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Churchill and Orwell: The Fight for Freedom Paperback – 1 Jan 2018
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"Both subjects, he tells us in this page turner written with great brio, are 'people we still think about, people who are important not just to understanding their times but also to understanding our own.'... what comes across strongly in this highly enjoyable book is the fierce commitment of both Orwell and Churchill to critical thought." --The New York Times Book Review"An elegantly written celebration of two men who faced an existential crisis to their way of life with moral courage -- and demonstrated that an individual can make a difference." --San Francisco Chronicle "Readers of this book will realize, if they needed reminding, that the struggle to preserve and tell the truth is a very long game." --Los Angeles Times
"Another one is a book by Thomas Ricks about Winston Churchill and George Orwell. The two never met, but their parallel lives and their views of how society should function, notions of individual freedom, limitations of politics and so on -- extraordinarily harmonious thoughts in different places, really very impressive. I went in assuming [they'd be at odds], but quite the reverse. Really, very interesting."-- John Le Carré "Churchill & Orwell is an eminently readable, frankly inspirational and exceptionally timely tribute to the two men Simon Schama called 'the architects of their time.' It is to be hoped that their counterparts in intellectual clarity and moral courage are among us today." --Minneapolis Star Tribune "A pungent and pointed piece of history, a great gift for any history lover on your list." -- Seattle Times "Here is a formidable pairing: Winston Churchill and George Orwell, two of the most famous figures of the 20th century, compared and contrasted in a study that has fresh things to say about its subjects... Ricks tracks his subjects without falling into the usual traps. He is neither sanctimonious about Orwell, nor overly reverential when discussing Churchill." --Newsday "A feast of a book, laden with observations and insights that enable us to see these familiar figures, and through them our own time, in a fresh and illuminating light." --New Statesman "Ricks's gift for storytelling makes this book virtually impossible at times to set down." --The Christian Science Monitor "Superbly illustrates that Churchill and Orwell made enduring cases for the necessity of moral and political fortitude in the face of authoritarianism. This is a bracing work for our times."--Publishers Weekly "Very readable and timely."--The Missourian
"The genius of Ricks' method is to tell the story of an ongoing struggle through the lives of two extraordinary men." --Booklist (starred review) "A superb account of two men who set standards for defending liberal democracy that remain disturbingly out of reach." --Kirkus Reviews (starred)
From the Inside Flap
A dual biography of Winston Churchill and George Orwell, who preserved democracy from the threats of authoritarianism, from the left and right alike.
Both George Orwell and Winston Churchill came close to death in the mid-1930's-Orwell shot in the neck in a trench line in the Spanish Civil War, and Churchill struck by a car in New York City. If they'd died then, history would scarcely remember them. At the time, Churchill was a politician on the outs, his loyalty to his class and party suspect. Orwell was a mildly successful novelist, to put it generously. No one would have predicted that by the end of the 20th century they would be considered two of the most important people in British history for having the vision and courage to campaign tirelessly, in words and in deeds, against the totalitarian threat from both the left and the right. In a crucial moment, they responded first by seeking the facts of the matter, seeing through the lies and obfuscations, and then they acted on their beliefs. Together, to an extent not sufficiently appreciated, they kept the West's compass set toward freedom as its due north.
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Churchill and Orwell never met. Ricks argues that they both made excellent cases for individual freedom. Both attended elite private schools, Harrow and Eton. I read Orwell’s major works over thirty years ago and I enjoyed being reminded of his worldview. Orwell described the miserable existence of ordinary people living in totalitarian societies. His books seem relevant today even though communism is dead. Ricks suggests that we are moving towards totalitarianism lite. Authoritarianism is on the march again. Putin, Erdogan, Xi, Kim, Iran, and Assad are examples. In the U.S. we have an intrusive surveillance state and the public is often manipulated. As in Orwell’s book, 1984, the U.S. is continuously at war and under attack so that is used to justify surveillance by the state. Ricks believes Americans face ever-increasing threats to our individual liberties.
Orwell was an obscure journalist until his breakthrough with Animal Farm (1945) and Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949). He was shot and nearly killed while fighting in the Spanish Civil War. It was there that he developed his hostility to fascism and communism. In Spain, fascists, communists and the police all tried to kill him, which probably helps explain his suspicion of authority. Orwell attended Eton College, where members of the British establishment are often educated. Eton has produced 19 British prime ministers, including David Cameron and the Duke of Wellington. Orwell's Eton education would have presented him with many advantages, which he chose to ignore. Ricks does not really dwell on this or explain Orwell’s strange career choices for an Eton graduate. Orwell became a cop in Burma, a backwater of the British Empire. In the 1930s he wrote about the life of the poor. He always sympathized with the underdog and despised the establishment. Ricks believes that he admired Churchill.
Until 1940, Churchill’s political career had often been disastrous. He was on the wrong side of history on many issues, from opposing Indian independence to returning Britain to the Gold Standard. Ricks focuses on Churchill's opposition to appeasement and on his role in World War 2. He argues, like many Americans, that appeasement was a mistake. Ricks suggests that the appeasers were often unpatriotic and cowardly. The U.S. helped draft the Treaty of Versailles but did nothing to help enforce it. Many British historians believe that Chamberlain had no good options in 1938. A lot of American politicians seem to believe that had Britain threatened war in 1936 or 1938, Hitler would have backed down. However, they fail to appreciate the military realities of the time. Britain declared war in 1939, and Hitler turned his army around and crushed Western Europe.
Britain had lost 723,000 men in WW1, and most people were desperate to avoid another war. Pacifism was popular in the 1930s, and as a result, Britain only started rearming in 1936. The British public did not realize the Germans wanted revenge for 1918. In 1938, the year of Munich, Britain was in no position to fight a war with Germany. Britain’s only real European ally was France, and its leaders did not believe the French had the stomach for a fight. France and the Soviet Union had no interest in using their armies to confront Hitler in 1936 or 1938, so a grand coalition was out of the question. In 1938, Britain’s generals told Chamberlain that they only had two divisions they could send to Europe to fight Germany. Chamberlain was told by his advisers that Hitler had 100 divisions. The RAF only received its first Spitfires in August 1938. It would have been suicidal to attack Germany in 1936 or 1938, Some Americans living in Europe agreed that Germany was unstoppable. The U.S. ambassador to Britain, Joe Kennedy, and Charles Lindbergh advised that resistance was futile. Lindbergh had visited Germany and claimed that the Luftwaffe was invincible. To many in Britain, it seemed reckless to start a war you had no chance of winning. Britain went to war in 1939 and the extra 12 months made a big difference. The country had more planes and trained pilots than it would have had in 1938.
In 1940, Orwell supported Churchill’s rise to the premiership. He believed that there was nobody in British politics with the guts or imagination to fight Hitler. Churchill's only strategy in 1940 was to get the U.S. into the war. This happened anyway in 1941 when Hitler declared war after Pearl Harbor.
Many Britons believe that Churchill had been played by FDR, since Britain emerged from the war poor, and weak. Ricks disputes this and portrays America's leaders as honest, men of integrity who wanted the best for Britain. Other American writers have in recent years questioned this interpretation and suggested that the U.S. was much more Machiavellian. Lynne Olson in her book "Those Angry Days" points out that there was considerable anti-British feeling in America before the war and this was shared by the U.S. military. George Marshall and his top brass had been pro-German before the war.
According to the American economist Benn Steil who wrote “The Battle of Bretton Woods: John Maynard Keynes, Harry Dexter White, and the Making of a New World Order," FDR’s administration saw Britain as its main post-war rival. They wanted to be number one and tried to dismantle the British Empire. In terms of aid, the U.S. was much more generous to the Soviet Union and China than it was to the UK. Churchill concluded some disastrous deals with FDR, which Ricks ignores. Britain went bankrupt in 1947.
Ricks criticizes Tony Blair for naively invoking the “special relationship” in his support of the Iraq War in 2003. Blair seemed unaware that it was Canada, Australia, and New Zealand who stood by Britain in its hour of need in 1939, not the U.S. However, Ricks also blames Blair for damaging UK-U.S. relations by supporting the Iraq War. This is a bit rich since Blair was trying to help an ally. He faced fierce domestic opposition, which eventually ruined his reputation. Gordon Brown, who succeeded Blair as prime minister, and was his de facto deputy in 2003, recently claimed in his memoirs that Blair was misled by George Bush. Brown believes that the U.S. knew that there was no evidence that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. The British feel they had been duped, and this could be a lot more damaging to U.S.-UK relations in the long term.
Ricks believes that both Churchill and Orwell were concerned about individual freedom. For Churchill, WW2 was a war “to establish, on impregnable rocks, the rights of the individual, and it is a war to establish and revive the stature of man.” For Orwell, “If this war is about anything at all, it is a war in favor of freedom of thought.” Ricks believes that Orwell was primarily concerned about preserving privacy. The book is good on Orwell. On Churchill, Ricks mostly gives us the legend.
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