On September 3, 2009, a debate sponsored by Intelligence Squared, at the Methodist Central Hall Westminster, in London, considered the question: "Resolved: Churchill was more a liability than an asset to the free world."
Speakers for the motion: Pat Buchanan, Nigel Knight, political scientist and economist at Churchill College, Cambridge, and Norman Stone, historian and professor of International Relations at Bilkent University, Ankara.
Speakers against the motion: Antony Beevor, historian and author of the best-selling book Stalingrad; professor Richard Overy, historian, author of many books and articles on the Second World War and the Nazi regime; and Andrew Roberts, historian, who has spent 20 years writing, researching, and broadcasting about Churchill and the Second World War.
We publish below Pat Buchanan’s opening statement:
To borrow from Mark Antony’s funeral oration, we of the affirmative are not here to praise Mr. Churchill — but to bury him.
But, first, let us concede the greatness of the man.
In that finest hour of the British nation, 1940, Winston Churchill was indomitable, an inspiration to men everywhere. He was the Lion who gave Britain’s roar of defiance in the face of Hitler’s Germany. For that, he will be honored by peoples everywhere — and forever.
And if we judged him on that year alone, there would be no debate. There would be unanimity.
But Churchill’s career did not last a single year. It lasted half a century. And, over that half century, no other career of a Western statesman was more calamitous for his country and his civilization than that of Winston Spencer Churchill.
More than any other British leader, in 1914 and 1939, Churchill lusted for war and pushed his country to turn two European wars into world wars, so Germany might be destroyed.
Both times, he succeeded.
And history records that those wars, that together took the lives of perhaps a hundred million Europeans, were the mortal blows that advanced the death of the West.
And it was Winston Churchill who led the West in its advance to barbarism.
As First Lord he instituted a starvation blockade that violated all the rules of civilized warfare and brought death to 100 times as many German civilians as there were Belgian victims of the Kaiser’s army.
Churchill’s purpose: it is, he said "to starve the whole population, men, women and children, old and young, wounded and sound, into submission."
Four months after Germany laid down her arms, the starvation blockade remained in force. And Churchill rose in Parliament to exult: "We are enforcing the blockade with rigour and Germany is near starvation."
In 1920, as Secretary for War and Air, Churchill, enraged by Iraqi resistance to British colonial rule, declaimed, "I am strongly in favor of using poison gas against uncivilized tribes to spread a lively terror."
Eighty years later, Saddam Hussein and Chemical Ali would be hanged in Baghdad for doing what Churchill urged Britain to do and what Britain did.
The day he became Prime Minister in 1940, as the German army was breaking through in the Ardennes, Churchill directed his bombers not against Rommel’s Panzers, but Rhineland cities, in what your historian Paul Johnson calls "a critical stage in the moral declension of humanity in our times."
Coventry and the Blitz were war crimes.
But they were also reprisal raids for the terror bombing begun by Churchill. The climax came in 1945 with Thunderclap, the fire-bombing of Dresden, the Florence on the Elbe, a defenseless city of a defeated nation packed with refugees fleeing the serial rapists of the Red Army. Estimates of the dead range from 35,000 to 250,000.
But he was a great war strategist, we are told.
But the greatest British debacle of World War I was Gallipoli, an ill-conceived drive to force the Dardanelles that cost a quarter of a million British, French and Anzac dead and wounded. Architect of the disaster: First Lord of the Admiralty Winston Churchill.
The greatest British debacle of World War II was Norway, when the invading Royal Marines arrived 24 hours after German troops had landed and occupied all the major Norwegian ports from Oslo to Narvik. Architect of the disaster: First Lord of the Admiralty Winston Churchill.
One British historian suggests the Norway operation was blown by Churchill himself, blabbing his plans to neutral press attaches, where German intelligence picked them up. That historian? Andrew Roberts.
What of Churchill the statesman?
In 1921, the Americans demanded that Britain come to a Washington Naval Conference, agree to scrap hundreds of warships, and sever a 20-year alliance with a Japan that had been faithful throughout World War I. Churchill urged capitulation to the Americans, and Britain capitulated, terminated the Japanese treaty, and began dismantling the greatest navy in the world.
British historian Correlli Barnett calls that capitulation to American demands, at Churchill’s insistence, "one of the major catastrophes of English history."
Five years later, Chancellor of the Exchequer Churchill said, do not worry: "War with Japan is not a possibility which any reasonable government need take into account." In 1942, Singapore fell, and the empire was finished in Asia.
When Hitler marched into the Rhineland in 1936, Churchill hailed the French for taking the matter to the League of Nations.. But the ideal solution, he wrote, would be for Hitler to do the "noble" thing, and march back out of the Rhineland.
Apparently, Hitler did not read the column.
In 1939, he Churchill pushed his country to go to war for Poland. Britain did. Was Poland saved? Instead of losing Danzig, the Poles lost half their country, six million dead, and fifty years of freedom.
Churchill excoriated Chamberlain for appeasing Hitler. But Churchill’s four years of appeasement of Stalin make Neville Chamberlain at Munich look like Davy Crockett at the Alamo.
At Moscow, Teheran, Yalta, Churchill told Stalin he could keep all the fruits of his devil’s pact with Hitler including the three Baltic republics. He acceded to Moscow’s domination of Eastern and Central Europe in violation of his solemn pledge in the Atlantic Charter.
When he came back from Yalta in 1945, Churchill told Parliament, "I know of no Government which stands to its obligations more solidly than the Russian Soviet Government."
Churchill then gave his benediction to the most barbaric act of ethnic cleansing in history: the forced expulsion of 13 million German old men, women and children from their ancestral homes. Two million died in the exodus.
At war’s end, Germany was a smoldering ruin but all the great capitals of Central and Eastern Europe — Warsaw, Berlin, Budapest, Prague, Vienna — were occupied by Stalin’s Red Army. Britain was bankrupt and broken. The empire was collapsing. And the Americans were going home.
But there was this consolation: Haile Selassie was back on his throne in Addis Ababa.
When Churchill entered the inner Cabinet as First Lord in 1911, Britain was first nation on earth and ruler of the greatest empire since Rome. When he left in 1945, Britain was an island dependency of the United States. He was a Great Man — at the cost of his country’s greatness.