Into the Storm: Churchill at War
“And how can men die better than by facing fearful odds,
for the ashes of their fathers, and the Temples of their Gods?”
To their credit, George W. Bush, Barack Obama, and Hillary Clinton didn’t spend a lot of time in their youth collecting toy soldiers and imagining them in war scenarios. War is not their passion, and they are astoundingly bad at it.
To his discredit, Winston Churchill did apparently collect hundreds of toy soldiers in his youth. Disturbingly, he did spend much of his boyhood moving them around on a long table, fantasizing that he was the greatest general in history.
He loved Britain and he loved war. In a different era, Churchill would have simply been a glory-hungry war-monger. As it happens, he was the savior of the UK.
Early in the HBO/BBC film “Into the Storm,” newly appointed Prime Minister Winston Churchill meets with a skeptical King George VI. “Isn’t it a coincidence that you become Prime Minister the day that Germany invades Western Europe?” the King asks. “Perhaps it is destiny,” Churchill replies.
In 1940, with Hitler conquering with ease and having no particular hatred of Anglo-Saxon England, it might have seemed sensible and humane to make peace and give in to Germany’s demands. Churchill was a veteran of the Boer War and World War I and the British Secretary of War from 1919-21. To him, peace wasn’t a logical option.
When Churchill took power, the entire British army was in France preparing to meet the advancing Germans. When it became clear that the army was going to be isolated and annihilated, the new Prime Minister quickly organized a mass evacuation. Every vessel available was used to sail 350,000 men away from the mainland and certain death or capture.
With everybody home, Churchill took to the airwaves and eloquently urged the British people to be brave and resolute during the upcoming years of hardship.
But well-orchestrated retreats and fancy words don’t win wars: killing does.
And “Into the Storm” shows us a Churchill (Brendan Gleeson) who does not shy away from the ugly side of war.
When England was preparing for a would-be invasion, Churchill boasts matter-of-factly of Britain’s superior mustard gas and anthrax weapons and his willingness to use them against German soldiers.
When the night-bombing raids aiming at German munitions factories and railway lines were accomplishing little because the bombs were so inaccurate, Churchill agreed to a new plan of bombing the cities where factory employees worked.
I can see why American and British schools are more eager to teach children about D-Day than Dresden. But it’s an ugly fact that the merciless carpet bombing of German cities was as important to victory on the Western Front than the invasion of the mainland.
While Churchill was rightly hailed as the architect of British victory, the voters elected his Labour Party opponents to a landslide victory in July, 1945. Just two months after Germany’s unconditional surrender, Churchill moved out of 10 Downing St. The UK rightly recognized that Churchill was born to wage war, not govern in times of peace.
A wise man (Yoda) once said: “Great warrior? Wars not make one great.” I’ve always agreed with Yoda. I find the concept of a ‘war hero’ absurd and oxymoronic. I refuse to believe that wars can make one great. But, clearly, some men are great at war. Churchill was such a man.