David Stafford, Oblivion or Glory: 1921 and the Making of Winston Churchill (Yale University Press, 2019), 288 pp., $26.00.
Both served on the front-lines in World War I. Both had artistic aspirations. Both were popular authors. Both became leaders of their nations. But there the similarities between Adolf Hitler and Winston Spencer Churchill end. Hitler was an Austrian malcontent who bunked for several years in a flophouse in Vienna, then became a draft dodger after he abandoned his homeland to serve in the Imperial German Army during World War I. He was tapped by the army to serve as a right-wing agitator after defeat and surrender in 1918, but didn't become a German citizen until 1932. Churchill, by contrast, sprang from the upper reaches of the British aristocracy and ended up saving Western civilization from the terrible menace posed by Hitler and the Nazis.
Much of his career was fueled by the intense desire to redeem the blot on the family escutcheon left behind by his father Lord Randolph Churchill, a young Tory radical who badly botched what should have been a glittering career. After a brief term as Chancellor of the Exchequer, he impulsively resigned his position, breaking with Lord Salisbury over a budget dispute. He never recovered his political footing and died of syphilis at age forty-five, leaving his relict, the American-born socialite Jennie Jerome, to embark upon a series of romances in coming decades. His son idolized him. But as the Liberal politician and historian Roy Jenkins pithily observed, "Churchill had 11 months in office and was without rival in attracting so much attention and achieving so little."
Like his father, Winston got off to a fast start. He was elected to Parliament at age twenty-five in 1900. He became President of the Board of Trade three years later and Home Secretary in 1910, the youngest since Sir Robert Peel. When Britain went to war in 1914, he was First Lord of the Admiralty (a post that he resumed in September 1939, when Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain declared war on Nazi Germany). He was widely seen as a prime minister in the making. But then it started to look more like father, like son. Eyebrows were raised over his impetuous decision to dash off on a doomed mission to Antwerp and assemble a Royal Naval Division to assist Belgian forces in October 1914. "Winston is like a torpedo," David Lloyd George said. "The first you hear of his doings is when you hear the swish of the torpedo dashing through the water." By 1916, Churchill's career appeared to be completely submerged after the fiasco at the Gallipoli peninsula in 1915, when his plan to knock the Ottoman Empire out of the war flopped, costing almost fifty thousand Allied lives. "Remember the Dardanelles," was the catchphrase that dogged Churchill for...