Philip Hensher

A question of upbringing

Superficially, Hitler and Churchill resembled each other, in the way that two very powerful leaders will. In particular, as Andrew Roberts points out, both their careers rested on a particular sort of confidence trick, an ability to misrepresent the facts of the case and thereby inspire their followers into action. In Hitler’s case it was the malign lie that Germany’s difficulties after the Great War, and indeed the fact that they lost that war, were down to the machinations of international Jewry. In Churchill’s case, it was the benign and necessary claim that victory could be achieved by the British will alone; a claim which, throughout the country’s ‘finest hour’ of 1940-1, was in reality extremely dubious.

It is a superficial sort of resemblance, and where Hitler was chasing phantoms, Churchill was enabling the country to hold out long enough until the balance of forces shifted, something which no sane person will deplore. Nevertheless, the different styles and convictions of the two leaders are interesting enough to make a decent and engaging political essay. The strength of Churchill’s personality and style was revealed by the war, and I don’t believe that his personal conduct would have been shown as lacking had Britain lost. The disastrous flaws and inadequacies in Hitler’s style, on the other hand, were laid bare by every setback, and it is not just the evil of his project which makes one shrink from the idea that he was in some sense a ‘great man’.

They never met, but naturally commented on each other a great deal. Churchill had a plain view of Hitler, as a vulgar commonplace demagogue, conceding his personal charisma, but acutely aware of his limitations.

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