Friday, December 09, 2011

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

This post is Part II of my thoughts on The Gathering Storm, by Winston Churchill. You can read Part I by clicking on the link.

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.


DAY 5, 6 & 7: Read Chapters 15 - the end of Book I, then Chapters 1-3 of Book 2. Period covered: the fall of Czechoslovakia through the "The Ruin of Poland."

*Blogger issues. Lost what I had written down about this period of time. Arg.*

Most notable (to me) things to note:

* Chamberlain's unrealistic hopefulness that Hitler would form, if not friendly, at least peaceful relations with England.

* Churchill continues to see the writing on the wall whereas Hitler is concerned and recognizes that a nasty war is not to be avoided. He notes many opportunities that various leaders in various countries might have had to avoid war - none of which were taken. There seems to have been an assortment of missed opportunities to cause Hitler to pause in his acts of aggression but due to lack of foresight, peoples suffered and, as we know, the world embarked on yet another war. Churchill says of some missed opportunities:

"Still, if you will not fight for the right when you can easily win without bloodshed; if you will not fight when your victory will be sure and not too costly; you may come to the moment when you will have to fight with all the odds against you and only a precarious chance of survival. There may even be a worse case. you may have to fight when there is no hope of victory, because it is better to perish than to live as slaves." (Chapter 19, Prague, Albania, and the Polish Guarantee, page 348)
I would like to apply that quote to personal sin issues. How often do we "fudge" in our sinful behaviors. A little white lie here? A tiny little whisper of gossip there? A bill left unpaid? An uncalled for excuse? One missed apology - that you think no one will notice and isn't necessary? Winston's remarks remind me of James 1:15:

Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.
If we were vigilant against sin, and kept a tender heart turned towards God, we could win against sins. But we let them grow and fester until they demand more attention than we like to give. We find ourselves trapped and at war against the painful consequences of our own actions. If only we had been obedient to God's word in the first place and nipped sin in the bud. I think Winston paints a picture of unchecked sinful behaviors quite well, actually. I've been thinking over these words quite a bit.

On another topic, he also addressed the attitude and mindset of the British population when the threat to Poland was looming over them and war was almost at hand. He says:

"It is a curious fact about the British Islanders, who hate drill and have not been invaded for nearly a thousand years, that as dangers comes nearer and grows, they becoming progressively less nervous; when it is imminent, they are fierce; when it is mortal, they are fearless. These habits have led them into some very narrow escapes." (Chapter 21, On the Verge, page 397)

I just liked that.

Side note about how Churchill managed to function, physically, during the war (in case you weren't aware):

"I always went to bed at least for one hour as early as possible in the afternoon and exploited to the full my happy gift of falling almost immediately into a deep sleep. By this means I was able to press a day and a half's work into one. Nature had not intended mankind to work from eight in the morning until midnight without that refreshment of blessed oblivion which, even if it only lasts twenty minutes, is sufficient to renew the vital forces. I regretting having to send myself to bed like a child every afternoon, but I was rewarded by being able to work through the night until two or even later - sometimes much later - in the morning, and begin the new day between eight and nine o'clock." (Book Two, Chapter 1, War, page 421)

Day 8-9: Read Chapters 4 - the conclusion.

Woah. I closed the book with a loud exhale. Would you believe me if I said this book was a real page turner for me? And that I was holding my breath while reading it, even though I knew how this portion of history would turn out? Well, I did and it's all true. From the "Twilight War" (with no one of great, great import being named Edward, thank you very much!) to Churchill being given the role of Prime Minster and being placed in charge of creating a national government, I was spell-bound.

Spell-bound, in part, because of all of the parallels I see to the events leading up to World War II and issues in my own private life as well as issues in relation to others, and in relation to sin. Not to mention issues in relation to how the modern church at large has compromised vital points in the Gospel. So many applications could be made from Churchill's recitations to our own Christian walk that it's mind boggling. It would take "days, weeks, months, who knows?" to make even half of the spiritual applications that could be made.

Would I recommend this read? Oh, you betcha!

Things of note:

* The British (and the French) were consciously aware of the fact that they needed to not escalate the violence beyond what the Germans were inflicting upon the world population. Churchill made the following statement to Prime Minister Chamberlain in a note dated September 10, 1939:

"It is to our interest that the war should be conducted in accordance with the more humane conceptions of war, and that we should follow and not proceed the Germans in the process, no doubt inevitable, of deepening severity and violence." (Book Two, Chapter 4, War Cabinet Problems, page 453)

* This same statement of duty and honor even in a time of war seems to frustrate Churchill later on when trying to convince the French to take action against Hitler (in Norway) before Hitler had taken direction land action against the French. Churchill writes in a very frustrated tone:

"M. Daladier told me with an air of exceptional formality that "The President of the Republic himself had intervened and that no aggressive action must be taken which might only draw reprisals upon France." This idea of not irritating the enemy did not commend itself to me. Hitler had done his best to strangle our commerce by the indiscriminate mining of our harbors. We had beaten him by defensive means alone. Good, decent, civilized people, it appeared, must never strike themselves until after they have been struck dead." (Book Two, Chapter 11, Before the Storm, page 574)

* Churchill also notes at one point that he believes Hitler to think that the English will settle for peace at all costs. "It never occurred to him for a moment that Mr. Chamberlain and the rest of the British Empire and Commonwealth of Nations now meant to have his blood or perish in the attempt." (Book Two, Chapter 6, page 485)

I love that! I love it when the day of compromise has ended and truth is seen for what it is and prevails. And oh, world, it will! Truth will prevail!

* Churchill continues to do all in his power as First Lord of the Admiralty to prepare the country for what he believes is coming at the hands of Germany. He writes to the Prime Minister that the gas masks should be issued and that London's street lights should be fixed so that street wardens can have control of them. Churchill showed a lot of great wisdom and forethought which I really very much admire. He paid attention to details which could have been so easily overlooked.

* Churchill related the following anecdote which took places on November 13, 1939 when there was much initial activity with U-boats:

Churchill had been invited to have dinner with Chamberlain and his wife as the following occurred:

"During dinner the war went on and things happened. With the soup an officer came up from the War Room below to report that a U-boat had been sunk. With the sweet he came again and reported that a second U-boat had been sunk. Nothing like this had ever happened before in a single day, and it was more than a year before such a record was repeated. As the ladies left us, Mrs. Chamberlain, with a naive and charming glance, said to me, "Did you arrange all this on purpose?" I assured her that if she would come again we would produce a similar result." (Book Two, Chapter 6, The Combat Deepens, page 495)

* The United States will wanted (very much) to have nothing to do with the war and imposed a "security zone" along their coast lines to attempt to keep the war at bay. (Book Two, Chapter 8, The Action Off the River Plate, page 514-516)

* Churchill argued that women be allowed into the workforce to help produce the ammunition and equipment needed to fight the war. (Book Two, Chapter 10, A Dark New Year, page 555)

* Lastly (for purposes of this diary), Chamberlain resigned as Prime Minister and Churchill was appointed in his place.

". . . I cannot conceal from the reader of this truthful account that as I went to bed at about 3 a.m., I was conscious of a profound sense of relief. At last I had the authority to give directions over the whole scene. I felt as if I were walking with Destiny, and that all my past life had been but a preparation for this hour and for this trial. . . . Therefore impatient for the morning, I slept soundly and had no need for cheering dreams. Facts are better than dreams." (Book Two, Chapter 17, The Fall of the Government, page 667)

I really like this guy! I just do!

Now, I think there is a very valid argument that the history he is writing here is biased. I think he does work awfully hard to make sure the reader understands that he is not just telling you his point of view but he quotes transcripts and manuscripts and meeting minutes to help not only prove his points but offer proof that the facts he is laying out are true. He doesn't come across as a man who is attempting to mislead people. Not at all. Rather, I think he is a very black and white sort of fellow. (It probably doesn't hurt that I'm very black & white and have maybepossibly had a few of the same feelings about facts clashing with truth which he expressed here in his memoirs. (I'll go ahead and call it a memoir for I think it is that.)

Do I believe the history as he has laid out here? Yes, I do. He takes time, thought and gives attention to detail when laying out the chain of events leading up to World War II. He sticks to history as he knows it and when he wants to represent the mindset of another, he quotes from their letters or statements to explain why he (Churchill) thinks as he does. All in all, I find him to be trustworthy and reliable and I do very much admire him.

And that just about wraps up The Gathering Storm for me! I think I'll take a breather before I proceed onto the second book in this series, Their Finest Hour. But I shall look forward to it also!


Amy @ Hope Is the Word said...

I love your enthusiasm over this, Carrie! It makes md want to read it. In my B.C. life (before children), I taught world history and really enjoyed teaching this time period.

Bluerose said...

It's funny that these aren't books that I would even THINK about reading.....until your posts. You ALMOST have me thinking I'd like to read these now, though.

(But then I think about you having panic attacks while reading them, and I realize they probably wouldn't be the best thing for me). :P

Carrie said...

Not PANIC attacks. Bad dreams. =D (Panic attacks in the middle of the night!?) ;D

I should note that I read this book over the period of about a month and a half. I took me 9 reading days total but I did space it as I paused mid-read due to the nature of my dreams at one point. (Air raids, trying to save my children, etc.) I sort in the books I'm reading, I guess! ;D

Diary of an Autodidact said...

It never ceases to amaze me when reading any of Churchill's books, particularly this set, that he had both an incredibly broad and encompassing vision but also an exacting attention to detail.

Sherry said...

Have you watched the miniseries Winston Churchill: The Wilderness Years? And have I already recommended it to you? It really is very well acted and informative.

Carrie said...

Sherry, nope! Haven't. But I'll definitely have to look that up. I've seen The Gathering Storm and Into the Storm movies and enjoyed those both very much. But I haven't seen the mini series. Thanks for the tip!!

Shonya said...

You're killing me here!!! You're making me wish I had a lovely week to curl up with these books and just immerse myself into them. And my list for 2012 is already daunting.

On a side note, you really MUST check out the biography of Bonhoeffer recently written by Metaxas. I have a feeling you would thoroughly enjoy it as well.

BerlinerinPoet said...

Sounds like one I can't miss!

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