To understand Winston Churchill’s policy of aid to Joseph Stalin, one must look back upon what it was that Britain and the free world faced prior to the Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union…

winston churchillMr. Henry Regnery is a wise and good man. But as Aristotle observes, no man can be wise in all things. And Henry Regnery—notwithstanding his great wisdom in other matters—has been most unwise in what he has written recently about the statesmanship of Winston Churchill in the Second World War.*

Regnery writes from the perspective of American isolationism of 1940, and sees “perfidious Albion” manipulating innocent America at every turn. But it is simply grotesque for him to write that. “The American declaration of war against the Axis powers was a triumph for Churchill and the culmination of many months of careful effort…” If it was Churchill’s “careful effort” that resulted in our going to war with the Axis, then he must have had some occult power over the Japanese and German governments. The United States was attacked by Japan at Pearl Harbor before any declaration of war, and it was the lunatic Hitler who declared war on the United States first. It is by no means certain that we would have gone to war with Nazi Germany in December 1941 if Hitler had not taken the option out of our hands. However much Churchill may have wished or prayed for such an outcome, it is difficult to see what his “many months of careful effort” could have had to do with it.

The gravamen of Regnery’s complaints about Churchill’s statesmanship has to do above all with the latter’s policy of all-out aid to Stalin’s war effort. Regnery writes:

In April 1942, Churchill told the House of Commons that the war could be ended ‘only through the defeat of the German armies.’ Following Adolf Hitler’s decision to turn against his former ally, Joseph Stalin, therefore, Churchill supported the Soviet Union in every possible way, making no conditions of any kind—’To help Russia, there was nothing he would not do,’ as he told the House of Commons.

To understand Churchill’s policy of aid to Stalin—or, more precisely, of aid to the Red Army fighting the Wehrmacht—one must look back upon what it was that Britain and the free world faced prior to the Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union. What is least understood today—and what is most fundamental to understanding everything else—is the “correlation of forces” in the world, following the fall of France in the spring of 1940. To put it all into a nutshell, Hitler had, from a strategic viewpoint, won the war. He was the conqueror of nearly all of western continental Europe. Spain maintained a precarious neutrality, by professing its political sympathy. The two other neutrals, Sweden and Switzerland, were more useful to him unconquered. Allied with Italy and Japan, Hitler seemed on the very verge of giving the law to the entire world, even more completely than Alexander, Caesar, or Napoleon had ever dreamed of doing.

One thing, and one thing only, stood between Hitler and the full fruition of his ambitions: Churchill’s Britain. No one could be master of the world who was not master of the surfaces of the seas. To defeat Britain was however well within the compass of Hitler’s power, had he applied it with ordinary prudence. At that time, Britain had no allies. The United States was sunk in the deepest isolationism. Although President Franklin D. Roosevelt privately believed that America’s fate was linked to Britain’s, he was launched upon a campaign for re-election in which he would vie with his Republican opponent in promising American mothers, “again and again and again,” that their sons would not be sent to fight in any “foreign wars.” The United States would, in this fateful year, send food and weapons to Britain, but there never was any possibility, right up until the moment of Pearl Harbor, that it would enter the war voluntarily. Meanwhile, the U-boats were sinking shipping into Britain faster than Britain and the United States together could replace it. Hitler’s true policy, following the fall of France, was to concentrate upon the defeat Britain. According to Basil Liddell Hart, Britain at this juncture was a sinking raft in the North Atlantic. The United States could have continued pumping air into it, but not as fast as Hitler could let it out. If Hitler had focused his efforts upon the war at sea—which he was winning handily—he could have starved the island into submission, probably in no more than a year.

Yet America’s fate was linked to Britain’s. Geography has made us in all essentials as much an island nation as Britain. With our enormous coastlines, on both the Atlantic and the Pacific, we are vulnerable to any hostile nation, either in Europe or in Asia, that controls the sea lanes to those coastlines. American isolationists have been subject to the delusion that the Atlantic and the Pacific are barriers to aggression from overseas. In fact, the oceans are not barriers, but pathways. The delusion has been fostered by the fact that the British navy, for over a century, has barred hostile powers the way to our shores. The Monroe Doctrine was predicated upon the barrier of the British navy. It is worth remembering, by the way, that the United States triumphed in the American Revolution, but only when the French navy intervened to keep the British fleet separated from the British army.

Had Britain fallen, British naval power would have been joined to that of Germany, France, Italy, and Japan, together with all the facilities for naval construction that those nations commanded. American naval power could have been swept from the seas. Bear in mind that ships sail in all directions, and there is nothing in nature that said we could send great armies to Europe in two world wars, but that the Axis could not have sent great armies here. Without the British and American navies, there would have been no means of preventing Hitler and his allies from landing, let us say, 10,000,000 men in Mexico. (Remember the Zimmerman telegram of World War I.)

Hitler’s invasion of the U.S.S.R. was an incredible blunder. It was the one way in which he could throw away the victory he had already won. Stalin not only was no threat to him in 1941, but also was an active ally, supplying him with the oil and grain that fueled his war machine. Stalin’s aid to Nazi Germany nullified the effects of the British blockade, which had been more potent even than American intervention in bringing about Germany’s defeat in World War I. And once Britain had been defeated—and America isolated if not itself defeated—Hitler could have done anything he wished to Stalin’s regime, which could not have survived without British and American help. It was a miracle that Hitler did the one thing that could have sacrificed everything he had—from his own point of view—accomplished.

Why in the world Regnery thinks we—that is, Britain and America—should not have done everything we could have done, to assist Hitler in his pathway to destruction, is incomprehensible. We know exactly how the victorious Third Reich would have ruled the world. All inferior races—at least ninety percent of the human race—would have been either exterminated (like the Jews) or enslaved. In Poland, many thousands of children were taken from their parents (the parents being sent to slave camps). Those of the children judged to have Aryan genes were saved, the rest killed (and these were non-Jews). Plans for Britain also included selective breeding to purify the race. Non-Aryan males who were to be spared as slaves were to be castrated. What the plans for America would have been can easily be imagined. They would, of course, have included the destruction of American no less than European Jewry, and the re-enslavement of the blacks. But that would only have been the beginning.

Regnery writes, as if it is a reproach, that: “Churchill’s conduct of the war can only be understood in view of his determination to win, whatever the cost and whatever the consequences.” Here is a passage from Churchill’s “blood, toil, tears and sweat” speech to the House of Commons, May 13, 1940:

You ask, what is our policy? I can say: It is to wage war, by sea, land, and air, with all our might and with all the strength that God can give us; to wage war against a monstrous tyranny, never before surpassed in the dark, lamentable catalogue of human crime. That is our policy. You ask, what is our aim? I can answer in one word: it is victory, victory at all costs, victory in spite of all terror, victory, however long and hard the road may be; for without victory, there is no survival. Let that be realized; no survival for the British Empire, no survival for all that the British Empire has stood for, no survival of the urge and impulse of the ages, that mankind will move forward towards its goal.

If the horrors of Nazidom fade into the past, it is only because Churchill’s Britain rallied to Churchill’s leadership and accepted the grim burden of that unrelenting struggle. It led in the end to the victory Churchill had so fearlessly proclaimed as his aim in those darkest days of 1940. But without Churchill, Hitler would have succeeded, and many millions of us—certainly the present writer and his descendants among them—would not be here to remember him.

Churchill did indeed say “victory at all costs.” But he did not say, and never implied, that he would not do whatever was in his power to minimize those costs. No one was more keenly aware than Churchill of the terrible losses of World War I, and of how they led to the pacifism and general demoralization of the democracies in the West. This had applied most of all to France, but Britain too had suffered the tragic loss of all that was best and brightest of its “Rupert Brooke” generation. Churchill never forgot how this had poisoned the politics of the inter-war generation.

One of the most important facts about Churchill’s leadership—one that is not even hinted at by Regnery—is that British battle deaths for the six years from 1939 to 1945 made up approximately one-half of the toll of the four years from 1914 to 1918. According to the Information Please Almanac (1990) the figures are 908,371 empire dead in World War I and 460,728 for World War II. American figures for W.W. II are 291,557. Comparable figures for the U.S.S.R. are listed as 6,115,000, although the latter figure is said to be “deaths from all causes.” However, the Encyclopedia Brittanica (1974) says that the “U.S.S.R. has been reckoned to have lost 11,000,000 combatants and 7,000,000 civilians.” The figures it gives for the United Kingdom (not the empire as a whole) are 264,443 and 92,673; for the United States, 292,131 and 6,000.

To say that British and American losses were very small compared to those of the Soviet Union is not to minimize their significance to the British and Americans. But their relative size is a tribute primarily to the leadership of Churchill. Regnery implies that Churchill believed in giving Stalin all he asked for and asking nothing in return. But what Churchill wanted—and what he got—was the Red Army to tear the guts out of the Wehrmacht, which it did. I cannot think of a better bargain in all of world history!

This bargain was gained in large measure by Churchill’s resistance to the demands made—both by Stalin and by the American chiefs of staff—for a second front on the Continent, in 1942 and 1943. Churchill prevailed in preventing the Normandy invasion for two years, or until there was complete control of the air and sea in the channel. Also, during that period, the Wehrmacht suffered enormous losses on the Eastern Front, and the reserves it could deploy in the West were vastly reduced. None of these considerations prevailed with General George C. Marshall. Hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions, of Americans and Britons survived the war only because of Churchill.

The true record of Churchill’s resistance, in the last year of the war, to Stalin’s aggrandizements, is not to be found in his communications with Stalin. Rather is it to be found in the strategic disputes with the Americans. Suffice it for the moment, that Churchill pressed for a meeting with the Russians as far to the east as possible. He opposed the Riviera landing. He opposed allowing the Russians to take Berlin. He opposed the withdrawal westward to the Yalta lines in the summer of 1945. But Churchill’s influence on the ailing Roosevelt and the joint chiefs, and with their strategic decisions, diminished steadily as the war progressed, and as the American forces increasingly dominated the alliance.

Regnery reserves his most biting comments on Churchill for his wartime statements of friendship with and confidence in Stalin. After quoting what Churchill said to the House of Commons, on his return from Yalta, Regnery writes: “It is evident that Churchill had a great facility for self-delusion.’’ All these statements can be lumped under the “nice doggy” school of political rhetoric. What Regnery ignores is the fear, never absent from Churchill for a moment, that Stalin might once again do a deal with Hitler, pull out of the war, and let Hitler turn his full force once again against the western allies. There is plenty of evidence that Stalin tried in fact—and more than once—to do just this, but Hitler’s bloodthirsty racial hatred would not permit him to cooperate. But all of Churchill’s wartime expressions of confidence in Stalin had no other purpose than to continue and maximize the Red Army’s contribution to the defeat of the common enemy.

Regnery’s complaints against Churchill are addressed also to his accepting—or condoning—of the allied bombing, with great loss of life, of German cities, such as Berlin, Hamburg, and Dresden, in the latter days of the war. But I do not recall Regnery mentioning the Nazi bombings of Rotterdam, London, or Coventry in the earlier period of the war. Nor does he mention the enormous slaughter by the Wehrmacht (and not the S.S. alone) of unarmed civilians on the Eastern Front. In fact, Regnery does cite several instances of Churchill showing a tender conscience concerning these bombings, something I do not recollect any of the other war leaders doing.

Post-war studies have concluded that the area bombings were militarily ineffective, and a poor use of allied resources. But this is wisdom after the event. Churchill accepted what the experts, who were on the spot at that time, recommended, as did Roosevelt (and Hitler before them). I do not see that this detracts from the overall excellence of his leadership.

Finally, Regnery complains bitterly of Churchill’s alleged acquiescence in the border changes, and the population transfers in eastern Europe, especially those involving Poland and eastern Germany (again in the news). Of this, and of many other matters, one must say only that the greatest of statesmen is limited, both in his foresight and in his power. Churchill watched helplessly as the Americans undermined his strategy for reaching middle Europe before the Russians. Once that strategy was abandoned, and Stalin was in possession of the ground, there was little more that Churchill could do. But let us not deceive ourselves: The measure of Churchill’s genius is not what he failed to do for Poland. It is rather what he succeeded to do for Britain, and for the principles of Anglo-American constitutional freedom.

Churchill’s contribution to that freedom did not end with his wartime premiership. In his speech at Fulton, Missouri, in 1946, and also in many other speeches, he forged the doctrine of containment that the United States, together with post-war Britain, did eventually put into effect. Both the NATO alliance and the European unity movement owe their earliest and most powerful impulses to Churchill. The disintegration of the Russian Communist empire, which we hope we may be witnessing today, owes more to his foresight and his genius than to that of any other man. He is surely the greatest statesman of our century, and of many other centuries besides, and belongs with the immortals of all time.


The foregoing essay was written in March of 1990. Events have moved so rapidly in the intervening two years, that it seem superfluous, if not bizarre, to speak “in defense of Churchill.” The disappearance of the Leninist-Stalinist regime from the stage of world history, without defeat in war, is a world-historical event without precedent. It is the greatest, if not the final testimonial to the wisdom and foresight of Sir Winston. Let us remember once again that it was Sir Winston, at Fulton, Missouri, in April of 1946, who launched the Cold War, and the policy of containment. Although President Truman introduced Sir Winston, and sat on the platform as he delivered his speech, it was only a year later that the “Truman Doctrine” formally inaugurated the American policy that pursued the lines that Sir Winston had laid down. No praise of President Truman can be too great for pursuing this policy, once it had been adopted. No praise of Senator Vandenberg can be too great for bringing the Republican Party out of the dismal swamps of isolationism, so that the policy of containment became, and for over forty years remained, a bipartisan policy. No praise of President Reagan (or Prime Minister Thatcher) can be too great, for bringing the policy of containment to a victorious conclusion. But let us not forget who initiated the policy that led to this, perhaps the most remarkable of the triumphs of freedom in world history.

In thus remembering Churchill, we act in the service of something more than pious commemoration. The voice of something misnamed “America First” is once again abroad in the land. We are reminded of Charles Lindbergh and Fritz Kuhn standing together—before Pearl Harbor—in warning of American involvement in a war that was alleged to be mainly in the interest of Jews. We are reminded that similar voices, only last year, warned against a war in the Gulf that was allegedly in the interest, not of the United States, but of Israel. We should remember that in the year 1946, before Senator Vandenberg’s heroic achievement, it was the unspoken but effective collaboration of isolationist Republicans and American Communists that led to our rapid demobilization and withdrawal from Europe, and to a defense budget of pre-war dimensions. It was this that almost resulted in Stalin’s conquest of western as well as of eastern Europe.

After Hitler’s invasion of the U.S.S.R. in June of 1941, Churchill made his famous remark that if Hitler invaded Hell, he would make a favorable reference to the Devil in the House of Commons. Churchill never doubted that, in the decisive respect, Stalin’s Russia was Hell. And he knew that, notwithstanding there was but one God, there was more than one Devil, or at least more than one devil to do the Devil’s work. Now that the two most Satanic regimes of history lie in history’s dustbin, let us not forget who, more than anyone else, put them there. But it would be an ill tribute to his memory, to think even for one moment, that the danger of tyranny is ended. There is no end of history, and the danger of tyranny is coeval with the human condition. Churchillian statesmanship is never more necessary than when we become prone to the illusion that we can do without it. Let us not forget that the greatest war in human history, according to Winston Churchill himself, was the easiest of all great wars to have prevented.

*“War and Leadership,” Modern Age, Summer 1989, pp. 199-207

Books on the topic of this essay may be found in The Imaginative Conservative Bookstore. Republished with gracious permission from Modern Age (Spring 1992, Vol. 34, No. 3). The Imaginative Conservative applies the principle of appreciation to the discussion of culture and politics—we approach dialogue with magnanimity rather than with mere civility. Will you help us remain a refreshing oasis in the increasingly contentious arena of modern discourse? Please consider donating now.

The Imaginative Conservative applies the principle of appreciation to the discussion of culture and politics—we approach dialogue with magnanimity rather than with mere civility.

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