Military Review English Edition November-December 2015 - Page 137

BOOK REVIEWS MINISTERS AT WAR: Winston Churchill and His War Cabinet Jonathan Schneer, Basic Books, New York, 2015, 352 pages W hat more can be said or written about Sir Winston Churchill? It has been seventy-five years since he first obtained the position that has long since secured his place in history. Yet, in a new work, Jonathan Schneer takes a fresh perspective on Churchill. Schneer reminds us that not less than two months following the surrender of Nazi Germany, Churchill was, shockingly, defeated for a second term as prime minister, voted out by a largely grateful constituency that he had just led from imminent defeat to resounding victory in World War II. The author argues that the seeds of Churchill’s political demise in 1945 perhaps were sown in his earliest days as prime minister while selecting the members of his cabinet. Schneer maintains that Churchill selected an inner circle that put a premium on talent over party affiliation, personal affinity, or other secondary considerations, in a manner similar to former U.S. president Abraham Lincoln. Both leaders faced a direct threat to national security and picked men with the necessary qualifications to win wars. In building his particular team, Churchill was compelled to form a coalition involving his own Conservative Party, as well as the rival Labour and Liberal Parties. Thus, Ministers at War works on several levels. To be sure, Churchill’s talented lineup of ministers was concerned first about national survival, especially during the dark years of 1940-1941, and later about winning the war, given the United States’ eventual entry. Nevertheless, these men of great ability—including Lord Privy Seal Clement Atlee, Foreign Secretary Anthony Eden, Minister of Aircraft Production Lord Beaverbrook, and Minister of Labour Ernest Bevin— were also worried about political survival, and, in some cases, they aspired to the position of prime minister. Atlee and Eden both eventually became prime ministers; Beaverbrook, a close confidante, would challenge Churchill while he was still in office. Hence, this team of rivals waged smaller “wars” with Churchill, with each other, within their parties, and with the British public. Indeed, it is these internal conflicts and their largely MILITARY REVIEW  November-December 2015 domestic political implications that comprise the essence of Schneer’s book. In the end, Schneer makes two indelible and convincing points. The first is that no one other than Winston Churchill could have held this particular coalition of strong personalities together under such abject wartime conditions. Only someone of Churchill’s personal cachet and managerial aplomb could have held this highly effective but equally temperamental group together for so long—his core advisers stayed with him for five years. The second is that Churchill never could overcome the basic ideological differences separating him and the other members of his war cabinet. In picking his team to form a truly representative national government during wartime, Churchill never embraced the increasingly socialistic Labour agenda that proposed a very different post-war Britain than he himself envisioned. As a consequence, he grew increasingly distant from a British public desirous of a better future, one not necessarily including Winston Churchill. Jonathan Schneer’s Ministers at War makes a valuable contribution to the pantheon of work on Winston Churchill. Eminently readable and making extensive use of diaries and personal papers, the book represents a fresh perspective on this venerable yet unendingly fascinating subject. Mark Montesclaros, Fort Gordon, Georgia THE BATTLE OF THE BULGE: A Graphic History of Allied Victory in the Ardennes, 1944-1945 Wayne Vansant, Zenith Press, Minneapolis, 2014, 104 pages M y father introduced me to the Battle of the Bulge when I was a teenager. His roommate in college was Charles B. MacDonald, who had just returned from World War II to complete his college degree. I had the honor to meet MacDonald on a few occasions, and my interest in World War II and the Battle of the Bulge grew from there. The graphic novel The Battle of the Bulge: A Graphic History of the Allied Victory in the Ardennes, 1944-1945 by Wayne Vansant does a great job telling the story—good and bad—by combining art and storyline, much like a comic book. While I would suspect most children get their 131