- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 3, 2002

Even though John Lukacs has been around seemingly forever, it is still a shock that this might be his last book. If it is, it is a fitting summa summarum of work by a man who cannot be easily classified. A cleared-eyed anti-Stalinist, for example, Mr. Lukacs has little regard for American-style anti-communism. He is a nominalist among ideologues, something that is reflected in his writing of history.
No wonder then that he has written much about Winston Churchill. For those who have read his earlier works on that English statesman, there may be little new in this brief account of various aspects of Churchill's career, but as always, it is told exceedingly well. For those, particularly Americans, who hold Churchill in high regard, but don't know the controversies that still surround the man nearly 40 years after his death, it is a good introduction to the huge amount of literature on him. (That body of work also includes the revisionists who are much less generous in their estimate than Mr. Lukacs.)
This also is an old-fashioned work, in the sense that the author has freely used his commonplace books for much of his material. Who today keeps such journals? It is our loss that they don't. Mr. Lukacs has brought to his task a lifetime of reading and thought about the large figures of this century: Churchill, Franklin Roosevelt, Adolf Hitler and Joseph Stalin, to name the very Big Four. Churchill, however, remains at the center of this book as indeed, the author would argue, he remains at the center of the last century. Without Churchill, Mr. Lukacs believes, Hitler likely would have won the war and with it the end of liberal civilization as we know it. The book, in essence, is a collection of essays about Churchill.
There is Churchill, the visionary, Churchill in his dealings with Stalin, Roosevelt and Dwight D. Eisenhower. Also, there is Churchill as historian, as well as a chapter on his mistakes and his critics. The critics especially get short shrift from the author, in particular John Charmley, who has long viewed Churchill as primarily responsible for the decline of Great Britain from a world power to a satrapy of the United States. Better to have struck a deal with Hitler in 1940 or 1941 than embrace the Yank or so Mr. Charmley argues and from whom Mr. Lukacs vigorously dissents.
Mr. Lukacs holds in equal contempt the view that history is of the mass and not the individual, as if the study of history was like mapping ocean currents the tracking of blind forces of nature. The author will have none of that kind of historiography. Indeed, somewhere he has a put down of an earlier critic's dismissal of Churchill as historian for not being au courant with Sigmund Freud and Karl Marx. His other prejudices too can be equally amusing against half-forgotten savants of yesteryear like Lord Snow and Harold Laski (Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes thought him the greatest of living thinkers), who well-deserve their present place in the dustbin of intellectual history.
This brings us to 1940. The author reminds Americans especially that, when the planet's fate hung in the balance, Churchill alone stood between disaster and us. Without Churchill, England would not have stayed in the war. Without an adversary in 1940, Hitler could have done pretty much what he wanted, leaving sleeping Americans largely alone in their hemisphere along with Anglophone Canadians and a handful of West Indians. And no one else.
Mr. Lukacs' work invites both thought and debate. That said, I have one area of disagreement, and that is his treatment of Eisenhower. Mr. Lukacs criticizes Ike for being a naive facilitator of Stalin's ambitions in Mitteleuropa in 1945, and then a decade later for being an equally naive opponent of "communism." The late president is also portrayed as a stooge of the odious John Foster Dulles.
In Ike's defense, however, a few points can be made. Eisenhower's competence as a statesman and politician were far different at the beginning of his two terms than at the end. He grew in confidence and stature as time went on, as others before and after him have proved. As for his rhetoric in dealing with the Soviet empire, consider this: Eisenhower's judgment was to speak in the language Americans understood that is a kind of Wilsonian abstract of good vs. evil rather than the language of realpolitik which the author (and I) prefer, but won't get with any American president, including the present resident of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

Roger Fontaine served on the National Security Council staff during the first Reagan administration.


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