It happened today - July 26, 2015

Winston ChurchillThanks for beating Hitler. Now don’t let the doorknob hit you in the backside.

That was the disgraceful message British voters delivered to one W. Churchill on July 26, 1945 when the votes were counted and the Labour Party under Clement Atlee won an unexpected landslide on a promise to undermine British liberty.

Oh, they didn’t put it like that, of course. It was about the security “from cradle to grave” the brave British people had earned by their heroic resistance to Hitler. And I don’t doubt either that the populace had generally behaved heroically or that they were tired. But if freedom is what made Great Britain great, it was a seductive promise they should not have heeded.

Churchill himself tried to warn Britons of the path down which they were headed. Indeed some of his statements from the 1945 election, dismissed as shrill and hysterical at the time, have since proved all too accurate. And I cannot quite fathom the public reluctance, having ignored his warnings about Hitler in the 1930s until it was almost too late, to heed his warnings a decade later about socialism grinding down Britain and making life there dismal. It smacks of ingratitude as well as obtuseness. (It’s true that Churchill was returned to 10 Downing St. from 1951-55, but by then he was himself too tired to make a difference and the times were against him.)

He had lost none of his eloquence. It was the audience that failed him when in a Commons speech in October 1945 Churchill uttered his classic “The inherent vice of capitalism is the unequal sharing of blessings. The inherent virtue of Socialism is the equal sharing of miseries.” And when in Scotland in May 1948 he said “Socialism is the philosophy of failure, the creed of ignorance and the gospel of envy.”

The election result of 1945 had the additional ill effect of yanking Churchill from the Potsdam Conference with Stalin, leaving the unprepared Truman to face the evil Bolshevik dictator alone. Churchill himself, of course, was as clear on Soviet Communism as he had been on Naziism, giving a warning Americans did heed in 1947 about the Iron Curtain, whose prose still resonates today:

“A shadow has fallen upon the scenes so lately lighted by the Allied victory. Nobody knows what Soviet Russia and its Communist international organisation intends to do in the immediate future, or what are the limits, if any, to their expansive and proselytising tendencies…. We understand the Russian need to be secure on her western frontiers by the removal of all possibility of German aggression. We welcome Russia to her rightful place among the leading nations of the world. We welcome her flag upon the seas. Above all, we welcome constant, frequent and growing contacts between the Russian people and our own people on both sides of the Atlantic. It is my duty however, for I am sure you would wish me to state the facts as I see them to you, to place before you certain facts about the present position in Europe. From Stettin in the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic, an iron curtain has descended across the Continent. Behind that line lie all the capitals of the ancient states of Central and Eastern Europe. Warsaw, Berlin, Prague, Vienna, Budapest, Belgrade, Bucharest and Sofia, all these famous cities and the populations around them lie in what I must call the Soviet sphere, and all are subject in one form or another, not only to Soviet influence but to a very high and, in many cases, increasing measure of control from Moscow…. The Communist parties, which were very small in all these Eastern States of Europe, have been raised to pre-eminence and power far beyond their numbers and are seeking everywhere to obtain totalitarian control. Police governments are prevailing in nearly every case, and so far, except in Czechoslovakia, there is no true democracy.”

Churchill also commented tersely in 1949 that “the strangling of Bolshevism at its birth would have been an untold blessing to the human race.” (Evidently with more than Reaganesque foresight he also, in 1953, told a young aide named John Colville that if Colville lived a normal lifespan he would see Eastern Europe free from Communism.) And he was an early alarmist about radical Islam as well.

Given his record it is tragic that his warnings about socialism went unheeded and, unconquerable from without, Britain was hollowed out from within.

I cannot say how different things would have been if Churchill had won the 1945 election. But I hope I would have voted for him if I’d been there at the time. How could you not?