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Hugh Hewitt Book Club

Dr. Larry Arnn On Chapter Two of Churchill’s Trial: A More Terrible Kind Of War

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HH: On Monday, I’ll be broadcasting from inside the Beltway at the inaugural broadcast from the new studios at the Kirby Center, the lighthouse of the lighthouse that is Hillsdale College’s center in the middle of Washington, D.C. in the shadow of the Capitol, and I’ll be joined not only the last hour of this week, but the first hour of next week, by my guest, Dr. Larry Arnn. Looking forward to seeing you in D.C. on Monday, Dr. Arnn.

LA: Yeah, we decided we had to build you a house down there.

HH: I haven’t, I hope it works. You know, we left Duane and your crowd in charge of that.

LA: Yeah, yeah.

HH: So I’m not really sure it’s going to…

LA: Well, we’ll, we got somebody to blame, Hugh.

HH: We do. Okay, good, that’s all we need.

DP: Thanks, Dr. Arnn.

LA: (laughing)

HH: (laughing) Yeah, we’re going to throw him under the bus the right way. Dr. Arnn, it is with great pleasure that our first segment, though, is given over to some remarks made by a friend of yours, the right honorable Speaker of the House of the Representatives, Paul Ryan. And I wonder what your thoughts were upon seeing him get the gavel this week?

LA: Well, I was very proud, very glad, glad on several levels. You know, he still has the doing of the job before him, and that’s not easy. But one of my views about all this is that the House has to come together, and the Senate, too, and act like a Congress and pass things, because their inability to pass anything except continuing resolutions stops them from having any real restraint influence on the executive branch. So Paul Ryan demanded that the Speakership be reinforced so that they can have regular order, and the House has agreed to that. And so first of all, that’s great. And second, I think that the things he’s going to try to do are for the most part the right things, and way in the most part, and so good for him. It’s a big deal. I hope he, I wish him every success.

HH: You know, one of the big deals about it is he believes in the power of words. And we’re talking about your new book, Churchill’s Trial: Winston Churchill And The Salvation Of Free Government, and we will be talking about Chapter Two today, which begins in the Sudan and ends in the battle trenches of World War I, really. And there are a lot of words in there and about it, and Paul Ryan did not speak lightly. Let’s play a little bit about this, cut number one, the new Speaker, on addressing his colleagues.

PR: Now I know how he felt. It’s not until you hold this gavel, stand in this spot, look out and see all 435 members of this House as if all of America is sitting right in front of you, it’s not until then that you feel it – the weight of responsibility, the gravity of the moment. You know, as I stand here, I can’t help but think of something Harry Truman once said. The day after Franklin Roosevelt died, Truman became president, and he told a group of reporters if you ever pray, pray for me now. When they told me yesterday what had happened, I felt like the Moon, the stars and all the planets had fallen on me. We should all feel that way. A lot is on our shoulders. So if you ever pray, let’s pray for each other – Republicans for Democrats, and Democrats for Republicans.

HH: An interesting way to begin, Larry Arnn.

LA: Yeah, he’s, and so there’s gravity there, and that’s the point, right? In great moments in American history, the greatest acts ever passed by the Congress have been bipartisan acts. You know, you think of the Homestead Act, and the Northwest Ordinance, and you know, there’s some fantastic things that have gotten through the, you know, the Civil War Amendments, and those were bipartisan things. Now that doesn’t mean everybody in both parties voted for them, but they had strong support in both parties. And we’ve got problems today, and so it’s right for him to appeal for that and to work for it.

HH: He went on to appeal more and to ask for more prayer, cut number two:

PR: And I don’t mean pray for a conversion, all right? Pray for a deeper understanding, because when you’re up here, you see it so clearly. Wherever you come from, whatever you believe, we are all in the same boat. I never thought I’d be Speaker, but early in my life, I wanted to serve this House. I thought this place was exhilarating, because here, you can make a difference. If you had a good idea, if you worked hard, you could make it happen. You could improve people’s lives. To me, the House of Representatives represents what’s best of America, the boundless opportunity to do good. But let’s be frank. The House is broken. We’re not solving problems. We’re adding to them. And I am not interesting in laying blame. We are not settling scores. We are wiping the slate clean.

HH: Do you think that’s possible, Dr. Larry Arnn?

LA: Over time, yeah, I do. I think, you know, so Ryan, like what, his chief strength, he has many, but his chief strength is there are two big things about the American government from before. One is the entitlement state, and one is the regulatory state. Paul Ryan’s chief work has been in the former. He wants to convert the entitlement programs into things that we can own that can put our security in our own hands. He doesn’t want more and more people depending on revenue streams from the government. He wants more and more people having insurance that puts a floor under them. These are the politics of Winston Churchill. And so, and he’s thought that through eighteen ways to Sunday, more than anybody I know. And so he’s going to go to work on that, I imagine, and I hope he does. And over time, a consensus could be built around that, because it’s obvious a great thing to do.

HH: Now there’s one more thing that he says, I want you to comment on specifically. It’s about something you referenced earlier, and it’s his charge to the House, cut number three:

PR: Neither the members nor the people are satisfied with how things are going. We need to make some changes starting with how the House does business. We need to let every member contribute, not once they’ve earned their stripes, but now. I come at this job as a two-time committee chair. The committees should retake the lead in drafting all major legislation. If you know the issue, you should write the bill. Let’s open up the process. Let people participate. And they might change their mind. A neglected minority will gum up the works. A respected minority will work in good faith. Instead of trying to stop the majority, they might try to become the majority. In other words, we need to return to regular order.

HH: So there you have it, Larry Arnn, the magic words. I just wonder, though, having just jammed through another massive bill that nobody read, whether or not this is possible.

LA: Well, the government’s too big for it to work the way it used to, but it can work along that way to get it, gradually help get it under control. So what he’s talking, what regular order means, it means this. The big committees are, you know, the Speaker’s office, not a committee, and the then the Steering Committee that puts members on committees, so it has a lot of power, and the Rules Committee that channels bills to places. And then there are big, Ways and Means Committee, which does tax policy, and then there are these big, twelve big Appropriations Committees and their subcommittees. And if they will pass their bills, those 12 big committees, and in one of those, and in Ways and Means would be where entitlement reform would happen, then they can have a much larger influence on what happens on the executive branch. And the House of Representatives has its own interest in that. James Madison writes about the reason checks and balances will work is that the bodies, the House and the Senate, and the executive branch, will all be naturally jealous of their powers. And so what Ryan is calling on the House to do is to find the unity in the effort to reclaim its native powers and be more important again. And that has operated in most of American history. It’s offset some now by the bureaucracy, a whole new fourth branch of government that’s something different. But they should try to get that back, and that’s what he’s calling for.

HH: And a last bit of him before we turn to Churchill, cut number seven on his vision.

PR: You know, I often, I often talk about a need for a vision. I’m not sure I ever really said what I meant. We solve problems here, yes. We create a lot of them, too. But at bottom, we vindicate a way of life. We show by our work that free people can govern themselves. They can solve their own problems. They can make their own decisions. They can deliberate, collaborate and get the job done. We show that self-government is not only more efficient and more effective, it’s more fulfilling. In fact, she show it is that struggle, that hard work, that very achievement itself that makes us free.

HH: That’s a great vision. We’ll talk about it with Dr. Larry Arnn and about his brand new book, Churchill’s Trial. Everything Hillsdale is available at www.hillsdale.edu. Stay tuned, America.

— – – – –

HH: Dr. Arnn, does it have a name?

LA: The radio station?

HH: The studio at the Kirby Center.

LA: No. We’re going to talk about that. We, it could be, well, I have one idea. We just opened a low power radio station that people will eventually be available to listen to on the internet that’s going to be run by our students, and that’s called Radio Free Hillsdale.

HH: (laughing)

LA: (laughing) And so we might call, we might call this something like Voice of America, you know, accused of broadcast behind the Iron Curtain. (laughing)

HH: Yes (laughing). Well, there are many mischievous things. I look forward to talking about that on Monday. There’s a lot going on at Hillsdale, by the way. They are in weeks four of the six week Churchill online course, and then next week, there’s a new course on C.S. Lewis, including lectures from Dr. Arnn, Dr. Whalen, Dr. Michael Ward, terrific C.S. Lewis scholar from Oxford. We’ll be talking about that in the weeks ahead, but let’s go back to Churchill’s Trial. You know, I want this to sound the right way. I’ve always admired your writing, and I’ve always enjoyed our friendship. But now, I’m impressed with how much work went into this book. This is, it was not lightly done, was it? It required, Chapter Two: A More Terrible Kind of War, you’ve touched on a few of these themes with me over the years in these dialogues, but it all comes together here, that Churchill looked round the corner in his charge of the light infantry into the dervishes, and saw the future.

LA: Yeah, yeah, it, this book has nearly killed me, and you know, right now, I’m in the temper I’m never going to write another book in my life. It’s very, it’s partly a punishment, Hugh, because when the people at Thomas Nelson, now owned by Harper Collins, came to see me about writing for them, I said I don’t have time to write a book. And they said yes, you do, you’ve got to do it. And then they said they wanted me to write a book about the Declaration of Independence, which I’ve written a lot about, but I said you know, that’ll be harder for me. I’m the one who knows the most about Churchill among all of my friends, and I’ve been studying it for 40 years. That would be easier. It was hopeless. It nearly killed me to write this book, so anyway, yeah, I’m…

HH: No, but you know what it shows? It shows that when you teach something for, I don’t know how many years you’ve been teaching Churchill, 20 years to the students, and you’ve been reading him for 40 years, that you know what the most important things are. Then you just have to organize them the right way and to put the appropriate reflection on them. But you were able to grab a 1924 essay, a 1914 diary entry, and an argument with Lord Kitchener from 20 years earlier and make them all make sense. It is only something that can come from that long a period of time.

LA: Yeah, well, I argue that Churchill made a lot of sense, and you know, most, many historians today don’t think he did. They think he was just an opportunist who was very glib and wrote a lot, and went from thing to thing and changed his mind all the time. And I don’t think so, and one of the reasons is I find this amazing continuity through time about what I think are the main things of his life. And one of those is about war. And I can remember 400 years ago being, the first thing I ever read by Winston Churchill was The World Crisis, his story of the First World War. And the first four pages of it are just awesome. But also, they’re about the terrible war, about how awful it was, about how it should have been avoided. And so here’s this guy, famous at the great war leader, and he’s writing about how bad war is.

HH: Oh, I’ve got to read those two paragraphs that you quote on Page 35-36 from the World Crisis. “The wounded died between the lines. The dead moldered into the soil. Merchant ships and neutral ships and hospital ships were sunk on the seas, and all on board left to their fate or killed as they swam. Every effort was made to starve whole nations into submission without regard to age or sex. Cities and monuments were smashed by artillery. Bombs from the air were cast down indiscriminately. Poison gas in many forms stifled or seared the soldiers. Liquid fire was projected upon their bodies. Men fell from the air in flames where others were smothered often slowly in the dark recesses of the sea. The fighting strength of armies was limited only by the manhood of their countries. Europe and large parts of Asia and Africa became one vast battlefield on which after years of struggle not armies but nations broke and ran. When all was over,” you conclude in quoting Churchill, “Torture with a capital T and Cannibalism with a capital C were the only two expedients that the civilized scientific Christian states have been able to deny themselves, and these were of doubtful utility.” Wow.

LA: (laughing)

HH: See, I never read The World Crisis. I always thought oh, World War I, I’m not going to read World War I.

LA: Yeah.

HH: But I guess you need to.

LA: Well, he had predicted this, too, see, and he tried so hard. It took me a long time to give sufficient credence to it. He tried so hard to prevent that war. He proposed a naval holiday where they wouldn’t build any more navy ships for a period of time, like a nuclear freeze kind of equivalent. He tried everything to keep this thing from happening. And then when it happened, you know, I mean, just think, you’ve seen movies or read, everybody has, about the trenches in World War I. And what was that like? The body count was extremely high. And in between the charges, men, in huge numbers, lived in the mud for month after month. And it was just the most miserable kind of war. And Churchill tried to get it stopped. And so he helped to invent the tank. He tried to go around to the Dardanelles and make a great sort of continent-wide flanking maneuver that didn’t work, and then he argued hard in 1916, and in 1917 and in 1918, let’s not make these attacks. And that was a hard thing to say, because Germany was occupying much of France, which they had conquered before the trenches were built. And so he would say even so, better to wait than to sacrifice our young people. And that’s a reaction, as you started by saying, that Churchill had from the first big battle he ever saw in the Sudan in 1898. He was horrified by that battle.

HH: We’re going to talk about that after the break, but I have to say before we go to the break, this is the second most depressing thing I’ve ever read, Chapter Two. The first most depressing thing I have ever read was by Charles Krauthammer, who in one of his essays in his great bestseller, and I hope Churchill’s Trial is as great a bestseller as Krauthammer’s book was, is that we have not made contact, perhaps, with other civilizations because they reach a certain point and they destroy themselves. And at the end of A More Terrible Kind Of War, Chapter Two, that’s kind of where Churchill leaves you believing we’re going.

LA: Yeah, he does. That’s right. He, you know, there’s a paragraph he wrote in 1925, and this what that year is, right? That’s between the two great wars, between the second one where he won his glory, and he writes an essay entitled Shall We All Commit Suicide?

HH: It’s just amazing, an amazing essay.

LA: Yes, it is.

HH: And he meant it.

LA: Oh, yeah.

HH: He meant it.

LA: Yeah, he thought that’s possible. He, at the end of his career, one of the last big speeches he gave in the House of Commons, is about deterrence and nuclear weapons. And it ends in hope, as everything in Churchill’s life does, but early in the speech, it’s right after the hydrogen bomb, which is a multiple in power of the atomic bomb, has been exploded by the United States. And he says when Mr. Sterling Cole announced the hydrogen bomb, we entered a period in human history both measureless and laden with doom.

HH: Doom, and that is reproduced in Chapter, like I said, the second most depressing chapter I have ever read.

— – – —

HH: I have to tell you a small irony, Dr. Arnn. Today as I was making my notes for this, I was reading two books on the airplane, one by Stuart Stevens, who preceded you, Mitt Romney’s senior strategist, and the other, yours. And up wandered a fairly significant figure in American history, Bob Woodward, and he introduced himself. And we had talked last week on the air. And we were chatting about this and about that, and I was thinking to myself, you know, we were talking about politics, minor things about politics. But what your book had just brought me back to is that the minor things of politics really don’t matter, because this awe-inspiring power that Churchill worries about so much is lurking in the background. And today, the President committed troops to Syria…

LA: Yeah.

HH: …which is, it’s, it is an amazing kind of fulcrum. And didn’t Churchill draw the lines of Syria?

LA: Well, Churchill thought, yeah, he did.

HH: Oh, there you go (laughing)

LA: But that doesn’t, you know, what Churchill did was he brought a sense to things that some places are more important than others, and some opportunities more important than others, and one should seize only the most important ones. So he didn’t go into Syria, and he got his country out of Iraq after they inherited that territory and built Iraq after the First World War. And so what’s the right thing to do depends on all the circumstances. And look, we were in Iraq four years ago, and we had it relatively pacific, and we left, and left everything behind. And so in recent months, Iraq has invited Russia to come in, because there’s a vacuum, and they’re getting torn to pieces.

HH: And I bring this up because I want to commend to the reader why they need to read this book is because Churchill, about whom it is written, spent his young years in Afghanistan frontier, then went to the Sudan to fight a Mahdi army not unlike that of ISIS which we are dispatching American troops to fight today with different weaponry.

LA: That’s right.

HH: It’s actually quite remarkably congruent.

LA: Yeah, and see, it’s a feature of strategy, just like the first rule of economics is there are scarce resources and unlimited wants. The first rule of strategy is there’s always more danger than you can cope with. And so the first thing is to understand that and cope with all the dangers efficiently, and pick the ones you must cope with. And so I don’t, you know, I don’t know right now whether it’s a good idea to go into Syria. What I do know is if it’s a good idea to go into Syria, it was probably a bad idea not to leave 5,000 troops in Iraq.

HH: And what I do know is that Churchill understood the nature of the Islamist extremist. After reading Chapter Two, again, because you quote from the River War, and I cannot read this, it’s too long, but he had his finger on the ideology. And he had great respect for the individual Islamist warrior, but he had an absolute appreciation for where the society would go.

LA: He thought that the way Islam was operating, and Churchill, you know, by the way, believed that people of the Islamic faith have their rights, and those rights should be protected, or certainly should not be offended by anybody, that’s wrong. But he thought that the way the religion was operating was it wasn’t good for the people who lived under it, because it was despotic in its nature. And you know, my own view is it doesn’t have to be that way, and I celebrate the places where it’s not, and hope that those places will be everywhere.

HH: Let me quote a paragraph that Dr. Arnn writes in Churchill’s Trial, Chapter Two. “The Mahdi is not hard for us to understand today, for his progeny are with us. His great-grandson, Sadiq Mohammed, is among the current rulers of Sudan with his brother-in-law, Hassan al-Turabi, gave none other than Osama bin Laden his education in jihadist doctrine and terror. The Northern Sudan’s government operates today under the principles of the Mahdi. It has the despotism of clerics, the oppression of women, the hostility to other faiths, and the propensities to violence that have been the hallmark of theocratic republics operating now in several places. Churchill went to the Sudan to fight the prototype of these regimes against which today, Britain, the United States, and other countries wage war.” He went there a 117 years ago.

LA: (laughing) Isn’t that funny?

HH: (laughing) Yes, it is, and he learned this 117 years ago.

LA: Yeah.

HH: It’s…

LA: Well, he’s a very remarkable fellow, and he, you know, it’s amazing, too, that he wrote all this up. You know, if you want to see, Churchill was 26 years old, roughly, 25 years old when he wrote a book called The River War, which is one of his best books.

HH: Oh, it’s, yeah.

LA: And it’s his third book. And you know, and the first book about the war in Afghanistan is also good. The River War is an achievement, I think, and it, the criteria by which he thought about war all his life is evident in The River War, and fully evident.

HH: Stay with us, America, I’ll be right back with Dr. Larry Arnn.

— – – —

HH: Now I have been a friend of Dr. Arnn’s for a long time, so I may critique him. First of all, I have the reader’s copy. I’m sure this is corrected in the final copy where a paragraph is repeated, which is very, very hard on a reader when you read the same paragraph twice. You think you’re really blurry or you’re falling asleep, but that’s probably been corrected. The error, it’s not an error, it’s an omission. And I never realized that maybe it was a purposeful omission. I have to count that as a possibility with you, is that Chinese Gordon, the great British general, was beheaded by the Mahdi, and it took Great Britain 14 years to get after the guy.

LA: Yeah.

HH: And I had never, I always assumed they did it in the next year. Why did it take 14 years?

LA: Well, you couldn’t get there from here. And it, the, Khartoum is you know, south up the Nile from Alexandria where the Nile empties into the Mediterranean, and the distance is a thousand miles. And much of the Nile is too shallow to pass And so they learned from the attempt to rescue Gordon before he was beheaded, but with the use of a camel corps, that to try to cross the desert for that distance against opposition, they just got chopped to pieces. And you know, Gordon was, and many of the people who were killed at Khartoum were known to Lord Kitchener, and so he, and many in the army, resolved to get that fixed. But it was hard to do, and it took a long time. And they had to build a railway. What they did was they put a railway, and an army on boats in Alexandria, sailed down or steamed down the place where the Nile got shallow, and then they built a railway for 200 miles around the shallows. Then they put everything on the railway and moved it down, and then put it back on the boats and then took a modern army to Khartoum. That’s why it took 14 years.

HH: And I’ve got to read your lines on this. Again, this is from Larry Arnn’s new book, Churchill’s Trial. “Experts told Lord Kitchener that one part of the railway could not be built. And he ordered it to be built anyway. Churchill praised Kitchener for this order more strongly than for anything else. It was an act of moral courage, and it was the heart of the matter. After it was accomplished, the British transported all the modern implements of war, including gunboats over this railway, to the scene of the battle. Once the railway was complete, the Dervishes were doomed.” Now I want to go back to that. Churchill praising this order more strongly than anything else, it was an act of moral courage. Why is it an act of moral courage to override your engineers?

LA: Well, because he meant to get the thing done. He regarded it as just to avenge Gordon, and he was ordered to do it after he had advocated it, too. And so you know, there’s risk. And it’s a commander’s kind of risk. You know, even by this time, in earlier periods in war, generals were at risk of death. You know, the very great general Hancock, who got there with the first troops to relieve Buford the Cavalry guide at Gettysburg, was killed in 20 minutes after he got there with his soldiers.

HH: Yeah.

LA: And he saved the Union by running down the road to relief. So anyway, they were in danger, right? And in Kitchener’s time, generals are not in much danger. They’re only in moral danger. That is to say what if they had tried to build that railway, and they had failed, and they had been attacked and chopped up in the course of trying to build it? That would have been entirely the general’s fault, and he would have been disgraced and responsible for the death of many people. That’s why it was courageous.

HH: And that’s why people need to read Chapter Two, mass effects. “Calm sits the general,” you write Churchill writing. “He is the manager of a stock market or a stockyard.” And he’s very aware that generals are not, they don’t see what they’re doing anymore. They’re moving markers around.

LA: Yeah, he says, he describes them following the battle on a tickertape machine, you know, which used to be the way you knew what the stock market was doing. And it is a stock market or a stockyard, he says. And that was sort of, you know, he wrote very strongly about General Haig and the other commanders of the First World War for the incredible scale of casualties they took. And Churchill makes this point. They did it in part on a strategic calculation who’s going to run out of young men first, us or the Germans?

HH: Wow. But you know, I wonder if he would have admiration for the Petraeus and the McChrystals and especially the Mattis and the Odiernos and all the others who have been at the front, I mean, they fought from the front, even though strategically, they have to go to their headquarters and plan from, they made sure they went to the front a lot.

LA: He would love many of those guys in the modern American army, because they loved to move. You know, the American Army is a movement army. You know, there have been many phases in the military art, and there have been times when movement was the king, and times when fortification was the king. Churchill always favors movement, because he says wars are won by a combination of slaughter and maneuver. This is a quote. The greater the general, the more he contributes in maneuver, and the less he extracts in slaughter. So those great charges of the American military up Iraq? That’s just Churchill’s cup of tea, right?

HH: When we come back next week, we’re at the end of our time now, tell me that it gets better, because as I said, second most depressing chapter I’ve ever read, but the Statesman’s Virtue is ahead.

LA: The last words in the House of Commons were never flinch, never weary, never despair. Of course, it gets better.

HH: (laughing) Okay, it’s really, if I were Paul Ryan and I were reading this book and I stopped, and you know, you get elected Speaker and you read the first two chapters, you go back in and turn in the gavel, Larry Arnn (laughing).

LA: (laughing)

HH: And your poor students, I wonder if they, if at the end of a year of this, because Churchill had accomplished so much at the age of 26, I left that paragraph out because we’re out of time, the man had written three books, he’d lost an election, he’d won an election, he’d fought in four wars, he’d been a hero. Don’t they feel small at the age of 22 when they read about Churchill?

LA: No, no, these are Hillsdale College students. They came here, because the place is hell. They feel ambitious.

HH: Well, it is, it’s still, does anyone have, we have a minute, does anyone have a record in modern times to parallel Churchill’s first quarter century?

LA: No, I don’t know of anybody. You know, Teddy Roosevelt, kind of, but not to parallel. And I mean, he’s, you know, you’re just going to have to get used to the fact you can disagree with Churchill. You can think that my making a theme, the great themes of his life, making them out to be great in themes, is wrong. But you’ve just got to admit who can you think of whoever did all of this?

HH: It’s not even, there isn’t anything close. We will be back next week to continue, America, Churchill’s Trial. But on Monday, we’re talking about the new Kirby Center and its mission in D.C., so don’t miss the first hour of next week. This was the Hillsdale Dialogue, the last hour of this week, but we sure to be here on Monday. Thank you, Dr. Larry Arnn.

End of interview.

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