In case you missed it, the newest book by the Centre’s own Professor Richard Toye, The Roar of the Lion: The Untold Story of Churchill’s Wartime Speeches (2013), has been featured in the New York Times and the Boston Globe this past week, the most recent in a flurry of high-level reviews, which include the Financial Times and the Daily Mail.
The New York Times concludes that what Toye ‘has found deeply complicates, and in many cases utterly destroys,’ Churchill’s ‘popular image of 1940’:
Toye finds the speeches that had the greatest impact at the time were not the orations best known and beloved today, but the rather prosaic addresses in which Churchill announced positive and bellicose action — the British sinking of the Vichy French fleet and Britain’s collaboration with the Soviets against Germany…. Churchill’s speeches were not the crucial factor that persuaded the British to fight on in 1940 against what seemed at the time grim odds. After all, at different stages of the war, the citizens of Germany, Japan and the Soviet Union fought on defiantly and — in their own terms — courageously, and never gave in to terrors meted out to them on a scale that, thankfully, the British never had to endure. It would seem that a noble cause and uplifting rhetoric may count for very little in the struggle for national survival.
The Boston Globe in turn further discusses how Toye has debunked the Churchill mythos:
But not everyone was moved. Years after the war the novelist Evelyn Waugh denigrated Churchill as merely a “Radio Personality” and said that as a soldier, “How we despised his orations.” Indeed, Toye found “no concrete evidence” Churchill’s speeches were “the decisive factor” in keeping the British in the war, adding, “The speeches’ contribution to morale was undoubtedly genuine, but they were only one part of a rich and sophisticated propaganda diet, most elements of which have now been forgotten.”… Churchill was, to be sure, a great wartime prime minister, but by war’s end Britain longed for peace and had tired of him. As well suited as those speeches — and the politics they created and reflected — may have been for war, Britons demanded something else entirely in peace, and so they, and the man who delivered them, were sent into retirement.
David Shribman neatly concludes by noting that Churchill’s ‘speeches may live forever. The moment did not.’
Be sure to check out the full reviews.