Review of The Gathering Storm by Bill Doughty
Book One of Winston Churchill’s The Gathering Storm — From War to War 1919-1939 — shows how the seeds of WWII in Europe were planted in the ashes of WWI.
Churchill, known as one of the last century’s greatest orators, was also a writer with extraordinary analytical ability and insight. And, though he denied it, he was a historian who carefully documented events, speeches and testimony.
A “wow” moment in this book — which is on the Navy’s Professional Reading List — comes from Churchill’s writing in 1925 about the technical nature of War, past and present:
May there not be methods of using explosive energy incomparably more intense than anything yet discovered? Might not a bomb no bigger than an orange be found to possess a secret power to destroy a whole block of buildings — nay, to concentrate the force of a thousand tons of cordite and blast a township at a stroke? Could not explosives even of an existing type be guided automatically in flying machines by wireless or other rays, without a human pilot, in ceaseless procession upon a hostile city, arsenal, camp or dockyard? ... A study of Disease — of Pestilences methodically prepared and deliberately launched upon man and beast — is certainly being pursued in the laboratories of more than one great country. Blight to destroy crops, Anthrax to slay horses and cattle, Plague to poison not armies but whole districts —such are the lines along which military science is remorselessly advancing.
That was written in 1925 — 85 years ago.
Churchill provides historical forensics of events leading to WWII — examining the motives and actions of communists, socialists and followers of “Corporal Hitler.” He examines the consequences of actions by key players in the drama: British politicians, Italy, Spain, Russia, France and the United States.
He warns against paralysm in the name of pacifism, while still hoping for lasting peace in Europe.
He quotes passages from Mein Kampf and shows how Hitler’s unholy bible outlined a vision and agenda for Nazi true believers.
He shows the surprising opposition to building an air force in the Great Britain in the 1930s and the effects of a failure to understand, embrace and control new technologies.
Book Two, Twilight War shows the role of the British Navy at the dawn of the war.
This volume was written in 1948. WWII was still smoldering and the name “Second World War” was still fresh. Churchill saw it as a second Thirty Year War, part of the so-called Great War.
Churchill warns of wars to come in his preface:
One day President Roosevelt told me that he was asking publicly for suggestions about what the war should be called. I said at once “The Unnecessary War.” There never was a war more easy to stop than that which has just wrecked what was left of the world from the previous struggle. The human tragedy reaches its climax in the fact that after all the exertions and sacrifices of hundreds of millions of people and of the victories of the Righteous Cause, we have still not found Peace or Security, and that we lie in the grip of even worse perils than those we have surmounted. It is my earnest hope that pondering upon the past may give guidance in days to come, enable a new generation to repair some of the errors of former years and thus govern, in accordance with the needs and glory of man, the awful unfolding scene of the future.
Can new generations learn how to cherish and sustain the peace and security Churchill writes about? Can we give peace a chance without becoming vulnerable to extremists? Can we imagine a world capable of evolving?