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Winston Churchill was born November 30, 1874. He tops most lists of the twentieth century’s greatest leaders, the consummate man of word and action. From May 1940 to America’s December 1941 entry into World War II, Churchill’s leadership rallied Britain against Nazi domination. Of all the countries of northern Europe, only Britain stood between Hitler and freedom.
It’s hard to imagine England resisting Germany’s onslaught without Churchill. British resistance was not a given. Other options were available, and many favored a negotiated peace. For readers wanting to become familiar with Churchill’s life but unable to invest the time it takes to read a lengthy biography, I recommend Winston Churchill: A Life by the late military historian John Keegan. This brief biography comes in at under 200 pages, but is full of insights into Churchill’s life and character. His was a life that combined physical and moral courage with leadership and oratorical gifts that persuaded a nation to fight.
“Ed Murrow [an American broadcast journalist] reflected that one of Churchill’s greatest achievements as wartime prime minister was to have ‘mobilized the English language and sent it into battle.’ . . .
“Churchill’s words did not only touch his people’s hearts and move the emotions of their future American allies; they also set the moral climate of the war. Hitler, a mob orator, spoke little after 1939. When he did so, it was to utter threats and insults, glorifying aggression, deriding his enemies. Churchill, by contrast, avoided threats, condemned few (though Mussolini, for some reason always provoked him to contempt). Instead he appealed to a commonality and nobility of sentiment that took liberty as its ideal and humanity as its spirit. He always spoke, moreover, as if the ideal of liberty, though particularly incarnate in wartime Britain, was shared by all who did not actively oppose it, in this way reaching out to embrace as allies, actual or potential, all those not on Hitler’s side. Thus, in a broadcast on June 12, 1941, he sent out a
‘message . . . to all the States or nations bound or free, to all the men in all the lands who care for freedom’s cause, to our allies and well-wishers in Europe to our American friends and helpers drawing ever closer in their might across the ocean: this is the message – Lift up your hearts. All will come right. Out of the depths of sorrow and sacrifice will be born again the glory of mankind.’
“Churchill’s message triumphed. It was perhaps the greatest of all his achievements. In 1940 his words captured the hearts of his people. In 1941, and in the years that followed, his words drowned out the drumbeat of totalitarianism that had dominated the airwaves of the dictator years, revived belief in democracy among the downtrodden, inspired a new patriotism in the defeated, created a new confidence, and transmitted a promise of victory that was believed. Morally, Churchill set the agenda of the Second World War.” (144-145)
Click here to listen to Churchill’s speeches. His poise, confidence, realism, and hope, along with an unsurpassed facility with the English language, make these audio recording one of history’s valuable treasures.
1843 was a momentous year in Presbyterian history. The founders of the Free Church of Scotland abandoned homes, incomes, and church buildings to uphold the spiritual independence of Christ’s church. Their courage captured the attention of the evangelical world, and bequeathed stirring testimonies of faith and fortitude to subsequent generations of Bible-believing Presbyterians.
Author Sandy Finlayson skillfully sketches the lives of ten of these leaders in Unity & Diversity: The Founders of the Free Church of Scotland. Bound together by love of the gospel, a high view of the authority of God’s word, confessional fidelity, and missionary outreach, these men nevertheless held a variety of opinions on controversial issues of the day: church union with other Presbyterian denominations, Roman Catholic emancipation, the evangelistic campaigns of Dwight L. Moody, and educational and social reforms in Scotland.
Conservative American Presbyterians should note the vigor with which several leader tackled widespread poverty, lack of educational opportunity, alcoholism, and other salient social ills. Their lives were spent among the people and for the people.
The author also recounts the personal foibles, bouts of pride, conflicts, and strained friendships – all helpful in reminding readers that there are no golden ages in church history when men were untouched by the frailties common to all. Until our Lord returns, learning to get along will prove hard work.
I enthusiastically recommend Unity and Diversity.
The pageantry of the 1936 Berlin Olympics was a triumph for Hitler’s propaganda machine. Evidences of the Reich’s virulent anti-semitism were swept from the streets. Gone for the duration of the games were the “Jews not welcome” signs in stores and shops. On display were the orderliness, architectural grandeur, and growing military muscle of Nazi Germany. Berlin would be the last Olympic contest until 1948, long after Hitler was dead and the city reduced to rubble.
Among the athletes competing in Berlin were Americans who became famous for not only their athletic skill, but their unconquerable courage: Jesse Owens, Glenn Cunningham, Louis Zamperini, and the men of the United States Olympic rowing team.
Daniel James Brown’s The Boys in the Boat tells the story of the University of Washington’s 8-oar crew team chiefly through the experiences of Joe Rantz, who overcame the death of his mother, expulsion from his family, grinding poverty, and Depression-era tumult to succeed as a rower, engineering student, and devoted husband and father. The other “boys” in the boat are profiled. Their stories are told against the background of preparations for the games in Berlin, and the propagandist Nazi film-making exploits of Leni Reifenstahl.
Before I read the book, I knew nothing about competitive rowing. Yet, my interest never wavered as the author described both the sport and the ingredients of a successful rowing team, not the least of which is physical strength. The author explains that “physiologists . . . have calculated that rowing a two-thousand-meter race – the Olympic standard – takes the same physiological toll as playing two basketball games back-to-back. And it exacts that toll in about six minutes.” (40)
But in addition to strength, the rowing coach must select for his team the young man with “the nearly superhuman stamina, the indomitable willpower, and the intellectual capacity necessary to master the details of technique,” and who also possessed “the ability to disregard his own ambitions to throw his ego over the gunwales, and to leave it swirling in the wake of his shell, and to pull not just for himself, not just for glory, but for the other boys in the boat.” (23)
Athletes, coaches, and all who enjoy an inspirational story will love this book.
Daniel James Brown, The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics. New York: Penguin Books, 2014.
Tomorrow is the 50th anniversary of the death of Winston Churchill, arguably the greatest leader of the 20th century. This brief video contains footage of his state funeral.
In yesterday’s National Review Online, Victor Davis Hanson argues that “the United States has never owed more to a foreign citizen than to Winston Churchill, a monumental presence 50 years after his death.”
Christian ministers seek the lost, proclaim God’s gospel of faith and repentance to all who will listen, and refuse pastoral care to no one who seeks it. Their commitment leads them to minister in dark places of human depravity. The prison complex of the Palace of Justice in Nuremberg, Germany was such a place.
Housed there in 1945-46 were prominent architects of the Nazi war machine and its “Final Solution,” standing trial for crimes against peace and humanity. With them was Missouri Synod Lutheran pastor and United States Army Chaplain Henry Gerecke, who provided pastoral care to the Protestants among them.
At age 50 Gerecke joined the U.S. Army Chaplain Corps. His years of leadership at City Mission in St. Louis were distinguished by care for the poor, the sick, and the imprisoned. His earnest devotion to the evangelical gospel led to many conversions.
After joining the Chaplain Corps, he worked in hospitals in England prior to receiving orders to go to Nuremberg. Tim Townsend’s Mission at Nuremberg admirably tells the story of Gerecke’s fears of facing monstrously evil men. Caring for their souls and for their families required subordinating his own moral revulsion to the demands of gospel ministry. In the early morning hours of April 16, 1946, he walked to the gallows with those condemned to die. He never wavered in pleading with them to be right with God through faith in Jesus Christ. During his year of ministry, some were led to faith; others died stedfast in their unbelief.
Not surprisingly, his ministry was sharply criticized by those who believed the accused should face their fates bereft of the care and compassion they denied their victims.
Mission at Nuremberg also remembers the ministry of Roman Catholic priest Sixtus O’Connor, age 36, who cared for the Catholics on trial. In the preceding months, O’Connor performed his chaplain’s duties amidst the extreme conditions of combat and ghastly concentration camps, recently liberated by Allied forces. While serving at two camps (Mauthausen and Gusen), he filed this report:
“From 8 May until 31 May  I conducted burial services for 1,834 inmates of Camp Mauthausen and for 1,0777 inmates of Camp Gusen. I also visited the hospitals of these two camps and administered the last rites of the Catholic Church to more than 2,000 patients. I found Catholic priests in both camps and secured Mass kits for them and with their help arranged for both daily and Sunday Mass in these Camps. My work still continues at both places.”
The author notes that O’Connor “made nearly forty trips to the camp cemeteries and buried about one hundred people with each service.” (208)
I recommend this book, but not without qualification. At several places the author strays from telling his story and launches into unhelpful forays on the veracity of biblical prophecy (106-7), theodicy (218-21), the documentary hypothesis (248-9), and the doctrine of salvation (286-7).
That said, this book provides much reflection for pastors who serve in communions like mine, committed to traditional pastoral care, and who confess that “as there is no sin so small, but it deserves damnation; so there is no sin so great, that it can bring damnation upon those who truly repent” (Westminster Confession of Faith, 15.4).
Tim Townsend, Mission at Nuremberg: An American Army Chaplain and the Trial of the Nazis. New York: William Morrow, 2014.
Until October, when I had to curtail my activities, I enjoyed listening to history lectures on my longer runs. Below are some of my favorites.
Series from The Teaching Company:
- The Conservative Tradition, Patrick Allitt
- Famous Greeks, Rufus Fears
- Famous Romans, Rufus Fears
- Robert E. Lee and His High Command, Gary Gallagher
- The American Mind, Allen Guelzo
Donald Kagan’s “Ancient Greek History” lectures are available for free through Open Yale Courses. Both audio and video are available. In one lecture he uses students to demonstrate the hoplite phalanx. The video is hilarious.
I remain an enthusiastic subscriber to Ken Myers’ Mars Hill Audio Journal, which “is committed to assisting Christians who desire to move from thoughtless consumption of contemporary culture to a vantage point of thoughtful engagement. “
The excerpt below comes from a 1774 speech by Edmund Burke after his election to represent Bristol in Parliament. He argues that a representative, as he makes laws in a deliberative assembly, is not bound to vote the mandates of those who elected him. Instead, he must exercise his mature judgment, which may lead him to vote contrary to the wishes of his constituency. If he is unable to persuade his constituency of the merits of his action, they may remove him. Accepting the risk of electoral defeat, the representative must lead.
Certainly, gentlemen, it ought to be the happiness and glory of a representative to live in the strictest union, the closest correspondence, and the most unreserved communication with his constituents. Their wishes ought to have great weight with him; their opinion, high respect; their business, unremitted attention. It is his duty to sacrifice his repose, his pleasures, his satisfactions, to theirs; and above all, ever, and in all cases, to prefer their interest to his own. But his unbiassed opinion, his mature judgment, his enlightened conscience, he ought not to sacrifice to you, to any man, or to any set of men living. These he does not derive from your pleasure; no, nor from the law and the constitution. They are a trust from Providence, for the abuse of which he is deeply answerable. Your representative owes you, not his industry only, but his judgment; and he betrays, instead of serving you, if he sacrifices it to your opinion.
Observes David Broomwich:
Burke’s strictures here contain the germ of a theory of representation that would later be invested with much authority by the American authors of the Federalist Papers. The theory holds that a legislator may gain, from experience in making laws, a knowledge hardly available to those who elect him. The people remain the source of ultimate power since they can turn a representative out of office. Meanwhile the representative is to follow the public good and bring to bear his understanding of the pragmatic means to attain that good. Answerable to the suffrage of opinion, he should be its guide and to its follower.
– Edmund Burke, “Mr. Burke’s Speech to the Electors of Bristol” in On Empire, Liberty, and Reform: Speeches and Letters, ed. by David Broomwich (Yale University Press, 2000), 50-57.