During the Second World War, in one of his many letters to English Prime Minister Winston Churchill, Franklin D. Roosevelt quipped, “It is fun to be in the same decade with you.” When Neville Chamberlain offered his resignation to King George VI in 1939, the king asked Chamberlain to name his successor, as was customary. Chamberlain immediately recommended Churchill for the job. As John Keegan puts forth in his 2002 biography, Winston Churchill, it was perhaps the best decision by any member of the Allied governments during the war. Churchill was the only head of state who recognized Hitler and what he represented immediately. He warned against Hitler’s repeated promises of “last territorial demand” as he crossed into one sovereign country’s border after another. It was Churchill who offered hope and steely resolve to the British people when they quite literally stood alone against what had rapidly become the strongest military the world had ever known.
Churchill, a poor academic student, wanted to live a military life from an early age. It took him three tries before gaining admittance to the Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst. He saw action in what is now Pakistan, as well as the Sudan and South Africa. To augment his military pay he became a war correspondent, offering his accounts to various British newspapers. Captured during the Second Boer War in Pretoria, he managed to escape from his prison camp, and found his way back to England. The trek made him a national celebrity, and also served to open the door to politics.
Keegan describes Churchill’s incredible strength prior to and during World War II, and his unwavering belief that democracy would England and her allies would prevail. Keegan puts particular emphasis on Churchill’s speeches, which are heralded as some of the greatest of all time, and provides a comprehensive picture of Churchill as politician, writer, soldier, husband, war leader, and ultimately as a man.
You can find more information about Churchill at The Churchill Centre.
August 1st, 2007
There is a terrific article in the June issue of The Atlantic by Christopher Hitchens in which he details the involvement of a woman named Gertrude Bell in the early formation of a country whose name every single American recognizes. Friend to both T.E. Lawrence and Winston Churchill, Bell was a British diplomat and spy who many say was almost single-handedly responsible for the founding of modern Iraq. Educated at Oxford, she was one of the Empire’s leading Arabists at the end of World War I. She rode camels with the Bedouin, was fluent in Persian and Arabic, and even founded an archaeological museum in Baghdad.
Hitchens, as always, provides an intriguing and spellbinding account of this truly extraordinary woman.
July 2nd, 2007
Here’s a great post from lifehack.org, one of my favorite blogs. History has many fine examples of how persevering individuals turned failure into triumph…
June 28th, 2007
In 2003 I had the pleasure of interviewing Ralph Echols, a World War II veteran who fought against the Japanese in northern Burma, at his home in north Dallas. Surrounded by his family, Mr. Echols relayed his experiences, some of which his children and grandchildren had never heard. This was one of the very first veteran interviews I conducted, and I was heart-broken when the audio from the interview was lost when my laptop completely crashed on me. However, Mr. Echols did provide me with some hand-written notes in preparation for our interview. Those notes are included here… (more…)
March 30th, 2007
70 years before Christopher Columbus sailed across the Atlantic in search of a water route to Asia, the Chinese were exploring the Indian Ocean and western Pacific with seven maritime expeditions that solidified themselves as the major power in Asia. In 2005 China celebrated the 600th anniversary of the first voyage of the navigator and explorer Zheng He. (more…)
March 28th, 2007
Love. Sex. Betrayal. Scandal. Taboo. All the ingredients for a great story. This month’s read is no exception. What makes it so interesting is that it is all true. At the end of the 18th century, England and France were engaged in a global conflict that spanned three continents and every ocean. India was a colonial province of both superpowers, with both governments vying for the right to call India there own. For the British officers who served in India during this time, the allure of the people, customs, and women in particular was endearing for most, and particularly enticing for many. In William Dalrymple’s White Mughals, this mutual attraction is told through the story of a British officer and young Indian princess. From the fields of Yorkshire to the gardens of Hyderabad, here is this month’s read. (more…)
March 28th, 2007
As the 19th century drew to a close, the word “Panama” was synonymous with failure. The French, amid scandals and financial ruin for throngs of public investors, had ceased operations to build a canal linking the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. Thousands of workers had already died on “the Isthmus”, great fortunes had been made and lost, and the entire nation of France looked upon the whole affair as a stain of dishonor on the entire French people. Yet the promise of a canal beckoned. With Theodore Roosevelt now in the White House, the United States began its own effort, picking up where the French left off. In David McCullough’s Path Between the Seas: The Creation of the Panama Canal 1870-1914, the story of how one of the greatest engineering feats in the history of man is told. From the White House to the jungles of Central America, here is this month’s read. (more…)
March 28th, 2007
It is perhaps convenient for us as Americans to believe that our struggle for independence in the latter half of the 18th century was solely due to the efforts of like-minded volunteer militia and well-heeled gentry of the original 13 colonies. The legends of men like Paul Revere and Daniel Morgan have rolled down to us as examples of independent-minded, patriotic heroes standing toe-to-toe with the world’s greatest superpower. But while it can be said without a doubt that the victory of independence was largely due to the collective decisions and actions of the militias, regular army, and representative leadership, it is an incomplete picture. Given recent political antagonisms it might be unpopular to advance this point; however, it would be wrong to forget the contributions- economic, strategic, and physical- that the French made towards our victory. In fact, the French played a critical, if not the critical role in helping push George III’s court to accepting terms of independence. As is typical within historical circumstances, this story is best told within the confines of a single person’s experience. In this case, the story of Marie Joseph Paul Yves Roche Gilbert du Motier, the legendary Marquis de Lafayette. (more…)
March 28th, 2007
Most people believe that World War II was largely the result of the “bad peace” negotiated at the end of World War I. Much unwarranted blame has been laid at the feet of Woodrow Wilson and his peers for the series of events which followed the truce signed by all parties in 1918. It is important to remember that most of the world turned a blind eye to Germany’s rise to war between 1933-1938. But a true appreciation of what happened cannot be gained without a thorough review of the first great conflict, the “War to end all Wars”, and the events leading up to August 1914. In this month’s read, we look at The First World War by Robin Prior and Trevor Wilson. (more…)
March 28th, 2007
Howard Zinn is perhaps best known for his landmark 1980 book A People’s History of the United States which offers a chronicle of American history from Columbus through Clinton’s presidency through the eyes of “the street, the home, and the workplace.” This popular book pokes holes in traditional history’s treatment of events and people and is, if nothing else, a unique perspective on our nation’s formation and rise to power. Here is this month’s read. (more…)
March 28th, 2007