Thursday, December 08, 2011

The Gathering Storm :: A Reader's Diary, Part I

By way of explanation, sometimes when works are more than 500 pages long I choose to "keep a diary" as I read instead of writing a conclusive book review at the end. I've done this with a few books, such as Jane Eyre and Wives & Daughters. Winston Churchill, being a bit verbose, "requires" a diary of me.

On the side here you can see a picture of the edition of the 1948 (Houghton Mifflin Company) edition of The Gathering Storm which I own. (Only this is not a picture of MY book because I would never lay mine out flat and ruin the spine like that!) The Gathering Storm is part of Winston Churchill's series on World War II. It is the first book in the series, all of which I intend to read.

Whenever you mention the word "history" people's eyes tend to glaze over and they overlook the most fascinating stories as a result. History might tend to make people bored because it is frequently presented in dull fashion. Dry facts produce snores. I'll grant you that. Books like Unbroken (linked to my review) offer the student of history so much more because it brings the past to life through someone's personal story. Such is the case with Winston Churchill.

History will be kind to me, for I intend to write it. ~ Winston Churchill

This series takes a look at the history of World War II as it played out before Winston Churchill's eyes. He doesn't even try to be impartial. These books are his take on a remarkable period in world history and it's made even more remarkable when it is told to you through the pen of a passionate man.

Day 1: Read Chapters 1 through 3. Got a better idea of what caused World War II. Snickering over Churchill's take already. I really do admire the man but he sure has an opinion! (Which is why I admire him, no doubt. You always know where you stand in his eyes.)

"All this is a sad story of complicated idiocy in the making of which much toil and virtue was consumed." (Chapter 1, The Follies of the Victors, page 10)

Discovered that Churchill really does not have much patience with America. We apparently drag our feet too much when it comes to the problems of the world. I wonder if he'd approve of America's desire to involve herself in every little infraction all over the globe these days? Did he really wish for us to be everywhere?

Day 2: Read Chapters 4-5. Found Chapter 4, Adolf Hitler, quite fascinating. He gives us a history of Adolph Hitler's life and experiences post World War I which help to explain the man Hitler became. I knew most of the information about Hitler which Churchill shared but was greatly entertained by Churchill's description of the "lonely.....little soldier." Makes you feel like Churchill was patting Hitler on the head or something.

Equally amusing was Churchill's recitation of his visit to Germany wherein he almost met Hitler. I had heard of this chance meeting (which ultimately did not happen) but did not know the history of why the meeting failed to take place. Apparently Churchill had questioned Hitler's passionate dislike of the Jews and when this was communicated to Hitler, he declined to meet with Churchill after all.

"Thus Hitler lost his only chance of meeting me." (Chapter 5, The Locust Years, page 84)

Churchill's opinion of America immediately in the early 1930's?

"Absorbed in their own affairs and all the abounding interests, activities, and accidents of a free community, they simply gaped at the vast changes which were taking place in Europe, and imagined they were no concerns of theirs." (Chapter 5, The Locust Years, page 77)

Day 3: Chapters 6-10. Focused on disarming of France, specifically, and other nations generally while the Germans secretly (and sometimes not to secretly) rearmed themselves.

"The awful danger of our present foreign policy is that we go on perpetually asking the French to weaken themselves. . . . I cannot imagine a more dangerous policy. There is something to be said for isolation; there is something to be said for alliances. But there is nothing to be said for weakening the Power on the Continent with whom you would be in alliance, and then involving yourself more [deeply] in Continental tangles in order to make it up to them. In that way you have neither the one thing nor the other; you have the worst of both worlds.
The Romans had a maxim, "Shorten your weapons and lengthen your frontiers." But our maxim seems to be, "Diminish your weapons and increase your obligations." Aye, and diminish the weapons of your friends." (Chapter 6, The Darkening Scene, p. 94-95)

"It would be wrong in judging the policy of the British Government not to remember the passionate desire for peace which animated the uninformed, misinformed majority of the British people, and seemed to threaten with political extinction any party or politician who dared to take any other line." Chapter 7, Air Party Lost, page 112)

Churchill meets with a great deal of unpopularity in constantly criticizing the government for not doing more to prepare for the war which he predicts and foresees as being an absolute fact.

Day 4: Chapters 11-14. Hitler starts to make his move on France. German Foreign Minister Neurath told American Ambassador in Moscow, Mr. Bullitt, that "the youth of Austria was turning more and more towards the Nazis, and the dominance of the Nazi Party in Austria was inevitable and only a question of time." (Chapter 11, Hitler Strikes, page 206)

Makes me think of how little wisdom young people (I can't resist but put myself into that category as well to some extent - still!) possess and how quickly they disregard the opinions and life experiences of those older than them. Discernment is such an important thing and should be cultivated and valued. (I can't help but think of The Discipline of Spiritual Discernment, by Tim Challies when I see this note about the youth of Austria.)

In Chapter 12, The Loaded Pause, Churchill shares his comparison of Prime Ministers Baldwin and Chamberlin which is really quite fascinating. He says of the two:

"Stanley Baldwin was the wiser, more comprehending personality, but without detailed executive capacity. . . . He knew little of Europe, and disliked what he knew.
. . .
Neville Chamberlain, on the other hand, was alert, business-like, opinionated, and self-confident in a very high degree. Unlike Baldwin, he conceived himself able to comprehend the whole field of Europe, and indeed the world.
. . .
I should have found it easier to work with Baldwin, as I knew him, than with Chamberlain; but neither of them had any wish to work with me except in the last resort." (Chapter 12, The Loaded Pause, pp 221-222)

Churchill mentions, in the context of 1937, that he was twice invited to meet with Hitler. Churchill thought the better of meeting with Hitler at that time though, as he recognized that he did not have the authority of Britain behind him and didn't want to compromise himself, politically speaking, by agreeing to an audience with a man he didn't trust.

"There is no doubt that Hitler had a power of fascinating men, and the sense of force and authority is apt to assert itself unduly upon the tourist. Unless the terms are equal, it is better to keep away." (Chapter 14, Mr. Eden at Foreign Office: His Resignation, page 250)
England's refusal to acknowledge the threat of German re-armament continued to plague Churchill. The government wouldn't pay attention to Churchill's "rants" on the subject and so he had to sit idly by and watch his country ignore glaring problems. (Surely this would have been most frustrating!)

"Poor England! Leading her free, careless life from day to day, amid endless good-tempered parliamentary babble, she followed, wondering, along the downward path which led to all she wanted to avoid. She was continually reassured by the leading articles of the most influential newspapers, with some honourable exceptions, and behaved as if all the world were as easy, uncalculating, and well-meaning as herself." (Chapter 14, Mr. Eden at Foreign Office: His Resignation, page 254)
There's a lesson in that for modern day audiences (as well as "casual Christians"!)

** Breaking up this post for length sake. Part II to follow tomorrow. **


Barbara H. said...

I think keeping a diary for longer books is a good idea. Sometimes I get to the end of a book, but when I look back at the beginning I realize I've already forgotten some of it.

BerlinerinPoet said...

You are right! It's such a shame we young folks (yes, you too...although I don't think you and I actually have this problem) disregard history or just people who have come before us. That's why I studied history in college. I think it's dangerous when we don't know the people who built our world and formed our ideas.

However, also in school my senior thesis was about biased history. What it is and how we can avoid it. So perhaps Mr. Churchill's book might grate on my nerves. I suppose as long as I know beforehand that he's just calling it as he sees it, it would bother me less. Plus, it's less of a history, almost a memoir since he lived through it. And as we all know, memoir can really be anything we want. *cough* Mortenson *cough cough* (before anyone gets annoyed I am NOT comparing the two men...just making a joke)

I cracked up when you said, "this is not a picture of my book because I would never lay mine out flat," because the minute I saw the picture I thought. WHY WOULD SHE DO THAT TO HER BOOK!?! Glad you clarified. hahaha!

Carrie said...

BerlinerinPoet - Yes, I see what you mean about biased history. I think in some ways this WOULD annoy you. I think thought that, mostly, it would not. (I'll expand on those thoughts a very tiny bit in tomorrow's post.)

HUGE grin about you being equally horrified about the spine of that poor, defenseless book!!! It's HORRENDOUS!

Diary of an Autodidact said...

Excellent diary excerpt, Carrie. I look forward to the ones to come.

Since you KNOW I have opinions about this book and everything else, here goes:

1. There is no such thing as unbiased history. There is no such thing as unbiased journalism. There is plenty that masquerades as unbiased in both fields. I believe it is better to acknowledge one's biases up front rather than pretend they don't exist.

2. Young people cling to absurd and dangerous ideas when they sense that the "old folks" are clinging to hollow and untrue values. I believe we are seeing this in our time. Nazism triumphed during a period of economic distress and following a period of philosophical emptiness.

BerlinerinPoet said...

This is what I get for commenting and not checking back.

Carrie: Now, here is my bias. I have an easier time reading history that is biased...if I agree with it. And knowing a teeny tiny bit about Churchhill, I probably do. So, I'm definitely adding it to my "to-read" list.

Diary of an Autodidact: The statement "there is no such thing as unbiased history" is a bit of an axiom that no one really takes time to examine. You are correct in repeating it, but you have to go a bit deeper than that. Obviously because it is written by humans, you can't remove it's humanity. However, the difference between a Howard Zinn and a Eugene Genovese for example is palpable.

bekahcubed said...

Oh wow--I think I might have just added another rather long book (or set of books) to my TBR list. These excerpts reveal Churchill as a remarkably witty writer--if anyone could hold my attention through a comprehensive (adult) history of WW2, it'd be he (right?)

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