War Correspondent

Winston S. Churchill: Young Statesman 1901-1914

by Randolph S. Churchill
Houghton Mifflin, 763 pp., $10.00

Winston Churchill
Winston Churchill; drawing by David Levine

When Winston Churchill’s florid speeches came over the wartime radio, the aged Hilaire Belloc, ever out-of-date, is alleged to have snarled: “Damned Yankee careerist.” Fair comment on 1901-14; irrelevant to Churchill’s valued efforts in 1939-45. Equally anachronistic are the “old warrior’s” admirers, who are now applauding this volume of his amusing son’s ill-organized biography, claiming to detect in the clever young politician the lineaments of the grand old man to come. “No one can doubt that he would withstand any trial, overcome any tribulation and develop in wisdom and fortitude until the hour and the man were matched…. He was no war-monger but he was in tune with great events, and it is wholly right that a man of spirit should relish his duty…. He was not to die. He was to live on for fifty more years, and because he lived, our country stayed free. Praise be.” No one writes like this nowadays, except when they are writing about Churchill. His style is catching.

Churchill, who started work as a war-correspondent, is nowadays less often described as a “war-monger” than as “the old warrior.” This is metaphor, imagery, personification. A journalist and orator, he came to personify War: he was its image. Randolph Churchill is, like his father, a journalist rich in superlatives. He writes of the depressing Lord Fisher:

Many people have considered that Fisher, though he never commanded a fleet in war, was the greatest sailor since Nelson. He was certainly one of the most exciting letter-writers of all time. His correspondence, carefully collected and brilliantly edited….

“Jackie” Fisher was a great sailor in the same sense that Churchill was a great warrior. Both were skilled with words, paperwork, intrigues. Randolph Churchill offers this gem from the exciting, brilliantly edited letters:

Dear Winston

St Lucia quite splendid! Dog eat dog! You are using niggers to fight niggers! For God’s sake don’t send British Bluejackets inland amongst sugar canes on this job!

At the time (1907) Fisher was First Sea Lord and Churchill was Under-Secretary at the Colonial Office. Much of their correspondence over the years concerned the naval build-up against Germany, and jobs for themselves and their friends. But the letter quoted above (its “patriotic” tone recurs frequently in this volume) is about strikes and riots among plantation-workers in the West Indies. Randolph Churchill tells us nothing about these rebellions, nothing about his father’s methods of repression, nothing about the rebels’ complaints. If we are to see Churchill in the context of his times, we must know what effect he had on the people he was paid to govern, both at home and abroad.

Churchill lent an air of nobility to ugly realities. He had come to Parliament, in 1901, as the war correspondent from South Africa, able to present the Boer War as a grand duel between blood-brothers. Some, he said in his…

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