Amateur Statesmen

Winston Churchill: The Struggle For Survival 1940-1965

by Lord Moran
Houghton Mifflin, 877 pp., $10.00

The Life of Lord Halifax

by the Earl of Birkenhead
Houghton Mifflin, 626 pp., $8.50

Winston Churchill
Winston Churchill; drawing by David Levine

The British Establishment usually finds a topic at least once a year to be indignant about. This year it is a book by Churchill’s doctor. The correspondence columns of the London Times have been rocking with letters of protest against a breach of medical etiquette, friendship, etc. by someone who was in a unique position to observe the frailties of age. Lord Normanbrook, onetime head of the British Civil Service, and others have written denying that they had been indiscreet enough to sanction the publication of conversations attributed to them—as if anyone expected they would have been. Unquestionably Lord Moran has broken many conventions which are concerned with courtesy and trust. He must have known that many of those whom he quotes would not have given him permission to do so; that Churchill’s family would not relish a month-by-month account of his physical decline and the pettiness of old age; that propriety demanded that the book should have been published after Moran’s own death and at some decent interval after Churchill’s. But when Moran changed from the role of doctor to diarist, the instincts of an author took control. He had to see his brainchild born. Good writers, if they are any good, never bind themselves by propriety and the conventions of courtesy. Moran’s excuses sound pretty feeble, but he takes his stand on the advice of Smuts, Brendan Bracken, and G. M. Trevelyan, the last of whom said: “Everything about this man will be known in time. Let us have the truth.”

WE HAVE CERTAINLY GOT one side of the truth. Moran has a physician’s shrewd and piercing eye trained to observe. Perhaps some of those whom he observed are uncomfortable when they see how much this figure in the background took in. Perhaps also they are uncomfortable when they recognize what he was observing. For as a doctor Moran was observing Death. Very shortly after Churchill became his patient, the Prime Minister had his first indication of mortality: a small heart attack in Washington in 1942. There followed several attacks of pneumonia, his first stroke in 1949, and his second more serious stroke in 1953. Over his last few years, when he lived in twilight, Moran draws a veil. And all around him his captains and his friends were dying. Moran foresees their fate as Roosevelt, Admiral Pound, Field Marshal Dill, Harry Hopkins, and Dulles all betray the tokens of their inevitable end. “The President appears a very sick man. He has all the symptoms of hardening of the arteries of the brain in an advanced stage, so that I give him only a few months to live…” “Hopkins…is only half in this world…his skin was a yellow-white membrane stretched tight over the bones.” Bracken’s astonishing gaiety and courage when stricken with cancer is vividly described. Against this background is set Churchill’s defiance of the last enemy. Does he…

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