The Roar of the Lion: The Debate Goes On

Roar of the lionIn the latest Reviews in History, published online by the Institute of Historical Research, Professor Kevin Matthews of George Mason University looks at Professor Richard Toye’s recent book The Roar of the Lion: The Untold Story of Churchill’s World War II Speeches, which has already aroused considerable controversy. Matthews notes:

To produce this study, Toye deftly combines secondary source material with archival research, especially Churchill’s own, often overlooked speech-writing files. The result is a book that is by turns informative, engaging, and, all too often, frustrating.

Matthews agrees that ‘Toye is surely right that Churchill did not command unanimous support during the war, a fact he demonstrates by lacing his book with contemporary reactions to the wartime speeches.’ However, he is critical of the book’s use of Mass-Observation material and the reports of the Ministry of information’s Home intelligence Division:

More than once, while the Home Intelligence Division reported overall support for a Churchill address, Toye is quick to highlight negative comments about the same speech found in the MO files, even when those comments represented ‘minority feeling’ (p. 108). Moreover, these negative reactions often say less about Churchill’s oratory than they do about a war-weary, but also fickle public.

In his author’s response, Toye responds robustly, arguing that Matthews overlooked the ways in which the book addresses such methodological concerns. Toye also emphasizes that highlighting contemporary criticisms of Churchill’s speeches does not necessarily amount to an endorsement of the critics’ point of view. He argues: ‘Once it is grasped that I am neither criticising Churchill nor rubbishing his speeches, then Matthews’s critique of my work loses its force.’

Who do you think is right?

You can check out the full exchange here.