- The Washington Times - Monday, February 2, 2004

The mention of his name evokes the “finest hour” of the British Empire, yet Sir Winston Churchill felt a lifelong affinity for America, an aspect of his career explored in a new Library of Congress exhibit. “Churchill and the Great Republic” offers a distinctly American view of the statesman’s life, British historian Allen Packwood said.

“It’s impossible to condense the whole of Churchill’s life and career into a single gallery,” said Mr. Packwood, director of the Churchill Archives Centre in Cambridge, England. “What we’ve attempted to do is to tell his story through an American lens, concentrating particularly on his American connections, his many visits to the United States, his recorded impressions of America, and to look also at how he was viewed in America, and how this changed over time.”

The Churchill Archives are collaborating with the Library of Congress for “the first-ever comprehensive display of Churchill material in the United States.” The exhibition opens Thursday in the Whittall Pavilion of the library’s Thomas Jefferson Building.

The exhibit covers Churchill’s first visit to the United States, in 1895, when he was a young cavalry officer en route to military adventure in Cuba, and continues through to his final visit in 1961. In between, he made a lecture tour of the United States in 1900, relating his famous adventures in the Boer War, and made a 1929 visit in which he smuggled whiskey past customs agents (Prohibition was then in force) and reached New York in time to see the great stock market crash.

As the British minister in charge of munitions during World War I, Churchill had worked closely with American industry and with the U.S. munitions chief, Bernard Baruch, who was later an adviser to the Roosevelt and Truman administrations. Churchill’s familiarity with America proved vital to his role leading Britain in World War II.

“Well before the outbreak of the Second World War, he is very well-informed about American affairs, and he has seen firsthand the industrial might and potential of the United States,” said Mr. Packwood, who will address a noon luncheon today at the Heritage Foundation.

Churchill found himself a political outcast in the 1930s, when he bitterly criticized other British leaders who attempted to negotiate peace with Adolf Hitler. Their appeasement policy reached a nadir in 1938 when Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain declared that the infamous Munich agreement — delivering western Czechoslovakia to the Nazi dictator — meant peace “for our time.”

Churchill, who denounced the Munich deal, was labeled a dangerous warmonger.

“I have heard him called ‘erratic,’ ‘unreliable,’ ‘not a safe man,’” Lady Violet Bonham Carter later said, in a remark displayed in the Library of Congress exhibit. “Not safe enough to fill the armchair of a humdrum office in safe days, but when all was at stake, when our own survival and the fate of civilization were rushing toward the rapids, then we saw him as the one man strong enough to save.”

As war loomed in Europe, “Churchill very quickly realized that America had a vital role to play, and he worked very hard to get greater American involvement in Europe,” Mr. Packwood said. In the aftermath of the Munich deal, Churchill broadcast “an impassioned appeal” to Americans — the manuscript of which is included in the new exhibit:

“We must arm. Britain must arm. America must arm,” he said in his historic trans-Atlantic radio address on Oct. 16, 1938. “People say we ought not to allow ourselves to be drawn into a theoretical antagonism between Nazidom and democracy; but the antagonism is here now.”

Even before Churchill became prime minister in 1940, Mr. Packwood notes, “Roosevelt opened a direct channel of communication with Churchill, in part because Churchill is seen as a rising figure, as a man of the hour, but partly also because he’s seen as a man with whom America can do business.”

The exhibit — combining holdings from the Churchill Archives and “a wealth of Churchill-related documents” from the Library of Congress — is “the sort of English-speaking partnership that Churchill would have endorsed and relished, I think,” Mr. Packwood said.

The exhibit, which continues through June 26, took three years to organize, and includes documents, artwork and photographs from every stage of Churchill’s career.

Churchill’s American connection began with his mother, the beautiful New York heiress Jennie Jerome. She was 19 when she met 24-year-old Lord Randolph Churchill at a ball in 1873; Lord Churchill fell instantly in love and, despite the initial objections of his father, the Duke of Marlborough, the two were married a year later in Paris. The Library of Congress exhibit includes part of the young couple’s correspondence.

In his adventure-filled memoir, “My Early Life,” Churchill helped inspire future generations of bad boys by elaborating on his mischievous school days. An 1883 report card included in the new exhibit shows that the 9-year-old future prime minister scored just “fair” in grammar and “not very good” in French, while his behavior was “very naughty” and “still troublesome.”

“It’s well-known that Churchill was not particularly academic in school, and he was also quite naughty,” Mr. Packwood said. “But he was not as bad as he often later claimed, and was always good at subjects in which he was interested, such as history.”

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