Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Winston Churchill's Short-Lived VE Day Victory, and His Memorable Comeback

May 8, 1945. London. Winston Churchill stands alongside King George VI and other members of the Royal Family on a Buckingham Palace balcony, waving to a crowd of thousands who've gathered to celebrate with him the fall of Germany, and victory in Europe.

For Churchill, this was the defining moment of his career, a career that had once seemed, even to him, to be quickly fading away, as he shouted his clarion call about the Nazi menace from the fringe of the Conservative Party in the mid to late 1930s. Having put himself there with his lamentable, pro-Empire denial of India's independence and his monarchist knee-jerk reaction of supporting Edward VIII during the abdication crisis, (not to mention his relentless criticism of Stanley Baldwin and Neville Chamberlain's appeasement), Churchill must have thought many times that he would never rise to the position he had once felt fated for: Prime Minister, in England's darkest hour.

And yet, when the shadow fell as the Wermacht marched unchecked and unchallenged across Europe, it fell to Churchill to rally his ill-prepared nation, to woo FDR for weapons (until Pearl Harbor propelled the United States into the war) and to stare down Hitler as the future of Europe and, arguably, global democracy hung by the finest of threads.

Almost five years to the day after he assumed the highest office in the land (May 10, 1940), Churchill now savoured the victory over his mortal foe. He had promised "Blood, Toil, Tears and Sweat" in his first speech as Prime Minister and had contributed all he had in the course of a seemingly endless string of long days and nights, through inspiring ups (such as winning the air war in the Battle of Britain and cracking the German U-boat code) and spirit-sapping downs (the fall of Singapore, the capitulation of France).

After his palace appointment and addressing the nation from the Cabinet Room at 10 Downing Street, Churchill spoke to a rapturous crowd from a balcony outside the Ministry of Health. Afterwards, they showed their appreciated with a rendition of For He's a Jolly Good Fellow.

With such an endorsement ringing in his ears, it's easy to see why Churchill thought he would handily defeat Labour leader Clement Attlee in the General Election that soon followed. And yet, on July 26, the day of the results, he knew something was very wrong: "...just before dawn I woke suddenly with a sharp stab of almost physical pain. A hitherto subconscious conviction that we were beaten broke forth and dominated my mind." And so it proved. And not just beaten, but routed: Labour won 393 seats, giving them a majority of 183 in the Commons.

Finish reading this post at, err, the Huffington Post

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