The Weekly Winston: How Did He Know?

I lectured on Churchill to a student group last night, and one student asked me how it was that Churchill came to such early clarity about the menace of Hitler—Churchill gave his first warning about the Nazi peril just days after Hitler took power in 1933—when everyone else around him either failed to be alarmed or took the path of least resistance, leading to the appalling appeasement policy of the Baldwin-Chamberlain years.

There’s a lot to be said on this important point, but suffice it here simply to observe that Churchill understood the character of tyrants—and the dynamics of tyrannical regimes—better than most people around him.  These are lessons that might be heeded today in understanding, for example, why Iran is highly unlikely to reach a reasonable accommodation with the rest of the world over its drive for nuclear weapons.

In 1937 Churchill wrote an article for Colliers magazine here in the U.S. in which he explained why the logic of the Nazi regime would lead it inevitably to aggression.  Here’s one key excerpt:

Thus we are confronted with a situation in Europe abhorrent to its peoples, including the great mass of German and Italian peoples, in which bands of competent, determined men under ruthless leadership find themselves alike unable to go or to stop.  It may well be that the choice before Germany is a choice between an internal and an external explosion.  But it is not Germany that will really choose.  It is only that band of politicians who have obtained this enormous power, whose movements are guided by two or three men, who will decide the supreme issue of peace or war.  To this horrible decision they cannot come unbiased.  Economic and political ruin may stare them in the face, and the only means of escape may be victory in the field.  They have the power to make war.  They have the incentive to make war; nay, it may well be almost compulsion.

As I say, swap out “Iran” for “Germany” in the paragraph above, and you can see what concentrates Benjamin Netanyahu’s mind at the moment.


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