Historical story

Winston Churchill would have some good advice for fighting the coronavirus

Last updated:2022-07-25

Great leaders are "doomed" to be judged in life, but also after death. The same is of course true of Winston Churchill. The reason for this text is, on the one hand, the debate that recently opened in Great Britain about whether Churchill was ultimately "anti-Semitic", but also the release of the book War Leadership by Dioptra publications, which also refers to his own leadership strategy.

After all, it hasn't been long since the Churchill statue outside the House of Commons was targeted, in the context of the global protests that followed the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, USA. For many, Churchill symbolized the coercive power of Great Britain through its colonial policy, a power largely based on slavery and authoritarian violence. On one side of the coin, Britain's World War II leader is portrayed as a "racist and cruel imperialist," while on the other, the one that has prevailed, he appears as the great fist-pumping leader called upon to take charge of the country's destiny when everything was collapsing around him.

The leader who made mistakes

Based on historical records, but as can be seen from his speeches, Churchill was, in any case, ambitious, persistent, visionary.

He was a minister from 1908 to serve as prime minister for nine years when no one wanted the office. His leadership in World War II earned him a place in history, on a good side that he would not have been on otherwise. Quite simply because he made mistakes earlier. Oops few mistakes.

Gallipoli, the "Black and Tans" (to which the Peaky Blinders are also referred), the Great Depression, his politics towards Gandhi and India are among them. Nevertheless, he was among the first to write in the press about the woes of emerging Nazism from the early 1930s. After all, he had seen Hitler's Germany himself.

His historic speech in the House of Lords after Dunkirk is just one of those that inspired British and Allies:

"We will fight on the seas and oceans. We will fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air. We will defend our island, no matter the cost. We will fight on the beaches, we will fight on the airstrips, we will fight in the fields and in the streets, we will fight in the hills".

The author of the book "Wartime Leadership" is Andrew Roberts with whom we had the pleasure of talking about the contradictions, mistakes and virtues of Churchill. Historian of international renown, scholar of the British leader and trustee of the International Churchill Society, presents in his recent book a fresh and deeply insightful approach to nine defining figures of modern history:

Napoleon Bonaparte, Horace Nelson, Winston Churchill, Adolf Hitler, Joseph Stalin, George Marshall, Charles de Gaulle, Dwight Eisenhower and Margaret Thatcher.

For the selection criteria of the nine leaders, he tells us:

"They were quite simply those who personally interested me at this stage. I did not choose them thinking that they were the greatest leaders in history. If I had chosen them by that criterion, I should have included in this research also Themistocles, Pericles and M. Alexander".

Napoleon, the leader - reference point

"Napoleon as a leader displayed more of the qualities of great leadership than the other eight in the book. Although he was of course defeated and eventually died in exile" says Andrew Roberts at News 24/7 .

What are the criteria that characterize a great leader?

"The criteria I list in the book are the leader's ability to control his psyche, meticulous planning, correct assessment of enemy terrain, correct timing for decision-making, control of nerves his, the appreciation of the importance of discipline and training, to be able to understand the psychology of the common soldier to create after the so-called esprit de corps (the feeling of group pride, in French), to be able to give inspirational speeches to his audience, to control the information that goes out, to adapt to and influence the opponent's tactics, to ask the right questions of the right people people, know history, have a strong memory, be rigid when needed, be able to convey personal charisma, remain calm under great pressure (especially in those moments that feel like defeat), pay tremendous attention to detail , to be able to control the outbursts of his emotions, to be able to take advantage of a momentary numerical advantage on the battlefield and of course, to be lucky. Even if ultimately defeated, Napoleon is the war leader against whom all must be judged."

But to what extent could we compare Napoleon with Churchill?

"Napoleon was one of Churchill's heroes and a "model" of leadership for him. After all, he believed that Napoleon was "the greatest leader since Julius Caesar". He tried to copy him, in fact he referred to him often. He specifically invoked Napoleon's command to Marshal Massena in the Austrian campaign of 1809:"Courage, courage and again courage". Overall, a more interesting personality was Churchill, as he had a great range of experience and understanding as well as profound human characteristics that truly take the breath away of its scholar".

What was Churchill's greatest weakness?

"He had many and made many mistakes in his career which were largely due to his impulsive nature. The power of courage and perseverance taught by Napoleon did not always bear fruit. He misconceived the way he he managed the demands of women of the time to gain the right to vote, the forcing of King Edward VIII into abdication, it was even his fault that he decided to tie sterling to the Gold Standard (1925), the action of the Black and Tans in Ireland , but mainly the Gallipoli campaign in 1915-16. He should have waited until the Greek army was ready to assist in the attack, which would logically have made it successful".

How do you judge the recent reactions against Churchill? Protesters have moved against monuments to him in Britain describing him as "anti-Semitic". What were his views on the Jews after all?

"Churchill was pro-Semitic and an ardent supporter of Zionism throughout his life, and especially in 1917 at the time of the Balfour Declaration (with this declaration the English state advocated the consolidation of the Jewish state in Palestine).His love for the Jews was also one of the reasons he was able to detect the intentions of Hitler and the Nazis early on.The reason they attack his statues is the ignorance of people who do not know their history and because indeed Churchill used to make "jokes" about non-whites. But Churchill was proud of how the Empire had treated the natives living on its lands in a way that a racist never would. Also precisely because he was not a racist , contributed in the greatest way to the dissolution of the greatest racist in history, Adolf Hitler".

What is the biggest contradiction in his entire career?

"His decision to attack the Hellespont during World War I and his threats to bomb Constantinople. His actions there resulted in the deaths of 147,000 Allied soldiers".

Ultimately what is the truth about Churchill's involvement in the rise of the "Black and Tans" movement in Ireland before 1920? Was it a big mistake on his part?

"The truth is that he tried to fight the Irish terrorists who were fighting for independence from Britain in 1916, with their own methods. He hired auxiliary troops, the "Black and Tans" (named after the color of their uniforms) who carried out atrocities in retaliation. He miscalculated that the majority of southern Irish Catholics were prepared to fight for independence, even though the majority of northern Protestants wanted to remain in the United Kingdom. It was a big mistake, but as he had said Churchill to his wife, Clementine, "I would not have succeeded in the end if I had not made mistakes".

The author Churchill

"Another great thing about him was his writing ability. His writing ability would have left him in history as a reference even if he had not become a politician. His autobiography 'My Early Life,' it was radical in genre and goes as far as his entry into Parliament. Also, his biography of the life of his ancestor, John Churchill, who was 1st Duke of Marlborough, is a model of how one should write a biography. He used ironic tone, British phlegm, and had been influenced by the stories of Lord Macaulay and Edward Gibbon. He won a Nobel Prize for his literary work but was annoyed that he didn't get the Nobel Peace Prize."

What leadership lessons can we take from Churchill today?

"One of the lessons is the resilience he showed in the face of disaster. Also, the moral power of believing that your ideas are true and important, even if no one is listening, even if initially they make fun of you for them.His beliefs in freedom and democracy.The recognition that with privilege comes responsibilities.The knowledge that by learning history, we can learn the secrets of diplomacy.The importance of courage that can lead in overcoming any difficulty. Self-belief and refusal to submit. In the time we live with the pandemic, it is good to remember what Churchill said in his speech to the Royal College of Physicians in March 1944:"The discoveries of the healing sciences must to be the heritage of all. That much is clear. Diseases must be treated the same whether they affect the richest or the poorest, men and women, simply because they are our common enemy. And they must be treated as the fire brigade will assist to save the poorest house but also the most expensive mansion".

Finally, who are the biggest writing influences for Andrew Roberts?

"The works of Thucydides, Churchill's biographer Sir Martin Gilbert, but also Alexander Solzhenitsyn, Edmund Burke, Jorge Luis Borges, my Cambridge professor Norman Stone, Zareer Masani, Henry Kissinger , Deepak Lal, and Alexis de Tocqueville".

The book "War Leadership" is published by Dioptra publications.


What is leadership? What are the secrets of the tactics by which one man manages to lead millions of others to salvation or destruction?

Is leadership innate or can it be learned? And most importantly, are there any common leadership techniques that can be adopted regardless of the message the leader wants to convey?

Choosing Adolf Hitler and Winston Churchill, two diametrically opposed leaders in what they stood for and in terms of the methods they adopted, award-winning historian Andrew Roberts examines the phenomenon of political and military leadership and is led to important conclusions.

Drawing parallels with leaders of other eras in the first and last parts of his book and exhaustively exploring the commonalities of Hitler's and Churchill's leadership, Roberts draws conclusions about the practice of leaders that apply even today. In addition, it examines the opinions and judgments of one leader about the other and the effect these opinions had on the final outcome of World War II.

In a world that seems more dependent on leadership today than ever before, Roberts raises key questions about our need to lead, forcing us to rethink how we treat those who make decisions on our behalf.

About the Author

Andrew Roberts is an internationally renowned biographer and historian. He has written several award-winning books including Salisbury:Victorian Titan (Wolfson History Award), Masters and Commanders (Emery Reves Award) and The Storm of War (British Army Book Award).

His latest book, Napoleon the Great (2014), won the Napoleon Foundation Grand Prize and the Los Angeles Times Biography Award. Roberts is a fellow of the Royal Societies of Literature and the Royal Historical Society, and a trustee of the International Churchill Society. He is a visiting professor in the Department of War Studies at King's College London and a Visiting Scholar at the Hoover Foundation (Roger and Martha Mertz) at Stanford University. His website is andrew-roberts.net. Dioptra publishes the book War Leadership in Greek.