Winston Churchill

The master statesman stood alone against fascism and renewed the world's faith in the superiority of democracy

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This was one of the boldest strategic decisions in history. Convinced that Hitler could not invade Britain while the Royal Navy and its protecting Royal Air Force remained intact, he dispatched the army to a remote theater of war to open a second front against the Nazi alliance. Its victories against Mussolini during 1940-41 both humiliated and infuriated Hitler, while its intervention in Greece, to oppose Hitler's invasion of the Balkans, disrupted the Nazi dictator's plans to conclude German conquests in Europe by defeating Russia.

Churchill's tendency to conduct strategy by impulse infuriated his advisers. His chief of staff Alan Brooke complained that every day Churchill had 10 ideas, only one of which was good--and he did not know which one. Yet Churchill the romantic showed acute realism in his reaction to Russia's predicament. He reviled communism. Required to accept a communist ally in a struggle against a Nazi enemy, he did so not only willingly but generously. He sent a large proportion of Britain's war production to Russia by Arctic convoys, even at a time when the convoys from America to Britain, which alone spared the country starvation, suffered devastating U-boat attacks.

From the outset of his premiership, Churchill, half American by birth, had rested his hope of ultimate victory in U.S. intervention. He had established a personal relationship with President Roosevelt that he hoped would flower into a war-winning alliance. Roosevelt's reluctance to commit the U.S. beyond an association "short of war" did not dent his optimism. He always hoped events would work his way. The decision by Japan, Hitler's ally, to attack the American Pacific fleet at Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, justified his hopes. That evening he confided to himself, "So we had won after all."

America's entry into the Second World War marked the high point of Churchill's statesmanship. Britain, demographically, industrially and financially, had entered the war weaker than either of its eventual allies, the Soviet Union and the U.S. Defeats in 1940 had weakened it further, as had the liquidation of its international investments to fund its early war efforts. During 1942, the prestige Britain had won as Hitler's only enemy allowed Churchill to sustain parity of leadership in the anti-Nazi alliance with Roosevelt and Stalin.

Churchill understandably exulted in the success of the D-day invasion when it came in 1944. By then it was the Russo-American rather than the Anglo-American nexus, however, that dominated the alliance, as he ruefully recognized at the last Big Three conference in February 1945. Shortly afterward he suffered the domestic humiliation of losing the general election and with it the premiership. He was to return to power in 1951 and remain until April 1955, when ill health and visibly failing powers caused him to resign.

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