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Showing posts with label Sir Martin Gilbert. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Sir Martin Gilbert. Show all posts

Friday, February 6, 2015

A Scrupulous Historian and Churchill Biographer

The late Martin Gilbert brought to his work a classic devotion to accuracy and original sources.

Historian Martin Gilbert in 1968, working at his home near Oxford, England. Photo: Keystone Features/Getty Images

By Larry P. Arnn

In summer 1940, as war raged, the British government sent several hundred children, including 3-year-old Martin Gilbert, to safety in Canada. The children berthed aboard the Duchess of Bedford in a 50-ship convoy, and after the destroyer escort turned back, the convoy was attacked by the Germans and five ships sank.

The Duchess sailed on safely, past the icebergs of Labrador, “marvelous for children to behold [and] among my first memories,” Gilbert wrote. Soon after, another boat with 77 children evacuees was sunk by the Germans, drowning them all, and the scheme was abandoned.

In summer 1944, Winston Churchill —who from the start had disliked the idea of sending British children overseas, calling it a “scuttle”—arranged for many of the young evacuees, including Gilbert, to return aboard an American troopship from New York.

Churchill specifically asked the Admiralty to make sure, amid other responsibilities in the aftermath of the Normandy landings, that there be enough life jackets for the extra children.

So began the life of Sir Martin Gilbert, who died at age 78 on Tuesday in London. He is best known as Churchill’s official biographer. He served as adviser to Prime Minister John Major and was soon after awarded knighthood in 1995.

Gilbert taught as a fellow of Merton College, Oxford. He wrote 88 books, including histories of the Holocaust, of the world wars and of the 20th century. Regarding the Holocaust, he said that the “tireless gathering of facts will ultimately consign Holocaust deniers to history.”

The Churchill biography is a thing of magnificence. It is the largest biography ever written, befitting one of the largest lives ever lived. It is now 25 volumes and more than 25,000 pages, with six document volumes that Hillsdale College, in Hillsdale, Mich., has been tasked with completing in his absence.

Churchill was prolific: hundreds of speeches, 50 books, and thousands of articles, memos and official minutes. Thus, Gilbert’s biography is monumental. To do this work, he had the “treasure trove” of the Churchill archives, traveled to public and private archives throughout Britain, and corresponded with hundreds of Churchill’s contemporaries, many of whom became his friends.

Gilbert utterly rebelled against the view that the facts of history change with time. In this way he agreed with the classics. He wrote the biography faithfully, from primary-source materials and with the greatest care to tell the story as it happened. Gilbert’s stewardship is significant, as Churchill is a man of our time and one of its greatest blessings.

I was privileged to work as research assistant to Gilbert on the biography in the 1970s and continue as his friend and colleague afterward. For years I witnessed and wondered at the care and energy he put into his work. He desired original sources, nothing less. “You must get everything. We must have it all here,” he once told me.

He would say, “You have a good memory, and I have a good memory; we do not rely upon our memories.” I learned to look things up again and again. If you used the term “perhaps,” his eyebrows would go up, and he would say, “Perhaps not!”

I have never known anyone so tireless in his vocation. Once he was stricken with Bell’s palsy, which paralyzed part of his face, yet he worked regardless, the same hours, holding his pen in one hand and in the other a handkerchief pressed against his mouth to keep it closed.

Gilbert’s Oxford tutor, the historian A.J.P. Taylor, told him in 1960 that “if you go in for historical research, you will work for weeks on end and find nothing.” Gilbert was persevering and fierce, but his manner never so.

He sought to give life and breath to history. In 1997, he said in an interview with C-Span that he wanted to be remembered “as someone who brought ordinary people, or people, into the equation, not merely governments and powers and themes, but human beings with flesh and blood and names and ages.”

Mr. Arnn is president of Hillsdale College. 


Thursday, February 5, 2015

Sir Martin Gilbert, Churchill Scholar Who Defended Pius XII, Dies

The noted scholar, also the official biographer of Winston Churchill, was called ‘an inspiration for all of us who seek the truth.’ He was 78.


ROME — Sir Martin Gilbert, a widely respected British-Jewish historian who strongly defended the wartime record of Venerable Pope Pius XII, died Tuesday at the age of 78. He had been suffering from cancer for some time.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

A Kind of Dignity and Even Nobility: Winston Churchill’s “Thoughts and Adventures”

Amid These Storms: Thoughts and Adventures, by Winston Churchill [1]
This material progress, in itself so splendid, does not meet any of the real needs of the human race…. No material progress, even though it takes shapes we cannot now conceive, or however it may expand the faculties of man, can bring comfort to his soul. It is this fact, more wonderful than any that Science can reveal, which gives the best hope that all will be well. – “Fifty Years Hence”
Winston Churchill wrote the essays gathered in Thoughts and Adventures while his generation was “in its twelfth lustre,” and with the passing of years his book is now almost as old. First published in 1932, while he was out of the government in what his biographer Martin Gilbert calls his “wilderness years” (the book is now available here, ed.). Despite this modest revival, Thoughts and Adventures stands, with many of Churchill’s works, as an undiscovered classic of twentieth-century prose.

Saturday, December 29, 2007


As the British people come to recognize that they have little in common culturally, socially, and historically with the continental peoples comprising the artificial alliance known as the EU, and Americans begin to realize that the President of the United States, at the behest of multi-national corporations, has stealthily moved them by executive fiat toward a North American Union, an old idea is beginning to reemerge.  It is the idea that there is a natural, organic unity of the English-speaking peoples throughout the world based on their history, language and culture. They share a belief in "fair play," a dedication to individualism, have a strong sense of justice, and a willingness to stand up for the "little guy" and those who have been unfairly treated. These cultural qualities are the foundation for the great hallmarks of the English-speaking world -- Magna Carta, habeas corpus, trial by jury, freedom of speech, common law and America's own Bill of Rights.

In the nineteenth century, England's Poet Laureate, Lord Tennyson, recognized the common bonds in a poem entitled England and America in 1782:

O Thou, that sendest out the man
To rule by land and sea,
Strong mother of a Lion-line,
Be proud of those strong sons of thine
Who wrench'd their rights from thee!

What wonder, if in noble heat
Those men thine arms withstood,
Retaught the lesson thou hadst taught,
And in thy spirit with thee fought--
Who sprang from English blood!

In the twentieth century, the greatest proponent of an alliance of the English-speaking peoples was Sir Winston Churchill. His official biographer, Sir Martin Gilbert, explores in his recent book, Churchill and America, Churchill's belief in the ideal of an Anglo-American "fraternal association." Churchill expressed the idea in many of his writings. In one speech he spoke of it as follows:
"I therefore preach continually the doctrine of the fraternal association of our two peoples, not for any purpose of gaining invidious material advantages for either of them, nor for territorial aggrandizement or the vain pomp of earthly domination, but for the sake of service to mankind and for the honour that comes to those who faithfully serve great causes".
On another occassion he expressed the ideal this way:
"I have never asked for an Anglo—American military alliance or a treaty. I asked for something different and in a sense I have asked for something more. I asked for fraternal association, free, voluntary fraternal association. I have no doubt that it will come to pass, as surely as the sun will rise tomorrow and that nothing can obscure the fact that, in their harmonious companionship, lies the main hope of a world instrument for maintaining peace on earth and goodwill to all men".
Despite some recent fraying, that special relationship between Britain and America, as well as that among the whole "family of nations" comprising the English-speaking world or "Anglosphere," remains strong. It will likely remain so, long after vain attempts to create artificial "unions" in Europe and North America have been abandoned.

In the following column from today's Telegraph, John O'Sullivan shows us how prophetic Churchill was, as he reflects on the collaboration among military and intelligence officers throughout the English-speaking world.

A British-led Anglosphere in world politics?
By John O'Sullivan

This week Greg Sheridan, the foreign editor of the Australian, used his column to give a slightly embarrassed account of a successful coup.

He was embarrassed because the coup was his own work, political activism rather than reporting, and possibly involved more than one breach of confidence.

It began with his research for a book, The Partnership, on the US-Australian military and intelligence relationship, which is close and growing closer.

The more Sheridan examined this relationship, the more he was struck by something else: namely, "the astonishing, continuing, political, military, and intelligence closeness between Australia and Britain".

Even though Australia has little at stake in Europe and Britain only limited interests in the Pacific, everywhere Sheridan went in the US-Australia alliance, he found the Brits there, too: "Our special forces train with theirs, as we do with the Americans. Our troops on exchange with the Brits can deploy into military operations with them, an extremely rare practice, but something we also do with the Yanks.

"Australian liaison officers attend the most sensitive British intelligence meetings and vice versa, in arrangements of such intimacy that they are equalled only in our relationship with the US."
Sheridan was uneasy, however, because there was no formal alliance structure to give top-level political guidance to this effective but relaxed co-operation.

Events came to his aid: he was invited to a UK-Australia Dialogue in Canberra, attended by Tony Blair on a flying visit. At the reception, Sheridan buttonholed Blair, Australia's PM John Howard, foreign minister Alexander Downer, and almost anyone else who would listen to preach the necessity of a new UK-Australia security structure. He sensed they were unimpressed.

As he later discovered, however, at a cabinet meeting attended by Blair the next day, Downer proposed a new annual meeting of Australian and British foreign and defence ministers on the lines of their AUSMIN meetings with Washington. Blair responded enthusiastically - and AUKMIN now meets annually.

Well, an interesting little story, you may think, but hardly earthshaking. And if AUKMIN were an isolated incident, that would be a sensible response.

As Sheridan's account makes plain, however, AUKMIN merely brass-hatted an existing system of military and intelligence co-operation between Britain, Australia, and the US that was unusually intimate and extensive.

But the story rang several bells. I had recently been reading a Heritage Foundation study by the American writer James C. Bennett, in which he argued that such forms of developing co-operation were especially characteristic of English-speaking, common law countries such as, well, Britain, Australia and America.

There is a definite pattern to them. Citizens, voluntary bodies, companies, lower levels of government form their own networks of useful co-operation for practical purposes across national boundaries.
Over time, these networks become denser, more complementary, more useful, and more self-conscious, creating what Bennett calls a "network civilisation". In time, governments see the value of these networks and underpin them with new links - trade deals, military pacts, immigration agreements - creating what he calls a "network commonwealth".

Such network commonwealths may end up being more integrated - psychologically and socially, as well as economically - than consciously designed entities such as the EU.

If you want to know which countries the British feel really close to, check which ones they telephone on Christmas Day (Australia, Canada, New Zealand, America... but you knew that). Network commonwealths don't demand surrender of sovereignty, either.

Bennett calls the English-speaking network civilisation "the Anglosphere". This term, unknown in political circles a few years ago, now yields 39,700 entries on Google. As Christopher Hitchens pointed out in a recent article in the American City Journal, the idea is certainly in the air - and in respectable circles, too.

Its academic foundations are rooted in work demonstrating that England always had a more individualist culture than continental Europe, that the "civil society" tools of this culture were transmitted to the colonies settled from England, and that those countries have since not only prospered unusually, but also established a world civilisation rooted in liberalism.

Bennett in The Anglosphere Challenge makes unmistakably clear that it is English cultural traits - individualism, rule of law, honouring contracts, and the elevation of freedom - rather than English genes that explain this success.

These traits enable a society to pull off the difficult trick of combining trust with openness. Nations with different genetic backgrounds that adopt such traits seem to prosper more than their similar neighbours. Hence the Anglosphere includes India and the West Indies, as well as the "old Commonwealth".

The idea, lagging well behind the reality, is now seeping into politics. Last year Canada's prime minister, Stephen Harper, delivered an eloquent speech to the Australian parliament that praised the common British heritage linking both nations.

Even more significantly India's PM, Manmohan Singh, gave a speech at Oxford in 2005 that neatly stole the entire concept for New Delhi: "If there is one phenomenon on which the sun cannot set, it is the world of the English-speaking peoples, in which the people of Indian origin are the largest single component."

That raises a painful question. If Australians, Indians, Canadians, and even Americans can recognise the Anglosphere as a new factor in world politics, why is it something from which the Brits themselves shy?

To the best of my knowledge, the only politician to have embraced the idea is Lord Crickhowell, formerly David Howell, who held several ministries under Margaret Thatcher and who, from his City experience, knows that Britain's prosperity lies with the growing markets of Asia and North America.

Our fading Anglosphere ties give us an advantage over Europeans and other competitors there. If we were to pursue a deliberate strategy of strengthening such ties, we would discover a better "grand strategy" than the present muddled shuttling back and forth between Washington and Brussels, feeling a "poodle" to both.

Is our reluctance because we fear to touch anything that smacks of the empire? No such timidity restrained Singh.

Are we nervous that anything "English-speaking" might be thought incompatible with multiculturalism? Well, the first multicultural identity was the British one; today the Anglosphere spans every continent.

Is it politically dangerous as an alternative to Europe? That would only be true insofar as "Europe" failed to meet our needs - in which case we would need an alternative.

Or is it, as I suspect, that the Anglosphere offers us the prospect of national adventure that in our cultural funk we find too exciting - preferring to go back to the sleep of the subsidised?