Sunday, August 5, 2007

Sir Winston Churchill (1874-1965)

Sierra Club


From now on, ending a sentence with a preposition is something up with which I will not put.


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Sir Winston Leonard Spencer Churchill (November 30, 1874 - January 24, 1965). Born at Blenheim Palace, Winston Churchill was a descendant of the first famous member of the Churchill family: John Churchill, the 1st Duke of Marlborough. Winston's father, Lord Randolph Churchill, was the third son of the 7th Duke of Marlborough. The first notable appearance of Winston Churchill was as a war-correspondent in the second Anglo-Boer war between Britain and self-proclaimed Afrikaaners in South Africa. He was captured in a Boer ambush of a British Army train convoy, but managed a high profile escape and eventually crossed the South African border to Lorenzo Marques (now Maputo in Mozambique).

Churchill used the status achieved to begin a political career. At first a member of the Conservative party, he soon crossed to the Liberals and entered the Cabinet in his early thirties. His early career was distinctly unimpressive. He was one of the political and military engineers of the tragic and disastrous Gallipoli landings on the Dardanelles during World War I, which led to his description as "the butcher of Gallipoli". He was a signatory of the Anglo-Irish treaty of 1921 which established the Irish Free State. Later, during the general strike of 1926, Churchill again gained notoriety, this time due to his suggestion that machine guns should be used on the unarmed miners. Churchill came to the fore of British politics during World War II. Having crossed the floor back to the Conservatives, he was a fierce critic of Neville Chamberlain's political handling of Adolf Hitler. On Chamberlain's resignation in early 1940, Churchill formed the next government.

His speeches at that time were a great inspiration to the embattled United Kindom. His famous "I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears and sweat" speech was his first as Prime Minister. He followed that closely, prior to the Battle of Britain, with "We shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be, we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender."

He paid the Royal Air Force the highest compliment after the Battle of Britain with "Never in field of human conflict has so much been owed by so many, to so few". His good relationship with U.S. president Franklin Roosevelt secured the United Kingdom vital supplies via the North Atlantic Ocean shipping routes. Churchill had also established the Special Operations Europe (SOE) that attempted guerilla operations in occupied France, with notable success.

Churchill was one of the driving forces behind the treaties that would re-draw post-WWII European and Asian boundaries. The boundary between North Korea and South Korea were proposed at the Yalta Conference, as well as the expulsion of Japanese from those countries. Proposals for European boundaries and settlements were discussed as early as 1943 by Roosevelt and Churchill; the settlement was officially agreed to by Truman, Churchill, and Stalin at Potsdam (Article XIII of the Potsdam protocol).

One of these settlements was the boundary between the future East Germany and Poland at the Oder-Neisse line, which was rationalized as compensation for Soviet gains in Ukraine. As part of the settlement was an agreement to continue the expulsion of ethnic Germans from the area, which arguably had begun as a program after 1920 when Poland had been given the Polish Corridor by Britain and France. The exact numbers and movement of ethnic populations over the Polish-German and Polish-USSR borders in the period between the end of World War I and the end of World War II is vastly difficult to determine. This is not least because, under the Nazi regime, many Poles were replaced in their homes by the conquering Germans in an attempt to consolidate Nazi power. In the case of the post-WWII settlement, Chuchill was convinced that the only way to alleviate tensions between the two populations was the expulsion of the Germans, despite the fact that many of the ethnic Germans had lived in Poland for generations. As Churchill expounded in the House of Commons in 1944, "Expulsion is the method which, in so far as we have been able to see, will be the most satisfactory and lasting. There will be no mixture of populations to cause endless trouble...A clean sweep will be made. I am not alarmed by these transferences, which are more possible in modern conditions..."

Although the importance of Churchill's role in World War II was undeniable, he produced many enemies in his own country. His expressed contempt for ideas such as public health care and for better education for the majority of the population in particular produced much dissatisfaction amongst the population, particularly those who had fought in the war. Immediately following the close of the war in Europe Churchill was heavily defeated at election by Clement Attlee.

Following this defeat Churchill headed the opposition, until he was again elected as Prime Minister in 1951. He retired because of his health in 1955. He died on 24 January 1965.

Churchill is believed by several writers to have suffered from bipolar disorder; certainly he suffered from fits of depression that he called his "black dogs". In 1953 he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature. At the beginning of the Cold War he coined the term the "Iron Curtain," a phrase that entered the public consciousness after a 1946 speech at Westminster College in Fulton, Missouri when he famously declared "From Stettin on the Baltic to Trieste on the Adriatic, an Iron Curtain has descended across the continent. Behind that line lie all the capitals of the ancient states of Central and Eastern Europe. Warsaw, Berlin, Prague, Vienna, Budapest, Belgrade, Bucharest and Sofia, all these famous cities and the populations around them lie in what I must call the Soviet sphere."

The United States Navy destroyer USS Winston Churchill (DD-81) is named in his honor. Churchill is known as a great wit as well as a politician. Nancy Astor once told him "If I were your wife I'd poison your coffee," to which Churchill replied: "If I were your husband, madam, I would drink it." Another example relates to a report which he received from Admiral Pound, whom Churchill did not rate. On the report he wrote "Pennywise". [This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License and uses material adapted in whole or in part from the Wikipedia article on Sir Winston Churchill.]

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