tv Churchill Today CSPAN December 31, 2021 11:40am-12:40pm EST
american history tv. saturdays on c-span2. exploring the people and events that tell the american story. at 2:00 p.m. eastern on "the presidency," a look at presidential trains with bob withers who wrote "the president travels by train." he talks about the roles trains played in the presidencies of abraham lincoln, franklin roosevelt, dwight eisenhower, george h.w. bush and at least one presidential spouse, lady bird johnson. and at 8:00 p.m. on "lectures in history" a professor of the new school discusses the role the fitness industry played in 1980s american culture with new business models for group classes like jazzercise, the rise of fitness studios, and the sales of vhs fitness tapes. exploring the american story. watch american history tv saturdays on c-span2 and find a full schedule on your program guide or watch online any time
at c-span.org/history. good evening, everyone. i'm louise mirrer, new york historical society's president and ceo. and i'm thrilled to welcome you to tonight's virtual program, "churchill today." a distinguished scholar created this series. it's my great honor to think him. just before i introduce tonight's speakers, i want to recognize and thank several new york historical trustees who are joining us this evening. first and foremost, the outstanding chair of our board of trustees. the chair of our executive committee, richard reese. the vice chair elect of our board, susan peck. and trustees brian cane and david zelasnik.
i would like to thank the chairman's councilmembers who join us, many thanks to all of you. we are so very pleased to are being andrew roberts, the distinguished fellow of the new york historical society. professor roberts is a fellow of the royal historical society in london, a visiting fellow at the hoover institution at stanford university and visiting professor in the war studies department at kings college, london. he was also the recipient of the new york historical society's own 2019 history makers award. professor roberts is the author and editor of numerous books including his 2018 biography "churchill: walking with destiny." his book "leadership in war: essential lessons from those who made history" was the subject of a series of lectures professor
roberts delivered to sold-out audiences in our own robert h. smith auditorium. his newest book is being released just this month, next week, i believe he said. it's "the last king of america: the misunderstood region" -- sorry, "the misunderstood reign of george iii." congratulations andrew, a wonderful new milestone for you. joining us as moderator this evening is philip bobbitt. professor bobbitt is a leading constitutional scholar who has an extensive history of government service. he served in all three branches of government during seven administrations, both republican and democratic, including senior
director of strategic planning at the national security council and as a member of the external advisory board of the cia. most recently, professor bobbitt was awarded an honorary knighthood by queen elizabeth ii in recognition of his service to uk/u.s. relations and public life. tonight's program will last an hour, including 15 minutes for questions and answers. your questions can be submitted via the q&a function on your zoom screen. in the interests of simplicity, we've disabled the chat function tonight so please do remember to use the q&a. our speakers will get to as many questions as time allows. and now, i am very pleased indeed to turn our virtual stage over to tonight's speakers. thank you. >> thank you. it's a great honor for me personally and it does the society great honor to have our guest, andrew roberts, with us tonight.
the subject, "churchill today," recalls the famous remark of mark anthony's, the evil men do lives after them, the good is oft interred with their bones. we'll begin with churchill's errors, his real errors, his alleged errors, and then perhaps something of the man, after we've dismissed the first two subjects. let me begin, andrew, with winston churchill's acknowledged errors, errors he acknowledged even to himself. >> well, there are quite a few of those. he recognized in his lifetime that he had got several things badly wrong. the application crisis, for example, when he supported king edward viii rather than king george vi, his brother. he was the first to admit he got
that badly wrong. he would argue endlessly about the italy campaign. but he didn't like, later in life, to go over the ins and outs of that. i think he recognized he got that wrong. he certainly never thought of himself as much of an economist. in his time as chancellor of the exchequer which of course also saw the general strike and various other major problems with labor relations was something that he never used to harp on about later in life. and so perhaps he acknowledged that. he certainly -- >> -- the gold standard, is that right? >> going back to the gold standard at the wrong rate, at the wrong time, exactly. he recognized he got women's suffrage badly wrong in that he had opposed votes for women when later on in life a college in cambridge was set up in his name, he inside that it be open
to women as well as men. it was one of the first colleges to do so. so i think that's a pretty good acknowledgement that he got that wrong as well. he was somebody who, he said that he was perfectly willing to eat his own words and that he found them a formidable repast. so this is not somebody who was, like some politicians, completely incapable of accepting that he made mistakes. he had been in the forefront of payroll particulars for two-thirds of a century and had taken stances on pretty much every major political issue. and so of course he had to admit when he got things wrong. >> well, in recent months, i have in mind jeffrey wheatcross' new book on churchill but also reactions in some of the newspapers, even reviews of your book, another ledger of accusations has been leveled at churchill beyond the customary
ones about gallipoli and women's suffrage and so on. these are accusations, i guess principal among them was that churchill was responsible for the bengal famine. i've heard that charge so many times. there was a horrific famine. it was in the middle of wartime. what are the facts of this, andrew? >> well, the facts are pretty straightforward, in fact. the facts that aren't disputed by anybody, there was a massive cyclone that hit the eastern side of india, specifically in bengal, in the october of 1942, which wiped out all of the road and rail networks that under normal circumstances brought grain into bengal, to alleviate the famine, you couldn't do that. so what the alternative to that
is of course to bring it by sea. but unfortunately, by that stage japanese submarines were operating in the bay of bengal. in fact they had been shelling -- the japanese navy had shelled various eastern indian cities earlier that year and in the next year as well. and the places where we tried to -- we as in the british in the past, had tried to buy grain from and food from, specifically rice from, which were thailand and malaya and burma, all three of those places had been under japanese occupation since the events of december 1941. so you couldn't get any grain from there either. so what churchill did was to ask the prime ministers of australia and canada and your own president roosevelt to be as generous as possible, to get
food to india and really he did as best they could. they brought in hundreds of thousands of tons, ultimately, but not in enough time and there was mass starvation. this would not have been the case if there hadn't been a world war going on. what was completely untrue and unfair is the idea that winston churchill either didn't care about it at all or made the situation worse. he didn't do that, and it's a disgraceful allegation to say that he did. there are a number of reasons to attack winston churchill but that was genocidal and a war criminal is certainly not one of them. >> i would try to guess how such a canard builds up. >> oh, it's pretty straightforward how that happened is that various
historians who hate churchill anyway see this as a great opportunity to make him out to be, you know, as bad as hitler as some people have recently claimed in a conference of all places, churchill college cambridge. but what you got to do in all these cases is to just sort of stay calm, go back to the original sources, read the telegrams that he sent to the viceroy of india and these other prime ministers and the president and so on, and to recognize that he was doing his best under impossible circumstances of the world war. >> what i was suggesting is that something has changed not in the history, but people like churchill that were prepared to believe something as monstrous as an engineered famine, and we
don't doubt that churchill had racist attitudes towards indians. now -- >> that's right. he said hindus, that they were a beastly people with a beastly religion. the fact that it was a single religion shows that he was talking specifically about the hindus who were at the time, of course, trying to make britain quit india, even under the circumstances of the world war. there is a hugely, however, from his saying these remarks allegedly there's only one source for these remarks and making racist jokes. today we would consider absolutely repulsive and unacceptable. but there's a huge leap between that and wanting to kill 3 million people. i mean, sheer common sense should tell us that the making
of a few horrible jokes is not the same as a genocidal act, and the fact is there's absolutely nothing to suggest anything that churchill said or did that he was in favor of this being as bad as possible, which is what his detractors are claiming. >> they say churchill was a racist. you should have seen the other guy. >> yes. >> it has to do with the gassing of iraqi villagers. you're so steeped in the facts. tell us about that charge. >> yes. again, one has to keep calm and go back to the actual evidence. and the evidence shows, you can read it at churchill college cambridge, and i have done this, in a yes he was in favor of gassing religious iraqi
tribesmen, but he talks about tear gas, which is the same kind of thing as used in riots and. it's not lethal gas at all. but the way his detractors present it, they seem like it's pouring mustard gas, a poison gas such as was used in the trenches of the first world war. that's completely wrong. yet it can be said again and then, as has been me many of times, yet this canard is still to be found on the spent and elsewhere. >> it strikes me as a problem in assessing people of earlier eras as much as at it a problem of our current politics. what i have in mind is this. in my field, constitutional law,
we sometimes characterize the constitutional order that prevailed in america from the late 18th century up until our civil war, but that last north dakota europe, really, until the end of the first world war as an imperial state nation, potentially nationalistic, very focused on the aggrandizement of empire. no less true of the french, british, the germans, italians, and russians. it was a state devoted to white supremacy, imperialism, patriarchy. when i think of these charges, i think of the passage in "the great gats by." my father told me not to be too critical of other people. they haven't had all the advantages you had, he said.
when you think of churchill and his jerks, i think that we have advantages they don't have, and that their efforts are the reason we have these advantages. it's almost an issue of self-awareness and maybe even one of gratitude. >> i think that's true, yes, and i think that's a profound thought philosophically. he did believe in the superiority of the white races. within the white race, he would argue where the germans, french, dutch, and so on were superior. but this was a man who, of course, was born in the time that charles darwin was still alive, at that time whenobscene
it might be today, that there was a hierarchy of the races. and so i'm not sure that he can be terribly much criticized for taking the view of the rest of the science. however, one other thing he did very much feel was that there was a duty of profound responsibility on the british in the british empire to take care of the native peoples of the empire and to promote them. he was incredibly proud that their numbers increased so dramatically, especially in india under the rule of the british, doubled, in fact, in the course of the rule of the british empire. this gave him tremendous pride. and he was also willing to put his life on the line for nonwhite people. he did it again and then. you see this in the sue gong where he fought for the obligation of slavery, for
example. black lives mattered to winston churchill. you see it in the northwest frontier where he was protecting the punjabi tribes from other tribes further to the north. you constantly see it when he was under secretary of the colonies as well. there's a huge difference between his actions which never were anti-black and his words, which sometimes did, as we mentioned earlier, include these, you know, unpleasant jokes. he never used the n-word, which lots of races did in those days, and he was somebody who recognized that his entire well spring of his sort of drive came from imperialism.
but the the best kind of imperialism, imperialism in which he wanted to give back and pay for his immense privilege. so i wish that more people would accept that aspect of winston churchill and not just go on about the white supremacy and so on, which i don't think that's his driving force. he was incredibly rude, of course, also about people who had exactly same skin color as him and you look at the remarks he made about italians and germans. in a sense, we must remember that, you know, it was essential in 1940 that churchill shoobl britons were superior to germans, for example. this is something he did believe, but thank god he did because it turned out extremely
well for britain that he did have this. >> let me stay with that point just for a minute. andrew, you mentioned three great challenges that winston churchill foresaw often alone or among a very few people who shared his views. describe those three, go on. >> it's the best to just take them chronically, really. he was amongst the first people to recognize the threat of prussian militarism posed to the balance of power in europe. he was a great believer as british statesmen and women have been since elizabeth i about a balance in power, whether it be the viektd at the time was not going to be under the threat of invasion. and so when you look back at the noncontinuity of british history, the sort of narrative
arc, you can see the threats by philip ii to elizabeth i, and then louie 14th. and then the threat of in a poleian, the kaiser, and ultimately hitler. and those five threats were to the balance of power in europe, and churchill wanted to prevent that from happening. and so he warned about the kaiser. then, of course, 25 years later he was the first person and indeed for a long time the only person to warn about the threat that hitler hitler and the nazis posed to the balance of power in europe. you will find, of course, in the speech in missouri and march
1946 that he makes the same statements essentially about the soviet communists and the way in which stalin posed a severe threat to eastern europe and any kind of integrity and independence of those countries there. so it's the warning, it's early warning, it's often incredibly brave and only him who's doing the warning. and these things, i think, really, when you take them all three together -- they represent an extraordinary boon to civilization and something that completely outweighs the complaints of his detractors in my view. >> andrew, i know you thought a great deal about this. have you decided what the well
springs of this combination of indomitable courage and insight, but also a certain self-regard and sense of destiny -- do these come from -- >> yes. i, of course, subtitled my book "walking with destiny." it was a reference to his remark about the day he became prime minister on 10 may 1940, as if they were walking in destiny and all of my past life in preparation for this hour and for this trial. i think a sense of destiny was tremendously important. but when you say self-belief, that didn't just come from a sense of destiny. it also came from his background. we mentioned earlier that he was a descendant from the duke of marlboro, and of course the very fact that he had been born at the absolute pinnacle of the victorian society, grandson of
the duke of marlboro, and his education and his time in the army when he was taught leadership, of course. all those things came together very much to give him an extreme sense of what people would call entitlement today. and again, there's a bad side to entitlement, of course, there is but occasional there can be a good one, and winston churchill showed the positive aspects of entitlement. >> as a father of young children myself, i'm fascinated by the fact that this sense of self-confidence, of entitlement, of the duties of paternalism come from a man who was mistreated by his father. churchill worshiped at the altar of an unknown father. >> that's right, yes.
his father died when he was -- when winston churchill was 21 years old. and his father had been emotionally abusive to him, essentially. he despised him. he let his contempt be seen by this poor young lad, who also was ignored to a great degree by his mother as well, at least in the early years of his life. so it took -- because he wasn't getting as much support from either of his parents, and he had a very strange sort of father fixation all of his life, even in 1947 when he won -- or at least the british side of the second world war, he was able to have a sort of rather weird conversation with his long-dead father that he wrote about in a
book called "the dream." and he talks to his father and at no stage does he let on to his father that he had been instrumental in helping to win the second world war. when he was asked by his daughter when there was an empty place at supper one evening what he would like to be able to meet and to have sit there, and he was expecting him to say napoleon or julius cesar or alexander the great or whoever, he immediately said my father, of course. >> it's amazing that in the face of such curt treatment that he did have such a sense of himself. you quote his saying as age 16 there shall be great upheavals in our lives, there shall be terrible struggles, and i shall be called upon to save london and save the country. that's a thing for a 16-year-old to say. >> and how extraordinary exactly
half a century later he should've been called upon to have done exactly that. so in a sense he was sort of waiting for 50 years for the call. and his whole life had been a preparation for that hour and that trial. when one thinks about his time as a soldier, then, of course, he goes into politics, he holds important cabinet ranks, including first lord of the admiralty in the first world war and the second world war. the things that happened to him in the first world war, the disaster which he learns from and doesn't make that mistake ever again in the second world war where he ignores the vice of his chiefs of staff, you can't see -- you can see his life being a perpetually learning circle. those mistakes you mentioned earlier, and there are plenty
more, in fact, ireland is another one he recognized he had got wrong. these were stepping stones to the moment in may 1940 when he became prime minister, which, of course, was at the absolute worst moment for britain in the second world war. we were about to be flung off the continent. we had been invaded -- sorry, france and belgium were invaded. this was a real trial by fire. >> i wonder when some of the younger people in our audience would think about this defensive churchill. it always is difficult for us to imagine that things would turn out any other way than they did, that because we know thousand game ended, we find causal forces that brought us to where we are, when, in fact, some
things are damn near one thing. >> i didn't see these attacks as the most damaging things for his reputation, because if anyone is interested in it, they can read about churchill and they'll realize these attacks are fundamentally unfair and untrue. some of them are true, but not the really important ones, it strikes me. however, what really does perhaps damage the future of churchill's reputation is sheer ignorance, is outcome people not being taught about it in schools. i know that new-york historical society is bored from the rafters from me telling this. but 25% of british teenagers believe winston churchill to have been a fictional character. more of them believe sherlock
holmes and eleanor rigby were real people. it's a worrying situation. i think it's an indictment on our school system. the conservatives have been in power for ten years now. they still don't seem to be able to get winston churchill front and center on the national curriculum. so i fear the sheer ignorance rather than these various sort of attacks, latest attacks, are much a threat to his reputation looking forward. >> i can't say things a great deal better here. i once asked one of my law students what he knew about john marshall, and he said, wasn't he the author of martial law? >> yes, hang on. having said that, the same teenagers who show such ignorance about winston churchill were asked who wrote the -- sorry, who commanded the
american forces in the american war of independence, and 20% said denzel washington. >> one thing that stands out in your biography is that you found new sources of the material. i would have thought the history of winston churchill had been so thoroughly mined, there was nothing to be found. but i believe you had access to perhaps all of george 6th diaries. how did you manage to get them? >> well, her majesty the queen allowed me to be the first churchill historian to use them. it was a tremendous honor. i think that after 75 years they reckon the time had come for, you know, somebody to be able to use them. it wasn't because i had any special pull at the royal
archives at all. it's just i happened to be the person writing the biography at the time. i was just immensely fortunate. but serendipity has been kind to me when it comes to historical breakthroughs. i had a few of them, and it's been very useful as well, i think, to be writing a proper big history, cradle-to-grave history, rather than just be a journalist who wanted to, you know, muck rate or scare monger. it's easy enough to do that if you want to, but the royal archive wanted to have a proper big book. but it wasn't the only one. i was very fortunate to also be able to use some 43 sets of
papers that have been deposited at churchill college archives since the last major biography. it's an incredible thing. people are still finding stuff in their attics. they are producing papers that their grandparents have handed down, and it's truly wonderful and exciting for historians when that happens, of course. >> yes. well, those are very modest remarks. it reminds me of something of modern american politician once said about his college. the harder he works, the luckier he gets. >> thank you. >> now, -- >> sorry, but you just had one of your workmen coming behind you. i hope it's like the one you saved earlier today. the lights have gone out now,
but we are in the presence of a genuine hero here, something pretty extraordinary. >> there's so many real heroes to talk about, among them, churchill, but also some of the people he inspired in his generation. i had a great weakness for his close friend, f.e. smith. i don't know how many americans know much about him. i always tell stories about him in my law classes. i think he was churchill's closest friend. tell us about him. >> he was. he was a brilliant unionist politician who was a great wit, a qc, queen's council. he was one of the to be baresters. he was known for his republican
parte, my favorite one is when a judge said at the end of the summing up by e.e. smith, the judge said i seem to be none the wiser. no, my lord, replied f.e. smith, but you are better informed. >> that's a wonderful line. >> unfortunately, f.e. was also a terrible alcoholic. and by the time of his death in 1930, it meant that in those great appeasements, struggles of the 1930s, poor churchill was on his own. my sense is that with f.e. beside him, he would have been able to move more of the dial of opinion, especially
conservatives. >> what i read your essay, i was struck by the sort of negative quality of churchill's trial, that it wasn't simply that he rallied opinion and held hitler at bay, something we all give him credit for, whatever we may criticize him for, but that he prevented britain i from folding its cards before the real struggle began. would you speak about that just for a moment? >> yes. i think that his sense of the threat from hitler hitler and the nazis came from three things. we already mentioned the fact that he was a historian and saw this latest attempt to upset the balance of power in europe in the context of the previous four attempts. he was also a phyllo semite.
he liked jews, had been on holiday with them, was completely different from the other upper class people of his age and class and background who tended to be anti-semitic. so he had an early warning system when it came to hitler and the nazis. and then also he had come up against fanaticism in his life several times in the sudan, in the northwest frontier, and so on. in this sense it was a religious semimettism, so he recognized it and tended to, unlike the others, like ramsey and mcdonald
and chamberlain, he recognized in the nazis early on. so he had this sort of -- again, they come from his intellect, his life, and they helped him enormously at the time of, you know, doubt and struggle. >> i had -- first of all, i greatly admired when i was in law school who was given the holmes papers to finish the biography of the great american jurist holmes. but he never completed the project because he developed such a distaste for holmes that he didn't enjoy his company anymore and abandoned his research. what's it like living with churchill these six years? >> in a sense it's 30 years because this is the fifth book i've written about churchill or some aspect of him. that actual book that i wrote
was three years in the writing. but actually that's not that long. i spent six years writing about napoleon, six years writing about lord salisbury. it's pretty much par for the course. it was the exact on which your friend oliver wendell holmes, actually, because i woubd up liking chuvl more than when i started, and so that's a rather pleasing thing. i have written about people i wound up despising, but i didn't call off the book. you write the way you feel about the person. what you're scared of is starting off a book that you think is going to be about someone you like you and wind up despising them. >> we have some questions from the audience i'm going to go to.
the first one says, many people in the united states are advocating the removal of confederate statues because they represent the tragic legacy of slavery despite any contributions they may have made to shape military leadership. do you see criticisms of churchill and his potential toppling, i think one of his statues was defaced, as a similar situation? >> no, i don't, really. it strikes me that some of the confederate statues at least were put up in a deliberately provocative way back in the 1920s to sort of establish -- undermine at least jim crow, whereas that was never the case with winston churchill. the statues put up were not intending to offend anybody, and
they were a natural result of his popularity because of his heroism. another issue, i suppose, is that your confederate leaders were attempting to break up your country, and, therefore, are not part and parcel -- they're not like the founding fathers where you're trying to take down their statues as well. here in britain we have a similar thing in a sense when the churchill statues were attacked during a black lives matter demonstration, they also went on to attack the sen tav -- or memorial to the dead of the first and second world war. there have been threats to all sorts of people, including the
statue of abraham lincoln who was the man who liberated slaves. this seems to be a sense of outrage against the past, against white people, whoever they might be in that particular demonstration, which i don't think is just about winston churchill. so i think it's a different thing, i think it's a more complicated thing, and it's something that, you know, has been tied in with the statue of the slave owner, slave trader in bristol that was pulled down and thrown into the bristol channel. so we have, really, something that's a much more complicated thing than just hatred of winston churchill. >> do you think that
contemporary depictions of churchill in popular culture have shown him to be faultless? are they too positive? or are they overly critical? what do you think? >> that's a good question as well. back in the 1950s and '60s showed he had no faults, but realtime that's not the case at all. there's darkest hour in which gary oldman played him brilliantly. there's a twinkle in his eye superbly. there's also been endless, endless negative shows about churchill where he's presented as drunk and constantly idiotic,
racist, and so on. so i think it would be rather nice to have a synthesis of the best and the worst of churchill. but overall i think popular culture can't be trusted with history anyway. >> another question asked, are there contemporary leaders that have a similar leadership style to winston churchill? >> of course the style is something that a lot of modern leaders do try to adopt because the churchillian leadership has become an adjective for leadership, for successful leadership. and so you can catch some phraseology of winston churchill, things that george w.
bush said after 9/11. a biographer says things today. margaret thatcher was profoundly affected by churchill. he was 14 years old when she sat around the radio in grantham. especially during the falk lands campaign that she was drawing on a well spring of churchillian leadership to get her through that. with regard to the current crop of leaders, i'm not seeing any great churchillians. perhaps that's my ignorance.
>> as our culture shifts to recognizance historically mlzed groups sitas people of color, queer folks and women, is there room for the great leader archetype? is our culture moving away from idolizing figures like churchill? >> well, i hope so. they do want to admire a leader, if you think about it, the white privileged middle class to upper class male was not going to get the worst of existence under the nazis. that would have been the people of color and women who are degraded, essentially, by nazi society, and especially the people from the lgbt community
who were sent to concentration camps. so in a sense, they ought to thank churchill for not having a world in which they would have been 100 times worse than they ever have been in history. so overall i think that churchill ought to be a hero to them even more than to the white males like me. >> that all sounds like a defense of paternalism, that we should be thankful for the good things done for us, even if they're done by the people whose positions in our society we abhor or are hostile to. >> i don't think so. i think that's very rededucttive, actually. i think it's fairly reasonable to say that somebody who was
instrumental in defeating the nazis should be, as i say, not idolized, but admired, regardless of color, creed, or sex. >> we have another question that requests, because he was elected by parliament and not directly by the people, how concerned was churchill about the public's opinion? do you think modern leaders are more or less concerned about public opinion than winston churchill? >> of course all -- everyone selected by parliament -- everyone is selected by parliament in a sense. he did get elected by the people in 1951 when he stood again. he considered parts of leadership not going along with the crowd. he had seen too often in his life, especially, of course,
during the munich crisis, moments where the huge, overwhelming body of the population believed in appeasement, which turned out to be a disaster. so he didn't mind saying the opposite of what a majority thought. he had a marvelous line about opinion polls in which he said that, he had been told it was important for politicians to keep their ears to the ground. gle but he didn't believe the british people would admire a politician court such an ungainly a poster. -- posture. to chase after every percentage point and thereby say whatever they think will make them popular. works for a short period of time, but when you have to make unpopular decision which each great statesman has to at some
point in their careers, it lets you down. >> you mentioned churchill's great sense of self and sense of drama, destiny in his public life. i remember a letter that arthur bell four wrote his sister. oh, and winston calls his biography "the world crisis." one of our questions he or she says how do you explain his great self-confidence given his parents' attitude towards him? >> yes, that is a very good question. you know, he didn't go to university. that might have helped, in fact, the fact that everyone went to university because it -- instead he sort of set up his own university when he was young in the western frontier in india. there he was teaching himself endlessly, reading all the great books of philosophy and
biography and history. it's a quite extraordinary list of books he got through all on his own, whereas had he gone to ax ford or cambridge at the time, he would have spent the time getting drunk and playing polo. so you have this auto didact essentially, who had this position in society, which was at the apex of it where he didn't care terribly much what other people thought of him. and so as a result you have somebody who had the necessary self-confidence, especially after he had become an imperial hero after he escaped from a prisoner of war camp in the ber war in 1899, who by the time he oops entered parliament is a celebrated figure.
that gives him a certain degree of self-confidence. and then, of course, he recognized in himself a capacity for or tory, for great rhetoric, which is something that was to see him through even in the darkest times. and he wrote an article in 1897 before he had given any great speech at all in which he said the power of oratory was great. and that's essentially three years later what happened during the wilderness years when he was warning against hitler and the nazis. >> andrew, is that the scaffolding of rhetoric? >> that's right. it's a fascinating, brilliant article, and he wrote it when he was 24 years old and had never given a public speech in his life. it's very rare.
usually people give speeches and then theorize about rhetoric. what he did was to theorize first and then give the speeches afterwards. >> we have an interesting question here. if you would also talk about churchill's relationship with other brilliant contemporaries like roosevelt, king. >> yes. he had a -- he was good with other great men and women of the age. teddy roosevelt for the first time he never clicked with, and there were various reasons for this, but i'm going to be speaking in my next speech at the new-york historical society is going to be about churchill and the american presidents. i'll give you my theories there. but he got on wonderfully well with franklin roosevelt.
he didn't like the cocktails that the fbi used to mix for him at the white house, but otherwise there doesn't seem to have been apparently disagreement. there were political and strategic disagreements later on. he wrote a wonderful book. i think your question should immediately after they finish my bookers get ahold of "great contemporaries" about all the top people who churchill new at the time it was published in 1937. that was a superb series of beautifully written portraits about all the great people churchill had net. >> including e.e. smith. >> there is one. there are 25 or so. and they're not all people whoa liked, the kaiser, for example,
he writes about in a very penetrating way. but i do recommend that book hugely. >> we're drawing to a close, so we have time just for a couple more questions. one member of the audience asked, how did churchill adapt the involving technology of his time and how those technologies had an impact in which the ways leaders led? would churchill have taken advantage of press conferences to reach the general public had those resources been available to him? >> well, of course the radio did become available to him during the course of his career, and he absolutely leapt on it. he was a true believer in working the microphone to his advantage. when he started off in politics, there was no radio, and you just had to bellow to a crowd. sometimes he'd speak to crowds
using mega phones, literally ones you held up to your mouth. but he was never really good on television. he only did one tv tryout, actually. it was a sort of audition for how he would be if he did a party political broadcast, and he hated it so much, they left it. so had he been a younger man, though, i think he definitely would have mastered television and, frankly, today he would be great on twitter. many of his funniest and most brilliant can be fitted into 140 characters or fewer and he would have wound up with millions of followers on twitter today. >> i was at a dinner party several years ago with steven
wineberg who died this year. a lovely person. and we were talking about who each one of us most admired. steve said, well, newton lived his life in a small geographic circle, never saw the sea. someone would have come up with newton's ideas about gravity. but it wasn't -- he said someone would have gotten the differential calculus. he said i think it was shakespeare, and we speak the language that he taught us to speak. well, people -- centuries have to be thinking of chuchbl as having changed the rhetoric and purpose of democratic dialogue. >> i think so. i think that -- of course shakespeare was a great hoofer
churchill's. churchill could quote endless reams of shakespeare. shakespeare was somebody from whom he took a lot of his -- of his language. but i think that he has given the world a certain language, a lexicon about democracy and human rights that, so long as civilization succeeds in the world, will be a well spring for it to come from. when one reads some of the speeches -- obviously in my book i had to read a lot of them, but there are 8,000 speeches. there's something useful, something interesting, some wonderful phrase that can be picked out of literally all those 8,000. so i think he's like an ocean. you don't have to grow out far,
you can chuck the bucket over the side of the boat and pretty much whatever you bring up will be worthwhile. there are very few people in history like that. if we get over this present sort of obsession, it strikes me, with everyone's clay feet, of course he was human. he's bound to have clay feet. but if you look also at the actual, you know, bronze statue, i think that's much more worthwhile. >> andrew, i don't know what naughty thoughts you're thinking. you're thinking of churchill's remark about the greek prime minister -- thank you for joining us to listen to this has been a real treasure. i'm so grateful to be able to participate with you before the society, and i give thanks f