In a moment of undue optimism, I bought the two books, but I've had no time to read much of anything, so they've been sitting on the shelf for a very long time, collecting dust. Now that I'm taking the train to work, I finally finished reading Michael Chrichton's State of Fear, which I started months ago, and which was OK but too full of lectures on the falsity of Global Warming that stopped any action. I don't recommend spending any money on it.
Tonight I got out Volume I. I was tempted to go straight to Volume II, because that's the one Hugh talks about the most, but I resisted. I decided it's probably better to start with the one that tells what forces shaped Churchill, the young man, into the lion who would lead the free world alone against Hitler's forces of darkness. The preamble opens at Dunkirk, the amazing (some say miraculous) evacuation of British and French troops who were trapped between the finest of Hitler's army and the English Channel. Manchester describes the kind of leader needed for that time:
England's new leader, were he to prevail, would have to stand for everything England's decent, civilized Establishment had rejected. They viewed Adolph Hitler as the product of complex social and historical forces. Their successor would have to be a passionate Manichaean who saw the world as a medieval struggle to the death between the powers of good and the powers of evil, who held that individuals are responsible for their actions and that the German dictator was therefore wicked.... An embodiment of fading Victorian standards was wanted: a tribune for honor, loyalty, duty, and the supreme virtue of action; one who would never compromise with iniquity, who could create a sublime mood and thus give men heroic visions of what they were and might become. Like Adolph Hitler he would have to be a leader of intuitive genius, a born demagogue in the original sense of the word, a believer in the supremacy of his race and his national destiny, an artist who knew how to gather the blazing light of history into his prism and then distort it to his ends, an embodiment of inflexible resolution who could impose his will and his imagination on his people... who could if necessary be just as cruel, as cunning, and just as ruthless as Hitler but who could win victories without enslaving populations, or preaching supernaturalism, or foisting off myths of his infallibility, or destroying, or even warping, the libertarian institutions he had sworn to preserve. Such a man, if he existed, would be England's last chance.
In London there was such a man.
Tuesday, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld delivered a speech before the American Legion in Salt Lake City. In it he addressed many of these same points.
Over the next decades, a sentiment took root that contended that if only the growing threats that had begun to emerge in Europe and Asia could be accommodated, then the carnage and the destruction of then-recent memory of World War I could be avoided.
It was a time when a certain amount of cynicism and moral confusion set in among Western democracies. When those who warned about a coming crisis, the rise of fascism and nazism, they were ridiculed or ignored. Indeed, in the decades before World War II, a great many argued that the fascist threat was exaggerated or that it was someone else's problem. Some nations tried to negotiate a separate peace, even as the enemy made its deadly ambitions crystal clear. It was, as Winston Churchill observed, a bit like feeding a crocodile, hoping it would eat you last.
I recount that history because once again we face similar challenges in efforts to confront the rising threat of a new type of fascism. Today -- another enemy, a different kind of enemy -- has made clear its intentions with attacks in places like New York and Washington, D.C., Bali, London, Madrid, Moscow and so many other places. But some seem not to have learned history's lessons.
We still need today that which was needed in 1939. We need a leader who both understands the threat we face and can inspire the American people to face and defeat that threat. President Bush understands, but his ability to inspire leaves something to be desired.
As I look to the 2008 horizon, I don't know if I can see another Churchill waiting to be called into service. I pray that God has prepared just the right man for such a time as this.