Chamberlain, Truman––and Cyrus

When the word “appeasement” was first identified with the foreign policy of a nation, it was on purpose. Now a term of derision generally applied to political leaders who seem to be clueless about apparent danger, it was never really a “bad” word until it became forever identified with foreign policy failures in Great Britain under the premiership of Neville Chamberlain. The word itself simply means to pacify or soothe. Most of us understand that there is a measure of this required for peaceful and civilized living and discourse.

But when appeasement met Adolf Hitler, it was manipulated, twisted, scorned, and ultimately dismissed. Winston Churchill famously remarked “an appeaser is one who feeds a crocodile, hoping it will eat him last.” To paraphrase the words of Sean Connery playing a character in the 1987 movie The Untouchables, Mr. Chamberlain brought a paper knife to a gunfight in 1938 when he met Hitler and Mussolini in Munich.

While Chamberlain was staking the future of his nation on appeasement as official policy, Harry Truman, a freshman U.S. Senator from Missouri, kept his eyes on developments in Europe. Great Britain seemed to be determined to feed Europe to the Nazi crocodile one bite at a time. Truman knew and noted that the policy of appeasement was not just in play over the fate of Czechoslovakia, but it also had another deadly and dreadful application—one that would impact the Jewish people.

The British government released a White Paper on the issue of Palestine in May 1939. Since the 1917 Balfour Declaration, and during the years of the British Mandate, they had been largely supportive of Jewish migration to Palestine and the general idea of a Jewish state there. The 1939 policy statement changed all of that. It advocated severe limitations on Jewish immigration to Palestine at a time when European anti-Semitism was reaching critical mass.

By the way, the 1939 British White Paper was a big hit in Berlin.

Churchill saw it differently. He spoke to the House of Commons on May 22, 1939: “as one intimately and responsibly concerned in the earlier states of our Palestine policy,” and insisted that he would not “stand by and see the solemn engagements into which Britain has entered before the world set aside.”

Senator Truman, who was a long way from being well known or even noticed, weighed in on the matter and his words were inserted into the Congressional Record:

“Mr. President, the British Government has used its diplomatic umbrella again… this time on Palestine. It has made a scrap of paper out of Lord Balfour’s promise to the Jews. It has just added another to the long list of surrenders to the Axis powers.”

The road to the Holocaust was paved with appeasement.

By the end of World War II, that once obscure Senator from Missouri was President of the United States. The world had emerged from a global conflict and also knew the horrors of the Holocaust, the bitter fruit of Anti-Semitism enabled by appeasement. And before long, Mr. Truman was faced with a decision about the region he had talked about in 1939.

In a singular act of political courage, and against the advice of men he admired very much, President Truman officially recognized a new nation in Palestine—a homeland for the Jews—just eleven short minutes after David Ben Gurion announced its birth in Tel Aviv.

Truman signed a single typewritten page. It is on display these days at the Truman Presidential Library in Independence, Missouri. It shows the President’s cursive corrections, including a wording change from “new Jewish state” to “State of Israel”—as well as the directive: “Approved May 14, 1948.”

This was a bold step for the American president, one opposed by powerful members of his own administration. Secretary of State George C. Marshall was so strongly opposed that he told his boss that he might not vote for him that November.

But Harry Truman was a savvy politician with an appreciation for history—ancient and recent. He never attended college, but he was well read. As a young boy, when chronic near-sightedness kept him from some more strenuous activities, he would lose himself in books.

Reading helped the boy with thick glasses become a great visionary.

According to historian Michael Beschloss, among his favorite books was a “gold-trimmed, four-volume history called Great Men and Famous Women.” One of the men chronicled was Cyrus the Great, King of Persia (modern day Iran), who enabled the Jewish people to leave their exile and go back to Palestine. That’s right, a pro-Israel Iranian leader. It is likely that this ancient story was on Truman’s mind as he dealt with the Jewish-Palestine issue. More recent history, particularly the events of the late 1930s, also influenced his presidential decisions.

President Truman had an incredible sense of the past’s power to influence the present and future. The internal world of thought, nurtured as a child through the reading of history, was very present in the man.

Shortly after leaving office in 1953, while visiting a Jewish school in New York City, he was introduced as “the man who helped to create the State of Israel”—Truman interrupted and said: “What do you mean ‘helped create?’ I am Cyrus! I am Cyrus!”

[DAVID R. STOKES is a retired pastor and best-selling author. He is the founder of CRITICAL MASS PUBLISHING, specializing in helping pastors and other thought leaders write and publish their own books. ]



One Monday several years ago, my wife and I traveled to Williamsburg, Virginia. Some friends had graciously offered their condo to us for a few days of relaxation. We had been looking forward to the trip for several weeks—a nice getaway at the end of the summer. The weather was perfect and we toured local sights that day. At dinnertime, we found a nice local eatery—a “home cooking” kind of place. I ordered the fried chicken.

Anytime I get the chance, I order the fried chicken.

But by the time the food came, Karen and I were lost in quiet thought and just picked at the stuff on our plates. It was one of those strange moments when spouses seem to be inside each other’s minds because at the same instant, we both said we felt a strong pull to return to our home in Northern Virginia. There was nothing pressing. Everything back there was covered, but it’s as if we had been in picturesque Williamsburg for a month and were homesick for routine. So, we blew off the getaway, packed our bags, and headed up the road. We arrived home about ten o’clock that night and found ourselves feeling a little silly for having cut such a nice trip so short. There had to be a reason, we thought.

The next morning we understood all too well, as a beautiful September day turned generationally horrific.

It was Tuesday, September 11, 2001.

People over seventy-five years of age remember where they were and what they were doing when they heard the news of a surprise attack on American forces in a faraway place called Pearl Harbor. Those a generation younger likely have the same recollection about November 22, 1963, when President John F. Kennedy was assassinated. But I imagine no memory quite compares with the images of that September day seared on our souls.

The pages of history are filled with horrific things. Back in the years 1940-1942, Great Britain experienced what we did in 2001 just about every day. Think about that—hundreds of enemy bombers raining death and destruction from the skies every day and eventually every night.

A year or so earlier, as the clouds of war gathered over Europe for the second time in a generation, the Ministry of Information in the United Kingdom developed some slogans for morale building—mantras that leaders felt would help people cope with what was believed to be coming—all-out war. We would call them “affirmations” today. The words were carefully designed for billboards, the walls of buildings, and other venues for public notice.

The first of these said, simply: “Freedom Is In Peril. Defend It With All Your Might.”

The next one was a little more to the point: “Your Courage, Your Cheerfulness, Your Resolution Will Bring Us Victory.”

The third poster in the series was actually never released. It was designed to be part of the public information plastered everywhere if the Germans actually invaded—a big concern at the time. The Nazis were fast advancing across Belgium and France and the threat to England seemed imminent and inevitable. But then, on May 10, 1940, Winston Churchill replaced the ever-wobbly Neville Chamberlain as Prime Minister. This change at the top rendered the need for mere paper posters obsolete. They now had all the best slogans in the flesh.

The new premier’s face quickly became the most famous image of the era and his voice its soundtrack. Churchill’s passionate eloquence tapped into the dormant, but indomitable spirit of a battered population.

Legendary newsman, Edward R. Murrow, was famous for his broadcasts from the blitz and the trademark phrase, “This is London.” He reported from rooftops all over the city as bombs fell from the sky. And in many ways, his words helped prepare Americans for battles yet to come. After the war, Murrow remarked that Churchill had “mobilized the English language and sent it into battle.”

On June 18, 1940, Churchill addressed the House of Commons, where he had lived out most of his, at times, erratic political career. He talked about how the Battle of Britain was about to begin:

Upon this battle depends the survival of Christian civilization. Upon it depends our own British life, and the long continuity of our institutions and our Empire. The whole fury and might of the enemy must very soon be turned on us. Hitler knows that he will have to break us in this island or lose the war. If we can stand up to him, all Europe may be free and the life of the world may move forward into broad, sunlit uplands. But if we fail, then the whole world, including the United States, including all that we have known and cared for, will sink into the abyss of a new Dark Age made more sinister, and perhaps more protracted, by the lights of perverted science. Let us therefore brace ourselves to our duties, and so bear ourselves that if the British Empire and its Commonwealth last for a thousand years, men will still say, ‘This was their Finest Hour.’

On September 11, 2001, New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani demonstrated energetic and effective leadership when he seized the moment and guided that most unmanageable of all municipalities through a very dark and difficult time. He was nothing short of an inspiration to the nation.

When Mr. Giuliani reached the point of exhaustion in the early hours of Wednesday, September 12th, he went home and revisited a book he had been reading the previous few nights. It was the full-length biography of Winston Churchill, written by Roy Jenkins. The mayor of New York was reading about how the British Prime Minister had led his country through the Battle of Britain. There is no doubt that Giuliani drew inspiration from Churchill’s powerful example.

So, the third Ministry of Information slogan, having been rendered unnecessary by Churchill’s persona and vocabulary, never made it to billboards in 1940: “Keep Calm and Carry On.”

A poster produced by the British government in World War II, with the text ‘Keep Calm And Carry On’ on a background of the flag of British Guiana, circa 1939. (Photo by SSPL/National Archives/Getty Images)

As far we know, most of the copies of the original poster were destroyed at the end of the war and turned to pulp. But a few survived—hidden for six decades. In 2000, a bookseller from northeast England discovered a copy tucked away among some old books bought at an auction. Eventually, other copies were unearthed in archival collections at the Imperial War Museum and British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) in London. And, as inexplicably happens every once in a while, the slogan eventually went viral. — DRS

Not Revisionism–Just Dumb ;)

Having missed the broadcasts when they were presented in prime time last week, I’ve finally gotten around to working through the multi-episode series, “The World Wars,” on the History Channel.

I’m about halfway through.

images-1As an avid student of 20th century geopolitical history, I’m sort of torn as I watch the great story and stories unfold. First, I enjoy dramatic portrayals of great events, while recognizing that what is shown on the screen—whether big or small—will inevitably include a measure of license. Yes, I am one of those viewers who tend to talk back to the narrator, injecting my own commentary.

Karen simply loves it when I do that.

But here’s the thing—I find myself annoyed when something is presented as true history yet gets basic facts glaringly wrong. It’s one thing to give one side of something in dispute, but quite another to get basic chronology wrong. I’ve seen several examples of this, but I’ll give you two for now.

First, in the introductory episode called “Trial by Fire,” the writers have Vladimir Lenin taking control in Russia—and pulling his nation out of the First World War (a move that helped Germany) via the Treaty of Brest Litovsk—before America’s entrance into the war.


The facts are that America joined the conflict in April 1917. Lenin came to power later that year (October/November 1917, depending on the calendar you use). The treaty with Germany was then signed the next year—in March 1918.

The second glaring thing I saw had to do with Winston Churchill and Neville Chamberlain. In the episode called, “A Rising Threat,” it shows Chamberlain bringing Churchill into his government (as First Lord of the Admiralty) long before the Nazis invaded Poland.

Double yikes!!

2ChamberlainChurchillThe actual timeline is well known. First, Hitler invaded Poland on September 1, 1939. Then, a few days later, Chamberlain announced that Britain was at war with Germany. It was after this that he summoned Churchill and gave him his job back (Winston had been First Lord during World War I).

Now, these may seem small, but they aren’t. They show a carelessness that is simply unnecessary. I wonder what the historians who appear on the series must think. I’m sure the insertion of their commentary was an editorial matter for the producer(s). But if I were Douglas Brinkley, or Paul Reid, or H. W. Brands—or any of their British counterparts, I’d be a little ticked.

I really can’t figure out why the producer(s) allowed such basic glaring mistakes to be presented.

Now, the series otherwise is actually pretty good. I think it captures the personalities of the good and evil giants—the men who made the history.

That’s valuable.

I am enjoying the series—mostly. But have to give it only two out of four stars for accuracy.

It’s almost like I half expect to see Pearl Harbor happen on a Saturday.

The World Leader Who Didn’t Attend CHURCHILL’S Funeral

[This column is currently posted at TOWNHALL.COM]

Why did one of the most politically savvy leaders ever to occupy the White House—Lyndon Baines Johnson—decide not to attend the funeral of Winston Churchill in 1965? And why didn’t he send his Vice President, Hubert Humphrey?  Questions remain nearly 49 years later.

Nearly 100 world leaders are now making their way to South Africa for the state funeral of Nelson Mandela. It will be a who’s who of global power-players. It’s important for them to be there, because it’s a risky thing to miss a great man’s funeral.

Obama_Bush_and_Clinton_discuss_the_2010_Haiti_earthquakePresident Obama invited George W. Bush and Bill Clinton, and their wives, to join him on Air Force One for the trek to Johannesburg. When Anwar Sadat was assassinated in October 1981, President Ronald Reagan’s security team strongly advised against him traveling to Egypt.

That was just a few months after Reagan was seriously wounded and barely escaped death at the hands of a would-be assassin, so the concerns were understandable. Mr. Reagan decided to play a “Presidential Hat Trick.” And the next day Jimmy Carter, Gerald Ford, and Richard Nixon boarded the presidential jet for the journey. Because Secretary of State Alexander Haig was “head” of the official delegation, he claimed the President’s Quarters for himself, leaving the three formers to make do in coach.

Churchill died at the age of 90 on January 24, 1965, after a series of debilitating strokes. His final illness became an international vigil for nearly two weeks, so there was plenty of time for world governments to prepare.

In fact, the British government had been prepared for a long time. More than ten years earlier, at the direction of Queen Elizabeth II, a plan called, “Operation Hope Not” had been developed for Winston’s eventual passing.

US President Lyndon B. Johnson delivers a speech 2Lyndon Johnson was inaugurated for a full term on January 20, 1965, following his landslide electoral victory the previous November. He was at the top of his political game and riding high in the polls. But a few days later, on the night Churchill died, LBJ called seven reporters to his bedroom at the White House and told them that his doctors had advised him not to fly to London. He said: “I don’t have the bouncy feeling that I usually have.”

Presumably because “no bouncy feeling” isn’t an actual recognized disease, the “official” diagnosis was a bad cold.

He also told them that he was not sending Vice President Humphrey, but instead he would send Secretary of State Dean Rusk (who didn’t actually attend either, citing illness) and Supreme Court Chief Justice Earl Warren.  Johnson also noted that former President Eisenhower was attending as a private citizen. The grand farewell for Churchill was a global media event, watched on television by more people than President Kennedy’s funeral fourteen months earlier.

The reporters at his bedside described Johnson as looking “sicker” than they had expected: “Hair disheveled, he lay in a four-poster, canopied bed speaking softly, coughing lightly from time to time and blowing his nose.”

Johnson was widely criticized—here and abroad—for his failure to make the trip.  Many in the British government saw it as a slight. And in some ways it represented a minor setback in American/Anglo relations at a crucial time in the Cold War.

Some of President Johnson’s biographers take great pains to write about the man’s energy and perseverance. For example, Robert A. Caro writes in his tome, The Years of Lyndon Johnson: Master of the Senate, about how the man had regularly “refused to allow the illness to interfere” with his work habits. And how LBJ drove himself “mercilessly” even when he was supposed to be ill, with aides wondering, “how could a man have such energy if there was something seriously wrong with him?”

This description flies in the face of the image Johnson projected to the journalists that day.

A couple of weeks later, in a White House press conference, Johnson seemed to reveal a hint of thin skin when he was asked about his decisions related to Churchill’s funeral:

“I am glad to have the press reactions and the reactions abroad on the protocol involved in connection with funerals…In the light of your interest and other interests, I may have made a mistake by asking the Chief Justice to go and not asking the Vice President. I will bear in mind in connection act in accordance with our national interest.”

Soon after Johnson’s non-apology apology, someone coined the term “credibility gap” and affixed it to Lyndon Johnson. As with many things about LBJ, the truth is elusive.