Jared's Reviews > The Second World War

The Second World War by Winston S. Churchill
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's review
Nov 02, 2007

it was amazing
Recommended for: anyone
Read in January, 2007

Been rereading this at random, in bits and pieces. It's one of those works I can do that with, every few years or so, and it's always a pleasure. I can pick up almost any book in the set, and open it almost at random, and immediately appreciate the great sweep of events being portrayed by this keen and aggressive mind, and the lively prose. Even the reprints of Churchill's daily memos are fascinating and lively. More than recounting events and his role in them, Churchill can weave those events thoroughly into a number of ongoing historical themes and arguments. Foremost is the need for unity among nations in the face of danger. Churchill portrays nearly every wartime success by the Allies as due to such unity, and every failure or setback as due to the lack of it. He takes great pains in "The Gathering Storm" to go into detail about the various European countries that tried to remain neutral as the Nazi menace grew, and were gobbled up one by one.

Among all the events of that terrible war, I often come back to the account in "Their Finest Hour" of the British attack on the French fleet at Oran in 1940. This episode stands out for its unusual drama, pathos and moral complexity, its vivid portrayal of the penalties of ruthless action, sadly forseen.

Another observation. Nowadays, Churchill has a (well-deserved) bad reputation for his unreconstructed colonialism, his desire to keep hold for ever and ever over all the British Empire and its oppressed millions. Yet in reading these books, you can see how he made use of the colonies during the war, and it casts the colonial enterprise in a new light. Freetown and Capetown, Gibraltar, Malta, Alexandria and Suez, Basra, Sri Lanka, Bombay, Burma and Singapore, instantly became strategic strongpoints, launching-points and transport routes for military action in support of allies or against enemies. Britain's enemies, Germany, Italy and Japan (and for a short while, Russia) coveted these same locales for the same reasons and in some cases Britain was forced to cede them, like knights or rooks sacrificed off the chessboard. It makes one think that the British Empire's architects, men like Churchill, chose their colonies for that very reason, to help defend the home country against other world Powers, and that they never gave a damn about the people who lived there, it was never about spreading civilization or culture or commerce at all. And seen in the light of the events of 1940-42, when Britain was beaten time after time but by making use of key bases around the globe, it kept on fighting and rebuilding its strength, you might say that the Empire served its purpose.

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