Granted there is an abundance of biographies focusing on the towering figure of the 20th century Winston Churchill, but Christopher Catherwood has written Winston Churchill – a fascinating, self-described, “post-revisionist” view of the leader of Great Britain during the darkest days of World War II. Catherwood is not a novice historian. He teaches both at Cambridge and at the University of Richmond. He has served as an advisor to the former Prime Minister, Tony Blair. Additionally, Catherwood is a lecturer at the Churchill Memorial Library in Fulton, Mo.
What makes this book so different from the plethora of other Churchill biographies? Unlike so many other writers who tend to turn a blind eye to the faults of the famous statesman, Catherwood describes him as “The Flawed Genius of World War II.” That description is actually the subtitle of this examination of Winston Churchill and his wartime leadership.
Christopher Catherwood contends that Churchill’s obsession with maintaining India as a colony and protecting the Balkans, namely Greece, drove the Allied strategy in the early days of the war. This strategy was to hit Hitler at his soft underbelly in North Africa, Sicily and Italy. Catherwood and others feel that Churchill should have deferred to the thinking of George C. Marshall and the U.S. strategists, who wanted a D-Day invasion to occur in April 1943, rather than May-June 1944. The difference in the more than one year delay, in their minds, is a huge one.
An earlier invasion would have guaranteed the advanced of Allied forces straight at the heart of Germany when the Nazis forces were more committed to fighting the Soviet Union. This would have meant an earlier end to the war and a less robust influence of the Communist-led Soviet Union in central and Eastern Europe.
Does this theory have plausibility? Churchill was a romanticist and colonialist, so his thinking was one of protection and preservation of India and other strategic places of British influence. The Soviets paid a huge price to defend their homeland in the first part of the war. Americans, led ably by General George C. Marshall, were itching to get on with the European theatre, as they had done in the Pacific. Therefore, some truth can be given to this post-revisionist view.
However, as Catherwood artfully considers, without the stubborn courage of Winston Churchill, there would not have been a free Great Brittain following the terrible days of 1940. Churchill’s voice of inspiration and his defiance, in the face of what some believed was impending defeat, made a significant contribution to the time table, which was later considered. Without a free Great Brittain there would not have been a cross-channel invasion in ’44 much less ’43.
Call Winston Churchill a flawed genius if you like, but he was a difference-making leader, in a time when there were few present to follow. Churchill knew how to forge an Anglo-American alliance, which shaped history for the good and, yes, to an extent for some in the Cold War era, far less than the best outcomes. A superhuman he was not, a courageous and outspoken leader he most certainly was. Churchill has a secure place in history, despite admiring critics or those who see him otherwise.