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... written in our century, an inexhaustible mine of political wisdom and understanding. " As Churchill studied his forebear's work in building and maintaining an alliance against the French king Louis XIV in the early 18 th century, he turned his attention to current politics and became one of the most forceful and steady critics of the government. He organized opposition to the plan to grant self-government to India, an unpopular stance at a time when the British people wanted relief from the weight of the empire. Later, he concentrated his efforts on opposing the dangerous rise of German military power under the Nazi regime of Adolf Hitler.
Because most Britons, as well as the government, were focused on domestic affairs, Churchill's warnings about Hitler went unheeded. When Baldwin became prime minister again in 1935, Churchill was not given a cabinet post. During the late 1930 s Churchill's national popularity declined. In 1936 Churchill was a loyal supporter of King Edward VIII in the controversy surrounding the king's romance with the American Wallis Warfield Simpson, which led to his abdicating the throne. This support cost Churchill heavily in public opinion and further divided Churchill from Prime Minister Baldwin, who was pressing the king to abdicate. At the same time, he continued his unpopular warnings about Germany and Hitler: His newspaper columns were translated into many languages and widely published in Europe, then gathered into a book called Step by Step (1939).
In 1937 Neville Chamberlain became prime minister, and one year later Churchill denounced Chamberlain's Munich Pact, which spread to part of Czechoslovakia to Hitler. Meanwhile, Churchill worked on secret government committees performing defense research. From various informants he pieced together information about German intentions and capabilities particularly about the growing strength of the German air force, or Luftwaffe, which posed a direct threat to Britain. He also encouraged the development of radar, which helped the country detect activity in the sea or air. World War II broke out in September 1939 when Germany marched into Poland. Britain and France responded to the invasion of Poland by declaring war on Germany.
The Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) and the United States joined the British and French war effort in 1941. Chamberlain invited Churchill to become a member of his war cabinet. Churchill was again first lord of the admiralty, and during the next eight months he did his best to build up the navy, especially in the field of antisubmarine warfare. In 1940 the German attack on Norway ended public confidence in Chamberlain.
On May 10, the day the Germans launched their surprise invasion of Holland and Belgium, Chamberlain resigned, and King George VI asked Churchill to be prime minister. Labour and Liberal leaders readily agreed to join Conservatives in a wartime coalition government. Churchill set the tone of his leadership in his first report to the House of Commons, "I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears, and sweat. " It was only the first of his stirring wartime speeches, which knit the country together and inspired people around the world. The story of Churchill's life for the next five years is a dramatic part of the history of World War II. He was national commander in chief, with direct control over the formulation of policy and the conduct of military operations.
He supervised every aspect of the war effort. His first concern was to create the administrative machinery for the central direction of the war. He set up a small personal staff of officers who also served on the war cabinet secretariat, so that there was a close working relationship between the war cabinet of ministers directly responsible for the conduct of the war and the new office of the minister of defense, which Churchill held himself. Churchill took office just as Hitler's armored legions were breaking into France. It soon became clear the French would not be able to withstand the German assault. The French begged Churchill to send fighter squadrons to help them, but Churchill decided that even those squadrons would not be enough to save the French.
In one of his hardest decisions, he turned down the French request in order to preserve the planes needed for Britain's own air defense. In mid-June Churchill flew to France. He presented a radical plan to unite France and Britain under one government with a combined military, but the French refused it. On June 22 France surrendered to Germany.
Since Churchill could not risk having French warships added to the German and Italian navies, he asked the French admiral to join the British fleet or to let his ships be demobilized. When the admiral refused, the British sank or disabled the French ships and seized any French ships in British-controlled ports. After the fall of France, the Germans planned to mount a massive air assault against Britain, followed by invasion. When the Battle of Britain began in 1940, the Royal Air Force suffered heavy losses, but managed to turn back the powerful German air force. During the German bombing raids on London, Churchill spent as much time as he could among its stricken citizens. Soon after becoming prime minister, Churchill wrote to U.
S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt expressing Britain's need for destroyers and aircraft. Roosevelt was able to send older destroyers and to sell arms to Britain during the first year of the war, despite the United States's declared neutrality. After March 1941 the United States supplied military and economic aid to Britain through the lend-lease program; this support relieved Britain of some of the vast strain on her financial resources. In 1941 Germany invaded the USSR, and although Churchill had always opposed the Communist regime, he offered to help Soviet leader Joseph Stalin.
This meant diverting vital American weapons to a country that might fall to the Germans. However, Churchill believed that even if the Soviet armies were driven back to the Ural Mountains "Russia would still exert an immense and ultimately decisive force, " and he did not hesitate to put his belief into action by sending supplies. In August 1941 Churchill and Roosevelt met for the first time during the war. This meeting was the first of many historic conferences between them, and from it emerged the Atlantic Charter declaring mutual support between the United States and Britain. When the United States entered the war in December 1941 after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Churchill and Roosevelt agreed to concentrate on defeating Hitler in Europe.
They would maintain a defensive position in the war against Japan until they could increase their naval presence in the Pacific Ocean. The two leaders jointly headed the Combined Chiefs of Staff (CCS) that was set up to direct the war. For a time Roosevelt generally adopted Churchill's strategic ideas, such as the prime minister's insistence on invading North Africa in 1942 instead of a cross-channel assault. After 1943, however, as the United States became more powerful, Churchill was increasingly forced to accept American-imposed war plans. In early 1945, during the last months of Roosevelt's life, the U.
S. president ignored Churchill's warnings concerning Stalin's ambitions to take over countries in eastern Europe. Roosevelt wanted to work with Stalin for a peaceful postwar order and seemed more concerned about the waning British Empire than the growing prospect of a Soviet empire. World War II ended in 1945, first in Europe in May when the Germans surrendered to the Allied powers, and then in the Pacific in August.
British general elections, postponed during the war, were held in July 1945. The wartime coalition government had broken apart after the defeat of Germany, and Churchill ran in the election as a Conservative. The results were announced while Churchill was attending the Potsdam Conference, the last conference between the United States, Britain, and the USSR. Given Churchill's popularity as wartime leader, he did not expect to be defeated. Churchill himself was reelected, but the Labour Party gained a majority in Parliament because the British public opinion sought social and economic reforms that the Conservatives had resisted. The electorate did not wish to return to the slump and unemployment of the 1930 s; they also blamed the Conservatives for waiting too long to resist Hitler.
Churchill's place at the Potsdam Conference was taken over by the new prime minister, Labour leader Clement Richard Attlee. Churchill retired as prime minister in deep disappointment. When his wife suggested that his party's defeat might prove to be a blessing in disguise, he replied that, if so, it was certainly well disguised. After the Labour victory, Churchill began rebuilding the shattered fabric of his party as leader of the opposition. He delivered a series of speeches that encouraged Anglo-American solidarity and the unity of Western Europe against the growing Communist threat. In 1946, in a speech at Fulton, Missouri, he defined the barrier thrown up by the USSR around the nations of eastern Europe as the "iron curtain. " He began to write his six-volume work, The Second World War (1948 - 1954), a comprehensive first-person account of his wartime statesmanship.
In 1951 Churchill's efforts to revitalize the Conservative Party were rewarded, and he again became prime minister. He worked to reduce the danger of nuclear warfare, vainly seeking a summit conference between the Soviet Union and the Western powers. In 1953 Queen Elizabeth II conferred on him the Knighthood of the Garter, and he became Sir Winston Churchill. In the same year he won the Nobel Prize for literature for his historical and biographical works and for his oratory.
In November 1954, on Churchill's 80 th birthday, the House of Commons honored him on the eve of his retirement. In April 1955 he resigned as prime minister but remained a member of the House of Commons. In his retirement, Churchill worked on completing A History of the English-Speaking Peoples (1956 - 1958), a four-volume work begun in the late 1930 s but postponed during World War II. He devoted much of his leisure in his later years to his favorite pastime of painting, ultimately producing more than 500 canvases. The Royal Academy of Arts featured his works in 1959. In 1963 the U.
S. Congress made Churchill an honorary citizen of the United States. Churchill died peacefully at his town house in London, two months after his 90 th birthday. Following a state funeral service that was attended by dozens of world leaders at Saint Paul's Cathedral, he was buried near Blenheim Palace.
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