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A Million Words a Year. The years of peace were never Churchill's happiest. He went back to the Tory Party. ''Anybody can rat," he explained with a grin, "but it takes a certain amount of ingenuity to re-rat." In 1924 he became Chancellor of the Exchequer, a post for whose decimal definitives ("those damn little dots") he was not well suited. His first budget was the first link in the deflationary chain that led to a general strike, a nationwide depression, and the fall of the second Baldwin government.
Out of the Cabinet, denied even a seat in the Commons, he painted and laid bricks, traveled widely, and wrote an average of a million words a year. Later, during the dismal era when Hitler and Mussolini were rising and Britain shuttered its windows to the world, Churchill returned to the House to rum ble bitter warnings from his seat below the Tory gangway. He was unheeded, but never unheard.
When Britain finally declared war in 1939, the government turned once again to Churchill. He occupied his old desk at the Admiralty, and the message flashed to Royal Navy ships around the world: WINSTON is BACK. As the Nazi tide rolled toward Britain's shores, Parliament finally turned Chamberlain out. In May 1940, King George VI asked Churchill to form the new government. In his first address as Prime Minister, Churchill told the House of Commons:
"I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears and sweat."
"Let us therefore," he said later, in words as noble as were ever spoken under stress, "brace ourselves to our duties, and so bear ourselves that, if the British Commonwealth and Empire last for a thousand years, men will still say, This was their finest hour.' "
Churchill wielded greater personal power during the five wartime years than any other Prime Minister in British history. No detail was too small to escape his attention as strategist or statesman. Clad in the siren suit that he invented, a cigar clamped grotesquely in the midst of his cherubic countenance, he never tired of inspecting troops or chatting with victims of the blitz, often had to be dragged protesting from a rooftop as London shuddered under a Luftwaffe attack.
Hitler & Hell. His bones knew the historic necessity of U.S. intervention. "If we are together, nothing is impossible," he said. "If we are divided, all will fail." The quintessential Briton was, after all, half American. He had often damned Communism's "foul baboonery," but the Nazi invasion of Russia brought Churchill's immediate pledge of unstinting support. "If Hitler invaded Hell," he reasoned, "I would make at least a favorable reference to the Devil in the House of Commons."