Wednesday, January 4, 2006

Churchill at War

I took the liberty of reproducing in entirety this very short op-ed piece in today’s WSJ:

No one knows how Winston Churchill would have fought the war on terror or what he might have thought of the U.S. practice of holding members of al Qaeda at Guantanamo or secret CIA prisons in Eastern Europe. But in newly declassified records of the British Bulldog’s War Cabinet meetings, Churchill offers some posthumous insights on wartime leadership.

In 1942, the Cabinet discussed the options were Hitler to fall into British hands. “All sorts of complications ensue as soon as you admit a fair trial,” Churchill said, according to notes taken by the deputy cabinet secretary Sir Norman Brook. To avoid such a “farce,” which he thought would distract from the war effort, Churchill favored swifter means of dealing with Hitler. “This man is the mainspring of evil. Instrument — electric chair, for gangsters."

Churchill called other Nazi leaders “outlaws” and argued that those who fell into British hands should be executed rather than put on trial. (There is no record of his views on water-boarding.)

At another Cabinet meeting, he advocated shooting German POWs if the Nazis were to kill British prisoners (the U.K., for the record, never did). After the Germans massacred the people of Lidice, Czechoslovakia, Churchill proposed, perhaps again half seriously, “wiping out German villages by air attack on a three-for-one basis.” The Cabinet overruled him.

Churchill might wonder at today’s attitudes toward fighting terrorists, about American “torture” of prisoners, and about the U.S. President who’s often derided in London as a “cowboy.” The British Prime Minister’s clarity about the Nazi threat in World War II got his nation and the world successfully through that conflict.

The more I learn about Winston Churchill, the more I admire his wartime leadership. I’m largely at least satisfied with President Bush’s leadership in the war on terror, and occasionally inspired. But I’d feel much safer — and more confident of the eventual outcome — if that war was being led by someone with the clarity and … ruthlessness … of Winston Churchill…

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