In the autumn of 1911, Herbert Asquith, then PrimeMinister of Britain, was playing golf with a young politician and ambitious journalist WinstonChurchill. Suddenly the older man turned to his companion and asked, “Did you ever hear of the word Weltraumpolitik?” Churchill confessed he did not know german well and had no idea what the word meant. Asquith then explained that it meant in effect the domination of the world by Germany and added that he was gravely concerned by the obvious bid she was making for world supremacy.
“The Navy is Britain’s only hope,” he said, looking directly at his companion. “Would you be willing to accept the post of the First Lord of the Admiralty if it were offered to you?”
“Indeed, I would,” replied Churchill eagerly.
Returning to his lodgings, he reflected on the unexpected offer, on Germany’s militaristic challenge, and in a mood of dejection he began to leaf idly through the Bible which was lying on the table. Opening a page at random, his eye caught this verse: “Hear, O Israel! Thou art to pass over Jordan this day to go in to possess nations greater than thyself, cities great and fenced up to heaven.”
The episode is related in Churchill’s World Crisis which deals with World War I and the events leading up to it. A feeling of vast relief, exaltation and power, he says, swept over him. From that moment he felt he walked with Destiny. The episode is an important clue to the mind, vision and career of the man and the statesman whom the world now mourns. For he was above all a dedicated man. Without this sense of dedication he might have become a gallant adventurer, a literary dilettante and a mediocre politician. A seriousness of purpose transformed an impetuous journalist into a prophetic statesman and a crusader devoted to a lifetime struggle against Militarism and Totalitarianism.
Churchill has been designated by some as the century’s foremost statesman. Others believe he belonged to a previous century because in “weal and woe Winston was for the quo.” But with regard to two supreme issues – german Militarism and Communism – there can hardly be any serious dispute as to Churchill’s preeminent role as architect of international policy.
His fight against Communism began soon after the Russian October Revolution. His reaction to the “immense and terrible catastrophe of Russia” was immediate and intense. He strongly felt that the Bolshevik Revolution would be menacing to civilisation and dangerous to the peace of Europe and Asia. His speeches and writing in the years immediately following the revolution were dominated with a theme which was almost an obsession – “Watch Russia – that’s where the winter’s coming from.”
That he regarded Hitlerism and Bolshevism as the twin evil movements of the century is easy to understand. For both have constituted not only a challenge to the survival of England and the British Empire, but also a threat to western civilisation and the hebraic spiritual heritage. He strongly held that both movements crush man’s spirit, that both are cold and desolating, differing in climate and conditions in the way that the North Pole differs from the South Pole. Of the two, however, he considered Hitlerism the greater evil and the more immediate menace.
Whereas in the 30’s he had a clear premonition that unless confronted with a solid Grand Alliance, Hitlerism meant war (“I felt it in my bones”), he tended to regard the situation in later years not unhopefully. Churchill had often stated that the negotiations between the leaders of the two worlds may fail and that mankind may not be able to escape the supreme ordeal of Armageddon, but he insisted that a serious bid for a negotiated settlement was imperative. To those who argued with him that a third world war was inevitable, he had an answer which almost became his slogan: “A world divided is better than a world destroyed.”
In October 1954, Churchill declared that since the death of Stalin he had cherished the hope that there “is a new outlook in Russia, a new hope of peaceful coexistence with the russian nation, and that therefore it is our duty, patiently and daringly to make sure whether there is such a chance or not.”
But a noticeable change of emphasis in Churchill’s outlook upon the future had become discernible. Before Russia manufactured the atombomb he urged that as quickly as possible, while the immense superiority of the United States atombomb organisation offset the Soviet military predominance, the western Powers should bring matters to a head with the soviet Government and “should arrive at a lasting settlement.” But later on Churchill spoke of at best “a generation of Peace.” In May 1953, he urged a meeting of the heads of the Governments of the United States, Russia and Great Britain. And later he stated that he had not receded from his willingness to meet the head of the Soviet Union “if the right time and occasion is found.” Thus Churchill’s emphasis seemed to have shifted from “daringly” to “patiently.”
Churchill had tended to stress that the basic policy of the West was “Peace through strength,” but he had conceded that coexistence was merely a transitory phase during which lasting Peace and how they are to be built he had had very little to say. Weary from the titanic Labour, the strife and convulsions of the century, he had apparently abandoned his last ambition – to be the savior of Peace. The “last prize” had become the “lost prize.”
His reflexions on Peace appeared to take the following direction: the world has undergone a cataclysmic change; a revolution in the Science of destruction has made a good many solid tenets of a glorious past and a good many seemingly impregnable imperial strongholds, precarious, if not untenable; let a future generation grapple with the problem of an enduring Peace and a new era; sufficient unto the day – the task thereof.
In his voluminous speeches and writings Churchill often acknowledged a profound debt to the hebraic spirit. In a revealing essay on the life of Moses, Churchill stressed the grand simplicity and essential accuracy of the Bible’s recorded truths which have lighted the pilgrimage of man. He was fascinated by the hebrew nomadic tribes because it was they who grasped the idea of which all the genius of Greece and the Power of Rome were incapable; that there was only one God, a universal God, a God of nations, a Just God.
He rejected with scorn those learned and laborious myths that Moses was a legendary figure employed by the priests to gain authority for their social, spiritual and religious beliefs. He saw in Moses one of the greatest humanbeings and regarded his achievement as one of humanity’s most decisive steps forward. “We may be sure,” he declared, “that all these things happened just as they are set out according to Holy Writ. We may believe that they happened to people not so very different from ourselves and that the impressions those people received were faithfully recorded and have been transmitted across the centuries with far more accuracy than many of the telegraphed accounts we read of the goings-on of today. In the words of a forgotten work of Mr. Gladstone, we rest with assurance upon the ‘impregnable rock of Holy Scriptures’.”
While on an imperial mission to the Middle East, in the year 1921, Colonial Secretary Winston Churchill paid a visit to Jerusalem. During that memorable visit he met Pinchas Rutenberg. A russian-born jew, an engineer by training, a revolutionary by necessity, a democrat with an outstanding record of resistance to the advent of the Bolshevik Revolution, Rutenberg had settled in Palestine to fulfill an old ambition, namely, the generation of electric power and light by harnessing the river Jordan. It was with reference to this project that Rutenberg had gone to see Churchill.
Churchill was attracted by the man and the idea. On returning to London he approuved the steps that led to the granting of the Rutenberg concession. But when the decision was announced a storm of protest broke out. Churchill’s critics made the extraordinary charge that british and arab interests were being sacrificed and that the key to the industrial development of the country was being given away to a “bolshevik jew.”
In the House of Commons Churchill faced the critics. In a brilliant speech he lamented the cold and prosaic mood of the nation toward Zion that had succeeded the perfervid enthusiasms of the war. He affirmed his purpose nevertheless to translate those enthusiasms into the sober, concrete facts of day-by-day administration, and justified the Rutenberg concession on that score. He described Rutenberg as a remarkable man, a social revolutionary who had fought the despotic Czarist regime as well as the Tyranny of the Bolshevik rulers, who in the fateful year of 1917 had in fact recommended to Kerensky that Lenin and Trotsky be executed. With a typical Churchill thrust he turned to the bigots: “It is hard enough, in all conscience, to build a new zion, but if, over the portals of the new Jerusalem, you are going to inscribe the legend, ‘No israelite need apply,’ then I hope the House will permit me to confine my attention exclusively to irish matters.”
With another thrust he rejected the contention on behalf of the arabs: “I am told that the arabs would have done it themselves. Who is going to believe that? Left to themselves, the arabs would not in a thousand years have taken effective steps toward the irrigation and electrification of Palestine. They would have been quiet content to dwell – a handful of philosophic people – in wasted sun-scorched plains, letting the waters of the Jordan continue to flow unbridled and unharnessed into the Dead Sea.”
In the years that followed, Churchill played a vital role as a crusader for zion. In 1939, on the eve of the world storm, Churchill trained his guns on Chamberlain, not only with regard to the latter’s appeasement of Germany, but also with regard to his appeasement of the arabs. He predicted that Chamberlain’s Palestine policy would do England serious injury. In 1940, with England on the brink of disaster, Churchill succeeded Chamberlain as PrimeMinister. Even during his preoccupation with saving the British Isles he was not unmindful of the desperate situation in the Middle East. In a daring move he diverted weapons to that region thereby certainly rescuing it from the heel of a merciless conqueror. In his Memoirs he referred to the many attempts he had made to arm the jews of Palestine and to the numerous obstacles that were placed in this path. In an entry during July 1940, for example, he wrote: “I wished to arm the jews of Tel Aviv who, with proper weapons, would have made a good fight against all comers. Here I encountered every kind of opposition.”
After a long period of exploration, a Jewish Brigade was formed as part of the British Army. I recall that on the day the announcement was made in London, I happened to talk with a high official of the British Foreign Office whom I used to see periodically in the course of my work. He attributed the decision to Churchill’s personal intervention and made no effort to disguise his hearty dislike of Churchill’s “zionist adventure.” The formation of the Jewish Brigade proved to be invaluable to the jewish struggle in Palestine, affording as it did an excellent training ground for the military leaders and technicians who in 1948 were to constitute the core of the victorious Army of Israel.
The delay in arming the jews of Palestine, and above all, the restrictions on jewish immigraiton and land purchase in Palestine which continued under Churchill’s war premiership, became a sore point with many who urged immediate action and complained that Churchill’s deeds were not as eloquent as his words. His son, Randolph Churchill, testifies that his father sought to avoid Weizmann during the war. “Whenever I see him, I can’t sleep at night,” Winston Churchill was reported to have said.
In a House of Commons debate early in 1949, his words on the subject of Israel were heard with rapt attention by all parties. Turning to the late Ernest Bevin, Churchill said: “Whether the Right Hon. member likes it or not, whether we like it or not, the coming into being of the jewish State is an event in world History to be viewed in perspective, not of a generation or a century, but in the perspective of a thousand, two thousand years, or even three thousand years. That is the standard of time values which seems out of accord with the perpetual click-clock of the rapidly changing moods of the age in which we live. This is an event in world History....” In another historic speech in May 1953, Churchill spoke in glowing terms of the role of the State of Israel in the Middle East and paid a high tribute to the Army of Israel. His words served as a poignant contrast with Bevin’s “squalid war” and the sullen atmosphere surrounding the departure of the british from the shores of Palestine.
In his address to the joint session of the U.S. Congress in 1952, Mr. Churchill said: “From the days of the Balfour Declaration, I have desired that jews should have a national home, and I have worked to that end. I rejoice to pay my tribute here to the achievements of those who founded the Israel State, who have defended themselves with tenacity and who offer asylum to a great number of jewish refugees. I hope that with their aid they may convert deserts into gardens....”
Churchill once wrote: “The jews are beyond doubt the most formidable and remarkable race which has ever appeared in the world.” We may fittingly respond that Churchill was the most formidable and remarkable man which England produced in the present epoch. Only a future historian writing with a better perspective and more profound insight than a contemporary historian can possess will be able to do Justice to Churchill’s inspired leadership in the struggle for world freedom and liberty and to his role as a british architect of Zionism.