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Winston Churchill is, along with Roosevelt and de Gaulle, one of those politicians from the history of the 20th century who passed down to posterity in the wake of the Second World War. An atypical figure in British political life, Churchill has enjoyed an exceptionally long career. By the early 1930s, Winston Churchill viewed the rise of Nazism in Germany as a threat to Europe. Prime Minister between 1940 and 1945, he was one of the main architects of the resistance of the United Kingdom and of the Allied victory against the Axis. Postwar Winston Churchill coined the term "Iron Curtain" in 1946, which marked the start of the Cold War era.
Very aristocratic origins
Winston Churchill's baby face hardly conceals a strong character. Born on November 30, 1874, this descendant of the Dukes of Marlborough, who served as a cavalry officer in India and Sudan, became known to England by escaping from a South African prison during the Boer War (1899 - 1902) which he covered as a war correspondent in South Africa.
Elected Conservative MP in 1900, he entered the House of Commons, where he sat for nearly sixty years, almost without stopping! In fact, the rigor of his analyzes, his stainless frankness, his striking eloquence and his keen sense of repartee will have a decisive influence on the style and substance of the debates in the Commons.
Churchill, An Iconoclast in Politics
During his long political career, Churchill will occupy many ministerial positions (trade, interior ...). Appointed first Lord of the Admiralty (1911-1915), he repressed the great strike of the dockers then that of the railway workers and considerably modernized the British fleet. The failure of the Dardanelles expedition, of which he had made himself the promoter, forced him to resign from the Admiralty. After having commanded a battalion on the front in France, he joined the coalition cabinet of Lloyd George, where from 1917 to 1922 he served as Minister of Munitions and Secretary of War. The collapse of the Liberal Party and Lloyd George's government removed Churchill from Parliament from 1922 to 1924.
Reelected in 1924, this time as a Conservative MP, he became Chancellor of the Exchequer of the Conservative government of Stanley Baldwin (1924-1929). He set out to peg the pound sterling to the gold standard, which had disastrous consequences for the British economy and helped trigger the social crisis of 1926, where he vigorously fought the unions. He was removed from power by the defeat of the Conservatives in 1929, and during the 1930s, devoted himself mainly to writing. During this period, he marked his opposition to the autonomy of the Indies, and his support for Edward VIII during the abdication crisis of 1936.
Unclassifiable character, he explodes traditional political divisions, alternating between conservative party and liberal party. His political work has met with brilliant successes (social legislation, reorganization of the British fleet) but also bitter failures (expedition of the Dardanelles, support for the anti-Bolshevik struggle). It is the war that reveals Churchill's historic stature. He had already given a glimpse of his talents as a warlord during the First World War, by organizing the British war effort. But it was the Second World War that would definitely establish his fame ....
At the helm in the storm of WWII
Throughout Churchill's career, one is struck by the foresight of his analyzes of the international situation: he was among the first to sense the Nazi danger and to condemn the policy of "appeasement" pursued by Western democracies. A policy that could not prevent the outbreak of war in September 1939, in which Churchill intends to get involved. First Minister of War, he rose to the post of Prime Minister in May 1940, when the French ally had just collapsed, leaving the United Kingdom alone against the forces of the axis. During his investiture, he galvanized the resistance of his country: "My policy is to wage war, at sea, on land and in the air, to wage it against a monstrous tyranny, such as the dark and lamentable catalog of crimes. humans offer no worse… I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, sweat and tears ”. During the dark days of the Battle of Britain, Churchill's pugnacity and passionate speeches persuaded the British to continue the fight.
After the French rout of June 1940, he had no choice but to attack the French fleet at Mers-el-Kébir, Algeria (July 3, 1940) to prevent it from falling into German hands. Yet another demonstration of his fierce determination to fight, whatever the cost. With the help of Antony Eden, he developed a fruitful collaboration with President Franklin D. Roosevelt, obtaining the military and moral support of the United States. After the entry into the war of the Soviet Union, with which, although fiercely anti-Communist, he agreed to ally himself, and of the United States, in 1941, Churchill forged close links with those responsible for what he called the “Grande Alliance”, including with General de Gaulle, the leader of Free France.
Moving on all fronts throughout the duration of the war, he contributed greatly to the coordination of Allied military strategy. He played a leading role in the major peace conferences, notably in Yalta (1945). He only participated in the first negotiations in Potsdam, because he lost the elections of July 1945; Labor Clement Attlee replaces him as head of government.
Visionary to the end
During the war, he had accepted the Soviet alliance while warning against the expansionist tendencies of communism in Eastern Europe. An intuition confirmed at the end of the war with the gradual ousting of all democratically elected governments in Eastern Europe by communist regimes under Moscow's orders. As early as 1946, during his famous Fulton speech, he launched the expression of the "iron curtain" which fell in Europe. To face the USSR, he proposed in September 1946 in Zurich, "something like the United States of Europe. To carry out this urgent task, France and Germany will have to reconcile. "
In the history of the first half of the twentieth century, Churchill is a free electron whose surprising trajectory would persist in crossing all the political turning points of his time. And when Sir Winston Churchill finally retired from political life in 1955, it was with the reputation of a great statesman, revered by the people and respected by all parties, as well as by Queen Elizabeth II. This atypical fate was even crowned with the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1953. He devoted his last years to painting and writing, helplessly assisting in the dismantling of the British Empire, of which he was a staunch defender.
After his death on January 24, 1965, a grandiose and moving national funeral was organized to pay a final tribute to one of the last giants of the 20th century. With Churchill, the United Kingdom also buries a world, that of the Victorian era and the world domination of the British Empire.
- Winston Churchill, biography of François Kersaudy. Tallandier, 2015.
- Winston Churchill: A Life, by John Keegan. The Beautiful Letters, 2018.