Friday, Feb. 04, 2011

Winston Churchill

It's difficult to imagine 20th century Britain without Sir Winston Churchill. Through two world wars and beyond, he played a pivotal role in the nation's foreign affairs, first as the lord of the admirality at the start of World War I and then as prime minister during World War II. But while he, along with the other Allied leaders, helped save Britain from Axis conquest, he also ruled as the once-mighty British Empire completed its retreat from the world stage. The scorn and outright racism he felt for many of Britain's former colonial subjects are a facet of his past historians have only recently started to acknowledge.

In 1939, on the day Britain declared war on Germany, he again became head of the British navy. But it was soon clear that only Churchill could unite the country in the face of Nazi aggression, and he eventually replaced the acquiescent Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain. Churchill's stirring oratory and ever-present confidence (just think of his regular flashing of the V for victory sign) galvanized the British people and carried them through five years of European conflict. But he was a wartime leader, not a true politician, and lost his job in July 1945. Churchill remained a force throughout the 1950s, though, regaining his position as prime minister in 1951 and warning of the growing strength of the Soviet Union and its Iron Curtain.