The following is a guest post (part 3 of 3) from Nathan Apodaca, who blogs at Merely Human Ministries and Human Defense Initiative. I previously blogged about his legal victory against California State University – San Marcos. Today we cover the fourth hero of four who taught Nathan valuable lessons about masculinity.
4. Winston Spencer Churchill (1874-1965)
Last, but most certainly not the least, to make the list is Winston Churchill. Born on November 30th, 1874 to an American mother and British Statesman father at Blenheim Palace, Churchill grew up steeped in privilege. Similar to Grant’s father, Lord Randolph Churchill believed that his son would never amount to much, and ridiculed both his academics as well as his early military career. Churchill spent his life living almost as if he wanted to find a way to make his father proud. He wound up far exceeding whatever expectations were set for him.
Spending his early career as a war correspondent in the 1890s, Churchill lived a lifetime of adventures and near misses with death, including becoming lost in the Egyptian desert as well as a daring escape from a South American prison after being captured in an ambush during the Boer War. Leaving the Army and having made a name for himself as a write as well as a speaker, Churchill entered politics. Possessing a stunning wit and confident manner, Churchill moved through the ranks of the British political machine. Unfortunately, his confident manner did not always serve him well, and he made multiple horrendous mistakes along the way as well as making statements that would ultimately come back to bite him.
In the early 1900s, Churchill began to see the signs of grave conflict building in Europe with the German Empire and other states. Accepting a position as First Lord of the Admiralty, (the equivalent of the American Secretary of the Navy), Churchill did much to prepare the British military for the coming World War. When war erupted in 1914, Churchill found himself in a key position to help influence the military and defense of the country. In 1915, Churchill believed he could help bring the war to a quick end by opening a second front in Turkey. This proved disastrous. The Gallipoli Campaign, so called because it primarily took place on the Gallipoli peninsula in the Dardanelles islands, proved to be a horrific disaster, with tens of thousands of British, Australian, and New Zealander soldiers killed, wounded or captured in a battlefront that had stagnated just as much as the campaigns on Europe’s Western front. Churchill took most of the blame.
Leaving his position in charge of the Navy, Churchill returned to the Army in 1916 and was deployed to the Western Front of the war in France, where he faced numerous close brushes with death, leading him to believe he was being prepared for a purpose later in life. He also acknowledged his own failings, writing to his wife Clementine “I shall have made nothing, if I had not made mistakes”.
Following the Armistice in 1918, Churchill returned to politics and his writing, becoming one of the greatest historians and biographers of the era. He helped jumpstart the Royal Air Force and is also credited as the father of the tank and helped pave the way for advances in tank and armored combat. He also continued to make mistakes in politics, finding himself very often on the wrong side of political conflicts, such as Indian Independence from Great Britian, Women’s Suffrage, economics, and supporting King Edward VIII up to his abdication of the throne and the subsequent coronation of King George VI. As Adolf Hitler and his Nazi cronies began to take power in Germany in the 1930s, Churchill loudly sounded the alarm.
Unfortunately, as biographer and historian Andrew Roberts points out, few in England at the time wanted to believe a new conflict with Germany was on the horizon. The devastation and bloodshed of the First World War was still fresh in many people’s minds. Churchill, however, looking back on his experience with fanatical militant groups in Sudan, Egypt, and South Africa, knew that the militant fanaticism of Nazi Germany would prove devastating if left unchecked. Churchill loudly, (and rightly), criticized those in the government and those in the Christian church who believed Hitler could be appeased and peace maintained by giving Hitler what he wanted.
He was soon proved right. With Blitzkreig unleashed across Europe and multiple countries soon dominated by the Nazis, Churchill stepped up to the plate to replace the disgraced former Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain. It wouldn’t be easy. Very quickly France, Belgium and the “low countries” were defeated, and the British Expeditionary Force, an army of nearly 300,000 troops, barely escaped annihilation at Dunkirk. However, Churchill’s tenacity, hard-headedness, and stubborn refusal to quit were just what the world needed. As Andrew Roberts puts it,
“When Churchill was finally made prime minister in May 1940, the British had lost the war-comprehensively, according to every metric-but there was a huge difference between losing a war and realizing that one has lost it…Winston Churchill’s primary duty in 1940 and 1941 was to prevent the British people from realizing they had lost the war, and nobody did it better, not least because he utterly refused to accept the logic of the situation himself.”
The war quickly took turns for the worst. With Britain the only opponent of Germany left in the fight at this point, Hitler began trying to bomb and starve the British people into submission. Churchill’s courageous leadership and example gave the British people what they needed to hold out in the face of disaster until the United States would enter the war in 1941. Even with disastrous outcomes on battlefronts in Africa, the Atlantic and Asia following up defeats in Europe, Churchill never wavered, and in his own words, the Allies eventually “outlived the menace of tyranny” and liberated Europe from Nazism in 1945. Because Churchill refused to give in during the darkest hour in western history, a feat lesser men, (especially his modern critics and haters), would have quickly failed. Because Churchill’s courage and leadership helped bring an end to evil not only in Nazi Germany, but later in Soviet Russia, Churchill is a man everyone can learn from, not only in his successes, but also in his (many) failures, which he himself often learned from.
Several books about Churchill are worth reading. Churchill: Walking With Destiny by Andrew Roberts is by far the very best, as well as The Splendid and the Vile by Erik Larson, and Andrew Roberts’ other, shorter book, Leadership in War.
Stories of great men are often mocked today by people who are largely living worthless lives themselves. When statues of men like Grant and Churchill are vandalized by young men and women who could just have easily been supporters of slavery in the 1860s and Nazism in the 1930s, it is obvious there is a severe lack of character development in today’s young people. Learning not only from the triumphs of past historical figures, but also from their failures, is one of the best and certainly one of the most important ways to grow and prepare ourselves for our own challenges we will face in life.