Once the war was over, the story didn’t end—not for Winston Churchill, and not for the West. The fourth volume of Churchill’s series, The World Crisis: The Aftermath documents the fallout of WWI—including the Irish Treaty and the peace conferences between Greece and Turkey.
The period immediately after World War I was extremely chaotic—and it takes a genius of narrative description and organization to accurately and accessibly describe it for us. Churchill, who went on to receive a Nobel Prize in Literature, depicts the international disorganization and anarchy in the period immediately after the war—with the unique perspective of both a historian and a political insider.
“Whether as a statesman or an author, Churchill was a giant; and The World Crisis towers over most other books about the Great War.” —David Fromkin, author of A Peace to End All Peace
About the Author
Over a sixty-four-year span, Churchill published over forty books, many multi-volume definitive accounts of historical events to which he was a witness and participant. All are beautifully written and as accessible and relevant today as when first published.
During his fifty-year political career, Churchill served twice as Prime Minister in addition to other prominent positions—including President of the Board of Trade, First Lord of the Admiralty, Chancellor of the Exchequer, and Home Secretary. In the 1930s, Churchill was one of the first to recognize the danger of the rising Nazi power in Germany and to campaign for rearmament in Britain. His leadership and inspired broadcasts and speeches during World War II helped strengthen British resistance to Adolf Hitler—and played an important part in the Allies’ eventual triumph.
One of the most inspiring wartime leaders of modern history, Churchill was also an orator, a historian, a journalist, and an artist. All of these aspects of Churchill are fully represented in this collection of his works.
Read an Excerpt
'THE BROKEN SPELL'
Four Centuries of Persistency — The Pageant of Victory — Rejoicing and Reaction — The Masters of the World — An Armistice Dream — The Rendezvous — Russia — Germany's Opportunity — The New Arm — The New Nobility — Abnormal Conditions — An Unforeseeable Situation — The Shock of Peace — The Broken Spell.
The conclusion of the Great War raised England to the highest position she has yet attained. For the fourth time in four successive centuries she had headed and sustained the resistance of Europe to a military tyranny; and for the fourth time the war had ended leaving the group of small States of the Low Countries, for whose protection England had declared war, in full independence. Spain, the French Monarchy, the French Empire and the German Empire had all overrun and sought to possess or dominate these regions. During 400 years England had withstood them all by war and policy, and all had been defeated and driven out. To that list of mighty Sovereigns and supreme military Lords which already included Philip II, Louis XIV and Napoleon, there could now be added the name of William II of Germany. These four great series of events, directed unswervingly to the same end through so many generations and all crowned with success, constitute a record of persistency and achievement, without parallel in the history of ancient or modern times.
But other substantial advantages had been obtained. The menace of the German navy was destroyed and the overweening power of Germany had been for many years definitely set back. The Russian Empire which had been our Ally had been succeeded by a revolutionary government which had renounced all claims to Constantinople, and which by its inherent vices and inefficiency could not soon be a serious military danger to India. On the other hand, England was united with her nearest neighbour and oldest enemy — France — by ties of comradeship in suffering and in victory which promised to be both strong and durable. British and United States troops had fought for the first time side by side, and the two great branches of the English-speaking world had begun again to write their history in common. Lastly, the British Empire had stood every shock and strain during the long and frightful world convulsion. The Parliamentary institutions by which the life of the Mother Country and the self-governing Dominions found expression had proved themselves as serviceable for waging war as for maintaining freedom and progress in times of peace. The invisible ties of interest, sentiment and tradition which across all the waters of the world united the Empire had proved more effective than the most binding formal guarantees, and armies of half a million Canadians, Australians and New Zealanders had been drawn by these indefinable and often imperceptible attractions across greater distances than any armies had travelled before, to die and conquer for a cause and quarrel which only remotely affected their immediate material safety. All the peoples and all the creeds of India during the years of crisis had made in their own way a spontaneous demonstration of loyalty, and sustained the war by arms and money on a scale till then unknown. The rebellion in South Africa in 1914 had been repressed by the very Boer generals who had been our most dangerous antagonists in the South African War, and who had signed with us the liberating treaty of Vereeniging. Only in parts of Ireland had there been a failure and a repudiation, and about that there was a lengthy tale to tell.
The pageant of victory unrolled itself before the eyes of the British nation. All the Emperors and Kings with whom we had warred had been dethroned, and all their valiant armies were shattered to pieces. The terrible enemy whose might and craft had so long threatened our existence, whose force had destroyed the flower of the British nation, annihilated the Russian Empire and left all our Allies except the United States at the last gasp, lay prostrate at the mercy of the conquerors. The ordeal was over. The peril had been warded off. The slaughter and the sacrifices had not been in vain and were at an end; and the overstrained people in the hour of deliverance gave themselves up for a space to the sensations of triumph. Church and State united in solemn thanksgiving. The whole land made holiday. Triple avenues of captured cannon lined the Mall. Every street was thronged with jubilant men and women. All classes were mingled in universal rejoicing. Feasting, music and illuminations turned the shrouded nights of war into a blazing day. The vast crowds were convulsed with emotions beyond expression; and in Trafalgar Square the joy of the London revellers left enduring marks upon the granite plinth of Nelson's column.
Who shall grudge or mock these overpowering entrancements? Every Allied nation shared them. Every victorious capital or city in the five continents reproduced in its own fashion the scenes and sounds of London. These hours were brief, their memory fleeting; they passed as suddenly as they had begun. Too much blood had been spilt. Too much life-essence had been consumed. The gaps in every home were too wide and empty. The shock of an awakening and the sense of disillusion followed swiftly upon the poor rejoicings with which hundreds of millions saluted the achievement of their hearts' desire. There still remained the satisfactions of safety assured, of peace restored, of honour preserved, of the comforts of fruitful industry, of the home-coming of the soldiers; but these were in the background; and with them all there mingled the ache for those who would never come home.
Along the British lines in France and Belgium eleven o'clock had produced a reaction revealing the mysterious nature of man. The cannonade was stilled; the armies halted where they stood. Motionless in the silence the soldiers looked at each other with vacant eyes. A sense of awe, of perplexity, and even of melancholy stole coldly upon men who a few moments before had been striding forward in the ardour of hot pursuit. It was as though an abyss had opened before the conquerors' feet.
'Unarm! Eros! The long day's work is done.'
The fighting troops seemed for a time incapable of adjusting themselves to the abrupt relaxation of strain. So quiet were the forward camps on the night of victory that one would have thought they belonged to brave men after doing their best at last defeated. This wave of psychological depression passed as quickly as the opposite mood in Britain; and in a few days Home had become the foundation of all desires. But here again were disillusion and hope deferred.
On the night of the Armistice I dined with the Prime Minister at Downing Street. We were alone in the large room from whose walls the portraits of Pitt and Fox, of Nelson and Wellington, and — perhaps somewhat incongruously — of Washington then looked down. One of the most admirable traits in Mr. Lloyd George's character was his complete freedom at the height of his power, responsibility and good fortune from anything in the nature of pomposity or superior airs. He was always natural and simple. He was always exactly the same to those who knew him well: ready to argue any point, to listen to disagreeable facts even when controversially presented. One could say anything to him, on the terms that he could say anything back. The magnitude and absolute character of the victory induced a subdued and detached state of mind. There was no feeling that the work was done. On the contrary, the realisation was strong upon him that a new and perhaps more difficult phase of effort was before him. My own mood was divided between anxiety for the future and desire to help the fallen foe. The conversation ran on the great qualities of the German people, on the tremendous fight they had made against three-quarters of the world, on the impossibility of rebuilding Europe except with their aid. At that time we thought they were actually starving, and that under the twin pressures of defeat and famine the Teutonic peoples — already in revolution — might slide into the grisly gulf that had already devoured Russia. I suggested that we should immediately, pending further news, rush a dozen great ships crammed with provisions into Hamburg. Although the armistice terms enforced the blockade till peace was signed, the Allies had promised to supply what was necessary, and the Prime Minister balanced the project with favouring eye. From outside the songs and cheers of multitudes could be remotely heard like the surf on the shore. We shall see that different sentiments were soon to prevail.
On that November evening the three men at the head of Great Britain, the United States and France seemed to be the masters of the world. Behind them stood vast communities organised to the last point, rejoicing in victory and inspired with gratitude and confidence for the chiefs who had led them there. In their hands lay armies of irresistible might, and fleets without whose sanction no vessel crossed the sea upon or beneath the surface. There was nothing wise, right and necessary which they could not in unity decree. And these men had been drawn together across differences of nationality and interest and across distances on land and sea by the comradeship of struggle against a dreaded foe. Together they had reached the goal. Victory absolute and incomparable was in their hands. What would they do with it?
But the hour was fleeting. Unperceived by the crowd as by the leaders, the spell by which they had ruled was already breaking. Other forms of authority would presently come into play and much might yet be done. But for the supreme tasks, for the best solutions, for the most serviceable policies NOW was the only time.
These men must come together. Geographical and constitutional obstacles are mere irrelevancies. They must meet face to face and settle swiftly after discussion the largest practical questions opened by the total defeat of the enemy. They must relegate to a lower plane all feelings of passion roused in conflict, all considerations of party politics in the countries they represent, all personal desire to continue in power. They must seek only the best arrangements possible for the brave nations that had followed them, for a tormented Europe and an awe-struck world.
If they could come together they would face realities and discern the proportion of events. The German, Austrian and Turkish Empires and all the mighty forces that had held the victors in check so long had yielded themselves helpless and disarmed. But the task was unfinished. Other foes remained in the field; other impulsions challenged the authority of the victors and barred a fair settlement of the world's affairs. Well might they have bethought themselves of the Roman motto 'Spare the conquered and war down the proud.'
The reader may perhaps at this point be willing to study some speculative questions in a purely imaginary form. Let us then for a few moments leave the region of 'What happened' for those of 'What might have happened.' Let us dream one of the many Armistice dreams. It is only a dream.
The victory produced an astonishing effect upon President Wilson. His responsibility and glory lifted him above the peace-time partisanship in which so much of his life had been lived. At the same time it exercised a sobering effect upon his judgment of foreign countries and their affairs. As soon as he received the joint message of Lloyd George and Clemenceau proposing a meeting in the Isle of Wight (or perhaps it was Jersey) before the end of November, he realized that he must go, and that whatever had happened in the past he must go as the representative of the whole of the United States. He asked himself what his position would be in history if he pledged the faith of his country without warrant, or if what he promised in his country's name was not made good. So, in the very flush of success, he appealed to the Senate of the United States to fortify him with a delegation of their strongest men, having due regard to the Republican majority in that body. 'I cannot tell,' he said, 'how party affairs will develop in the next few years, but nothing compares with the importance of our bearing our part in the peace as our soldiers have borne theirs in the war. We have been drawn against our wish, against our whole tradition into the affairs of Europe. We have not entered without reason, we will not quit without honour.'
Clemenceau said (to himself) : 'I have got to think of the long safety of France. Not by our own exertions alone but by miracles we have been preserved. The greatest nations in the world have come to our aid and we are delivered out of the deadly peril. Never again can we hope for such aid. A thousand years will not see such fortunate conjunctures for France. Now is the appointed time for making friends with Germany and ending the quarrel of so many centuries. We, the weaker, have got them down; we, the conquerors, will lift them up.'
As for Lloyd George, he said: 'History will judge my record and will not find it unworthy. In order to win through in this war I have destroyed every political foundation by which I rose and on which I stood. But after all, life is a brief span, and all that matters is not to fall below the level of events upon the greatest occasions. The British people have good memories, and I shall trust to them.'
So these three men met within three weeks of the Armistice in the Isle of Wight (or was it Jersey?) and settled together the practical steps which should be taken to set the world on its feet again in an enduring peace.
Meanwhile the Delegation from the Senate of the United States proceeded direct to Paris and visited their armies at the front.
When the three men met together they found themselves in complete agreement that a League of Nations must be set up not as a Super-State but as a Super-Function above all the valiant and healthful nations of the world. But they saw that they could only plant a tree which would grow strong enough as the years passed by, and at their first meeting, which might have occurred on December 1, 1918, they agreed that a League of Nations must embrace all the dominating races of the world. This was their first Resolution. Wilson said, 'I can answer for the United States, because I have behind me both the great parties, the Republicans as well as my own Democrats.' Lloyd George said: 'I speak for the British Empire and am sustained by the Prime Ministers of all the self-governing Dominions; and moreover both Mr. Asquith and Mr. Bonar Law have consented to support me till the settlement is made, when it is my inflexible resolve to withdraw (I will not say for ever) from public affairs.' Clemenceau said: 'I am seventy-five years old and I am France.'
So they said: 'It is no use setting up a League of Nations without Russia, and Russia is still outside our jurisdiction. The Bolsheviks do not represent Russia, they represent an international conception of human affairs entirely foreign and indeed hostile to anything we know of civilisation; but the Russians stood by us in the worst of the war and we owe it to them that they have a fair chance of national self-expression.'
They then agreed to their second Resolution: The Russian people must be enabled to choose a national assembly before whom the present issues can be laid.
So they sent for Marshal Foch and asked him, 'What can you do about Russia?'
Foch replied: 'There is no great difficulty and there need be no serious fighting. A few hundred thousand American troops who are longing to play a part in events, together with volunteer units from the British (I am afraid he said "English") and French armies can easily with the modern railways obtain control of Moscow; and anyhow we hold already three parts of Russia. If you wish your authority to embrace the late Russian Empire for the purpose of securing the free expression of the Russian wish, you have only to give me the order. How easy this task will be to me and Haig and Pershing compared with restoring the battle of the 21st March or breaking the Hindenburg Line!'
But the statesmen said: 'This is not a military proposition only, it is world politics. To lay hands on Russia, although no doubt physically practicable, is morally too big a task for the victors alone. If we are to accomplish this it can only be with the aid of Germany. Germany knows more about Russia than anyone else. She is at this moment occupying as sole guarantee of civilised life the richest and most populous parts of Russia. Germany let Lenin loose on Russia. Ought she not to play her part in clearing up this whole eastern battlefield like the others?' And they said, 'This will be the opportunity for Germany. This will enable a proud and faithful people to avoid all humiliation in defeat. They will slide by an almost unconscious transition from cruel strife to natural cooperation with all of us. Nothing is possible in Europe without Germany and everything will be easy with her.'(Continues…)
Excerpted from "The World Crisis: Part IV The Aftermath 1918–1928"
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Table of Contents
I. 'The Broken Spell',
IV. Russia Forlorn,
VI. The Fourteen Points,
VII. The Peace Conference,
VIII. The League of Nations,
IX. The Unfinished Task,
X. The Triumvirate,
XI. The Peace Treaties,
XII. The Russian Civil War,
XIII. The Miracle of the Vistula,
XIV. The Irish Spectre,
XV. The Irish Settlement,
XVI. The Rise of the Irish Free State,
XVII. Turkey Alive,
XVIII. Greek Tragedy,
XX. The End of the World Crisis,