In a splenetic outburst on his blog, Szwagier says that “the old bastard” Winston Churchill – “a deeply unpleasant human specimen” – handed over tens of millions of people in
Well, Szwagier, I grew up during World War Two and I know – better than you, I think – that whatever his shortcomings, Churchill almost single-handedly inspired the British people to keep on fighting after the Dunkirk evacuation without even contemplating defeat or surrender at a time when the odds were almost impossibly stacked against us. Anyone who actually heard his wartime broadcasts when he delivered them – as I did – will never doubt that without Winston Churchill we would have lost heart and given up the fight. The country at that time was riddled with pessimism and defeatism after the long dreary twilight of Chamberlainite appeasement and the phoney war. Only Churchill sounded the clarion call to struggle and ultimate victory, and the proof of this is that although the people threw out his tainted party at the 1945 general election, Churchill’s personal popularity was simultaneously at its height.
Churchill was a complex man, with many political warts and blemishes during his long career. I by no means defend his total record. He was impulsive and sometimes autocratic – which as a war leader he had to be – but he was a profound believer in parliamentary democracy and personal freedom and consistently sought to secure those blessings [as he saw them] for as many people as possible.
Unfortunately, the wartime realpolitik, and the geographical realities, meant that he was in the end powerless to prevent the postwar division of
There were two aspects to the ‘Polish problem’. The first was frontiers.
Shifting frontiers, of course, affected many millions of Poles, Germans, and Russians either beneficially or adversely. There is something distasteful in the tone of the discussions about this at the Conferences; but it is the way of so-called ‘statesmen’ to overlook the impact of their decisions upon the lives of ordinary citizens – as we are seeing now only too clearly in the Middle East.
The more contentious, and significant, dispute was over the form of the postwar Polish government. The British were committed to the Polish government in exile in
At least during the earlier conferences, when the emphasis was on creating good personal relations between the Big Three leaders in the hope that this would sway the Russians into allowing at least a degree of political freedom in Eastern Europe if not in Russia itself, the British and Americans were willing to give Stalin the benefit of the doubt. At that time,
The Russians, however, now felt strong enough to provoke a crisis by arresting sixteen Polish government negotiators on charges of causing the deaths of Red Army officers. This Churchill described to his deputy Eden as ‘perfidy’. He kept up the effort at
The rest is history – the
In my view, if not Szwagier’s, this is a tale of honourable defeat – not one of callous betrayal.