Dead Presidents

Historical facts, thoughts, ramblings and collections on the Presidency and about the Presidents of the United States.

By Anthony Bergen
Posts tagged "Winston Churchill"
Asker bbkld Asks:
Have you read anything about Stalin's and Churchill's opinion of Truman after their meeting at Potsdam?
deadpresidents deadpresidents Said:

There’s a great book by Michael Dobbs which focuses on the relationships between the Allied leaders in the last few months of World War II called Six Months in 1945: FDR, Stalin, Churchill, and Truman — From World War to Cold War that really goes in-depth about how they worked and felt about each other.

At Postdam, tensions were starting to rise with the Soviet Union because Truman was more suspicious about Communist intentions in post-war Europe than the ailing FDR had been at Yalta.  Churchill was in a rough spot at Potsdam because he had lost his election back in Great Britain and the new Prime Minister, Clement Attlee, replaced Winston halfway through the conference.

Despite their suspicions, Truman and Stalin liked each other because they were both straight shooters and salt-of-the-earth characters.  Churchill was wary of Truman at first — more out of his love and loyalty for the late FDR than anything else — but he quickly warmed up to him and later told Truman, “I misjudged you badly.  Since that time, you, more than any other man, have saved Western Civilization.”

But Potsdam was a stressful, tense gathering.  It was at the conference that President Truman learned that the atomic bomb had tested successfully and he nervously approached Stalin to notify him of the bomb and its power.  It was, obviously, a big secret, so Truman wasn’t sure how Stalin would react.  Churchill had been filled in on it and watched to see Stalin’s reaction when Truman filled him in about the destructive power of the bomb.  Stalin seemed nonplussed and Truman and Churchill decided amongst themselves afterward that Stalin must not have understood the specifics of the bomb as Truman explained it.

The truth, however, was that Stalin didn’t seem phased by the news because Soviet spies in the United States had already kept him informed about the Manhattan Project.  In fact, Stalin knew about the atomic bomb before Truman (who only learned of its existence after FDR died and he assumed the Presidency) found out about it!

I misjudged you badly. Since that time, you, more than any other man, have saved Western Civilization.

Winston Churchill, to Harry Truman, who Churchill admittedly underestimated and doubted when Truman succeeded to the Presidency upon the death of Franklin D. Roosevelt

Bullets are not worth considering. Besides I am so conceited that I do not think the Gods would create so potent a being for so prosaic an ending.

Winston Churchill, 21 years old, in a letter to his mother after his first experience of being shot at in combat, 1895

Asker Anonymous Asks:
Could you recommend a good biography of Winston Churchill?
deadpresidents deadpresidents Said:

YES — the three-volume biography, The Last Lion: Winston Spencer Churchill.  The first two volumes — Visions of Glory, 1874-1932 and Alone, 1932-1940 — were written by the legendary William Manchester.  Manchester died while writing the third volume, Defender of the Realm, 1940-1965, so it was finished by Paul Reid, who did a wonderful job.  It’s a magnificent set and pretty much a definitive history of Churchill.

If you cannot read all your books, at any rate handle, or, as it were, fondle them — peer into them, let them fall open where they will, read from the first sentence that arrests the eye, set them back on their shelves with your own hands, arrange them on your own plan so that if you do not know what is in them, you will at least know where they are. Let them be your friends; let them at any rate be your acquaintances.

Winston Churchill

The last question about my books motivated me to share this quote of Churchill’s about books, which is one of my favorite quotes ever.

"Bullets are not worth considering.  Besides, I am so conceited that I do not think the Gods would create so potent a being for so prosaic an ending."

Winston Churchill, in a letter to his mother describing the experience (and his lack of fear) of being under fire in combat, 1895

Basically, this is just a fancy, Churchillian version of saying something that Tupac Shakur would rap 100 years later.  I’m not sure how people can go through life without taking time to at least read a book of Churchill quotes.

Asker Anonymous Asks:
What are some good introductory books for understanding Churchill? I see some of his own writings but I don't know where to start.
deadpresidents deadpresidents Said:

I would suggest that you can begin and end with The Last Lion: Winston Spencer Churchill, the recently-completed three-volume biography of Winston Churchill, which is about as definitive as it gets.  The first two volumes are by William Manchester and the third volume, released last year, was completed by Paul Reid from Manchester’s notes and research and at Manchester’s request following his death in 2004.  It can be quite an investment in time because it is incredibly detailed and exhaustive, but it’s absolutely worth it.

The Manchester/Reid trilogy was released in a boxed set last year as The Last Lion: Winston Spencer Churchill, 1874-1965 (BOOKKINDLE) and that’s probably the best overall deal.  But you can also get the three volumes individually if you want to work through them that way:

The Last Lion: Winston Spencer Churchill: Visions of Glory, 1874-1932 by William Manchester (BOOKKINDLE) — Volume I, originally released in 1983.
The Last Lion: Winston Spencer Churchill: Alone, 1932-1940 by William Manchester (BOOKKINDLE) — Volume II, originally released in 1988.
The Last Lion: Winston Spencer Churchill: Defender of the Realm, 1940-1965 by William Manchester and Paul Reid (BOOKKINDLE) — Volume III, originally released in 2012.

There are so many other great books about Churchill that you have a wealth of other choices if you don’t want to commit to the lengthy Manchester trilogy.  Sir Martin Gilbert is considered Churchill’s “official biographer” and has written or edited something like 20 books about Churchill, so I don’t even know where to begin with him, but I really like a book that Gilbert released last year called Churchill: The Power of Words: His Remarkable Life Recounted Through His Writings and Speeches (BOOKKINDLE).  In this book, Gilbert selected bits and pieces of Churchill’s best and most famous words and uses them chronologically to help tell (along with Gilbert’s introductions) Churchill’s life story.  Like Lincoln, it’s damn near impossible to go wrong with a book of Churchill’s writings and speeches.

And, if you’re looking for something just focusing on Churchill’s early life, there’s a new book out by Michael Shelden that tells that story really well — Young Titan: The Making of Winston Churchill(BOOKKINDLE).

Winston Churchill is one of those historic figures that I could probably devote an entire blog to simply posting book recommendations about, so I’ll leave you with these ones for now.  I’m confident that you’ll be happy with any of them.

"If you cannot read all your books, at any rate handle, or, as it were, fondle them — peer into them, let them fall open where they will, read from the first sentence that arrests the eye, set them back on their shelves with your own hands, arrange them on your own plan so that if you do not know what is in them, you will at least know where they are.  Let them be your friends; let them at any rate be your acquaintances." — Winston Churchill

Should you be looking for the right Christmas gift for a book-lover or history buff, I recommend that you look no further than this beautiful boxed set of William Manchester’s three-volume biography of Winston Churchill, The Last Lion: Winston Spencer Churchill, 1874-1965.

Like the multi-volume biographies of Theodore Roosevelt by Edmund Morris and Lyndon B. Johnson by Robert Caro, The Last Lion is a monumental work that took decades to complete.  The first volume, Visions of Glory, 1874-1932 was originally published in 1983.  The second volume, Alone, 1932-1940 was published in 1988.  And the third volume, Defender of the Realm, 1940-1965 was just released this month.  The first two volumes are pure Manchester, and we’re fortunate that the legendary historian turned to Paul Reid shortly before Manchester’s death in 2004 and requested that Reid complete the third volume.  On their own, each of the books are epic; collectively, they are a masterpiece.

You can get the books individually, of course, and even download the trilogy for your Kindle, but this work is the type of treasure that deserves a spot on your shelves and the boxed set is gorgeous.  I just received my copy today and I’m handling them much in the same way that Churchill described in the quote above.  Anyone who loves to read history needs The Last Lion: Winston Spencer Churchill, 1874-1965 (Oh, and Amazon has it for sale at nearly 50% off the retail price right now!)

Speaking of books about monumental leaders from World War II, when this arrived in the mail earlier this week, I wondered why somebody was sending me a brick until I opened it.

Much to my pleasure, it was not a brick and, instead, was an ARC of The Last Lion: Winston Spencer Churchill: Defender of the Realm, 1940-1965 (BOOKKINDLE), which is the last volume of the legendary William Manchester’s masterful biography of the great British leader.  When Manchester’s health was failing and it became clear that he couldn’t finish the final volume, he turned over his notes and work to Paul Reid and asked Reid to finish the work. 

I’ve started reading it and it is wonderful.  Reid has done a great job of capturing Manchester’s style without becoming a parody of it.  The book is obviously an exhaustive history, as well.  Like I said, this is an advanced copy, so it’s not even bound in hardcover, yet the book is huge — it clocks in at 1,232 pages.

I have only recently dove into the book, but if you’re a fan of Churchill (and how can you not be?), Manchester, or interested in World War II, keep an eye out for Defender of the Realm (or pre-order it on Amazon, where you can get it at nearly 50% off right now).  Little, Brown and Company will release the book on November 6th.

Asker jphistory Asks:
Ok so I have a kind of wierd question, do you know of any other sighting of the ghost of Abraham Lincoln in the White House other than when Taft claims to have seen it when he was getting out of the tub stark naked?
deadpresidents deadpresidents Said:

Yes, quite a few people — and people who you wouldn’t think of as crazy have claimed to have witnessed Lincoln’s ghost.  Actually, I think it was Churchill who said he saw the ghost while getting out of the bathtub (and, of course, had a great quote about it).  I wrote a Random Fact of the Day about Lincoln’s ghost for Halloween a couple of years back, so I’m going to copy and paste:

About ten days ago, I retired late.  I soon began to dream.  There seemed to be a death-like stillness about me.  Then I heard subdued sobs, as if a number of people were weeping.  I thought I left my bed and wandered downstairs.  There the silence was broken by the same pitiful sobbing, but the mourners were invisible.  I went from room to room; no living person was in sight, but the same mournful sounds of distress met me as I passed along.

It was light in all the rooms; every object was familiar to me, but where were all the people who were grieving as if their hearts would break?  I was puzzled and alarmed.  What could be the meaning of all this?  Determined to find the cause of a state of things so mysterious and so shocking, I kept on until I arrived at the East Room, which I entered.  Before me was a catafalque, on which rested a corpse wrapped in funeral vestments.  Around it were stationed soldiers who were acting as guards; and there was a throng of people, some gazing mournfully upon the corpse, whose face was covered, others weeping pitifully.

‘Who is dead in the White House?’, I demanded of one of the soldiers.

‘The President’, was his answer.  ‘He was killed by an assassin.’

Then came a loud burst of grief from the crowd, which awoke me from my dream.  I slept no more that night; and although it was only a dream, I have been strangely annoyed by it ever since.”

Abraham Lincoln’s spooky recollection of this dream to his friend and personal bodyguard Ward Hill Lamon took place somewhere in the two weeks prior to his death on April 15, 1865.  Lincoln, of course, was killed by an assassin and his body “wrapped in funeral vestments” rested on a catafalque in the East Room of the White House, surrounded by grief-stricken mourners and soldiers.

Since Lincoln’s assassination, many people have claimed to see Abraham Lincoln’s ghost in the White House.  Of course, any ghost stories should be accepted only with caution, but the people who claimed to have seen the apparition might surprise you:  Theodore Roosevelt, Grace Coolidge, Herbert Hoover, Queen Wilhelmina of The Netherlands, Harry Truman, Margaret Truman, Dwight Eisenhower, Jacqueline Kennedy, Lady Bird Johnson, as well as many White House employees, valets, ushers, and a few Press Secretaries.

Those who have experienced Lincoln’s ghost have mentioned that Lincoln either walks back-and-forth in second-floor hallways, knocks on doors and windows, or stares out of a window pensively with his hands clasped behind his back.  One of Benjamin Harrison’s bodyguards searched the White House almost every night because he frequently heard footsteps.  Worried about protecting President Harrison but weary from his fruitless search, the bodyguard held a séance to attempt to contact Lincoln and ask him to stop haunting him.  Winston Churchill claimed to have seen Lincoln’s ghost as he was staying in the White House.  Churchill had just gotten out of the bath and was naked except for his cigar and glass of scotch when he encountered Lincoln’s apparition.  Churchill claimed he told the ghost, “Good evening, Mr. President.  You seem to have me at a disadvantage.”

Many of the Lincoln sightings occur in-or-near the Lincoln Bedroom.  Contrary to popular belief, Abraham Lincoln never slept in the Lincoln Bedroom.  During his Presidency, the Lincoln Bedroom was actually President Lincoln’s Cabinet Room.  It is where Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863.

Da Capo Press sent me a book today called Churchill: The Power of Words: His Remarkable Life Recounted Through His Writings and Speeches (BOOKKINDLE) which is “selected, edited, and introduced by” Martin Gilbert.  It looks pretty good.  It’s almost like an oral history autobiography where Gilbert has taken Churchill’s own words and organized them chronologically with short introductions or transitions to place everything in context.  Clayborne Carson edited a similar book a few years back that was published as The Autobiography of Martin Luther King, Jr. and I really liked the way the book flowed.  The Churchill book looks like it has a very similar structure, so fans of Winston might want to check it out (I believed it was released on Tuesday).

•This is an Historically Accurate Transcription•

CHURCHILL: We’ve got to end this thing…it’s gone on too long.
FDR: I agree.  I’m exhausted.  Look at me, I look like I’m 125 years old.
STALIN: Twenty million of my people have been killed!
CHURCHILL: Yes, this war is terrible.
STALIN: War?  Oh, you guys were talking about the war?  I actually meant that I had twenty million of my people killed.  I was bragging, not complaining.
FDR: Twenty million?  What did they do?  Espionage?  Treason?
STALIN: They didn’t name all of their pets and crops after me, so they went bye-bye in a box.  Well, twenty million boxes.  Well, actually, just a bunch of mass graves.
CHURCHILL: That’s horrible.  How does one kill twenty million people?
STALIN: Well, you start off by finding forty million people who are REALLY supportive of your plans and then you give them guns and…
FDR: I believe that was a rhetorical question.
STALIN: I believe that I could win a foot race between you and I.
FDR: Oh yes…here we go again…let’s make fun of the crippled guy.  Easy target, right?
CHURCHILL: Don’t piss him off, Frank.  He’ll kill you as quickly as polio killed your legs.
FDR: I’m getting it from both sides now?  I saved your ass, Churchill.  Remember that whole Lend-Lease Act?  You better recognize.  Without me, you’d be speaking German already.
STALIN: (Mumbling) Or Russian.
CHURCHILL: You’re right, Franklin.  I should thank you now before you crumble into dust.  I know the Presidency ages its occupants, but you look terrible!  Do you drink nicotine milkshakes for breakfast?  Have they just gone ahead and started embalming you already?
FDR: I’ve been elected to four terms as President.  You wouldn’t know what it is like to have to save the world, Winston.  Last time I checked, you and your wussy empire were the save-ees not the save-ers.  And don’t even start criticizing how people look:  everytime I see you I think, “Wow, that is the tallest, oldest baby I have ever seen.”
STALIN: What about me?  What do you guys think when you see me?
CHURCHILL: Marshal Stalin, I think it’s safe to say that when we see you our first thought is, “This Russian guy is either going to kill us with a hammer or molest us with his mustache”.  You look like every family’s creepy uncle who drinks too much and then tickles the kids for an inappropriately long amount of time.
FDR: Although, I will say that I enjoyed your appearance on “To Catch A Predator”, Stalin.  Is Chris Hansen tall in real life?
STALIN: What do you carry in those bags under your eyes besides dashed dreams about competing in a triathlon?
FDR: Shut up, Churchill.  I may not be able to walk, but at least I don’t waddle.  You look like a penguin in chemotherapy.
CHURCHILL: Listen…let’s stop for a second.  We have to stay united.  We’ve got Hitler on the ropes and once we’re finished with that, we can turn our attention to Japan.
STALIN: No.  I’ll be occupying countries within my sphere of influence and setting up decades of potential problems.  Thanks for the invite, though.
FDR: Don’t worry about Japan, Winston.  Remember what I told you?
CHURCHILL: I’m constantly drunk.  I hardly remember to walk to the toilet before urinating.
FDR: I don’t want to say it right now.
FDR: No…remember…the atomicay ombbay that I don’t want alinStay to know about?
CHURCHILL: Oh yeah…we definitely don’t want that crazy fucker getting his hands on  the bomb you developed which harnesses the energy which powers the universe to completely obliterate cities with one blast…
FDR: Dude…
STALIN: What?  Tell me everything!
CHURCHILL: (Leaving) Gotta go!
FDR: He’s just fucking with you.  We don’t have one of those.

Asker bbkld Asks:
Do you think FDR deserves the criticism he received for the Yalta Conference? It's true Stalin stole everything and every country not tied down, and Churchill was on his way out of British government (still amazing to me), but the Americans knew before the conference that Roosevelt was dying and nowhere near his "A" game. Responsibility always stops at the President's desk but I think historians are too quick to blame FDR and skip the rest of his foreign policy and military administration.
deadpresidents deadpresidents Said:

Have you guys ever seen a picture of poor FDR from Yalta? 

Roosevelt was obviously dying at Yalta.  He should not have been in a position to negotiate with Churchill and Stalin when he was in the last weeks of his life, especially after a grueling around-the-world trip.

Not only was FDR’s health suspect, but Stalin was in an extraordinarily strong negotiating position in March 1945.  The Soviets were closing in on Berlin and the United States needed Soviet assistance in the Pacific theater against Japan since it was not yet clear whether the atomic bomb was going to actually work.  Stalin negotiated from a position of strength and Roosevelt always had a soft spot for Stalin.  Churchill openly distrusted Stalin, but FDR thought Stalin was a solid leader and ally who had some tyrannical flaws.

You’re correct that responsibility stops at the President’s desk, but FDR shouldn’t have been put in that position in Yalta.  He was already a dead man and at the conference with Stalin and Churchill, he was steamrolled.