On Thursday, I went to the ATM machine. It’s not often that one gets £5 notes from the cash machine, especially when one asks for cash in multiples of £10 (at least not in my experience). Yet out popped the brand new British pound notes with the bullfrog face of Sir Winston Churchill on them. Silky smooth, almost starch straightened, greenish-gray paper. The epigram on the notes?: “All I have to offer is blood, sweat, toil, and tears.” A suitable theme for the UK, post-Brexit, I thought.
Churchill was a great speaker but – and I’ll be charitable – a deeply flawed politician (see my blog post here for more). His renown lives on through his words, but his fame was sealed because he was the man who led the UK to victory in WWII.
The effect of Churchill-mania has been deleterious in both the UK and USA (Churchill was the one who first spoke of the Anglo-American ‘special relationship,’ for example). What perhaps has been even worse is the way that WWII has assumed a place – through incessant propaganda – in history as the watershed conflict in human history. As opposed to WWI, which is seen as a waste of youthful lives thrown into the mincing machines of Flanders, the Somme and other battlefields, WWII is the ‘good war.’ Any sacrifices that were made were seen as worth it.
In reality, WWII was a strategic mistake for the UK and other Western powers. This is shown by the aftermath of the war. Hitler had no intentions of moving Westward in 1939 and instead of leaving Hitler and Stalin duke it out in a war which would weakened both parties, the UK and US ended up forging an alliance with Stalin. Not only did they fasten their fortunes to that of the Georgian tyrant but they also assisted the Russians post-WWII in dividing up Europe and even in allowing Stalin to take revenge on his enemies, such as the Cossacks. For nearly half a century, four times the length of the Third Reich, peoples in Poland, Romania, Bulgaria, Albania, etc … lived under Communist rule. They lived under surveillance, in fear of their lives, in hunger, in destitution. They existed in the very dark corners of human life that WWII supposedly eradicated.
Not only was the success of Communism confined to Eastern Europe. Stalin’s victory opened up new Socialist storefronts in the Far East and Latin America, although, to be fair, populations in the latter region fared better than most. Communism also had a knock-on effect in countries to the West of the Iron Curtain. To compete with the supposed equality and justice of Socialist regimes, governments were forced to borrow heavily to finance deficit spending in the West. The State had to expand and liberties were curbed so as to equalize everyone.
Churchill’s manifestation on British bank-notes is another example of WWII mania. Yet, why don’t we hold him culpable for facilitating Communism? His legacy and the true impact of WWII should not go unquestioned.