier of Fortune gone soft?

© 2002, Bill Steigerwald