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Dr. Larry Arnn On Winston Churchill Up To The End Of World War II

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HH: It is that hour of the week again for the Hillsdale Dialogues that I know many of you look forward to, to end your work week and begin your weekend. I am always joined by Dr. Larry Arnn, president of Hillsdale College or one of his many colleagues. And we began this in January, and we took a detour nine weeks ago, and we will conclude next week after ten weeks of talking about the epic life of Winston Churchill. And it was timely, because of the crisis in which we find ourselves right now. Today, we are going to cover from the moment of breakout on the peninsula of Normandy through the end of the war and the turning out of office of Winston Churchill. But before we go there, Dr. Arnn, I am curious if you had thoughts about leadership when you watched the president of the United States yesterday fumble, obviously not in command of what’s going on, and then using extra-Constitutional measures to try and, as Mark Steyn said it, play King Cnut to the waters of the Obamacare disaster?

LA: (laughing) Isn’t Mark Steyn good?

HH: Yeah, he’s very good.

LA: Yeah, well, what’s wrong with all of this is the spirit of the thing is wrong. And we can talk about Churchill in this regard, because Churchill, you know, was for national health insurance. But what is the spirit of the thing? The spirit is, you know, he said in his, three or four days ago, Obama said that we’re all going to some trouble so that an extra 40 million people can have health care. Well, first of all, that 40 million people includes all kinds of young people who don’t have any particular interest in it, and not a great need for it. And second of all, there are in place enormous things like, for example, here in little Hillsdale, Michigan, our local hospital, like very hospital in the land, has got to treat people who work into its, who walk into its emergency room whether they have any money or not.

HH: Yeah.

LA: And that’s been the law in America for more than a decade, I can’t remember when. But I happen to know that they spend two or three million dollars a year doing that in this little hospital right here.

HH: Yeah.

LA: So right now, nobody in America is perishing because there’s no access to health care for them because they can’t afford it. And so you know, my son got his cancellation notice three weeks ago, and my son is, you know, particularly responsible, and he’s, what, 26 years old, 28 years old now. I can’t remember how old my son is, my elder son. And he’s buying health care, but there’s not real reason why he needs it, and he lost his. So the spirit of the thing is that it has to be uniform across the land, it has to be centrally controlled, which by the way, depreciates the ability of people to take, to make decisions for themselves. And if you put those two things together, you have bureaucratic government. And of course it’s bound to be messy. Bureaucratic government is famously messy.

HH: We also had a comment yesterday, I cannot remember who made it, but the period of time in which they have had to prepare, from the moment of the passage, or the introduction of the law through the attempted rollout this week is longer than it took from Pearl Harbor to the end of the war, and they were not ready. In the same amount of time that Great Britain, the United States and its allies massed, deployed and crushed the opposition in World War II, they just, this is government on the domestic level, Larry Arnn. It is not any good at this.

LA: Yeah, and you know, if you, it’s like the corollary to the Larry Arnn rule that if you see a beautiful building in Washington, what’s going on inside it is Constitutional, and the reverse is true.

HH: It’s a great rule.

LA: It’s true. But it’s also true that the things that are in the Constitution for the government to do, it is naturally good at them, although, by the way, it’s not as good at them as it used to be, because it’s doing so much else.

HH: You know, you just reminded me, though, that I believe that the Department of Commerce is in the Ronald Reagan building. And does a building’s name in any way enhance its beauty?

LA: No.

HH: Okay, because I was going to say (laughing)…

LA: (laughing)

HH: There’s not much going on that’s Constitutional. Now go to the President’s declaration yesterday. This is not a prime ministerial system. We’ve been talking about a great prime minister in a period of crisis, but the President simply declared, he made another unilateral charge in changing the law, of which they are legion now, across many different statutes. We are living in a lawless era of a presidency unbound, and nobody actually seems to notice in the White House Press Corps.

LA: If you understand the British Constitution the way Winston Churchill, that would not be possible in the British system. And Churchill conceived, in the British system, the executive branch is appointed by the House of Commons, by the majority party, its leaders, form the executive branch. And the prime minister is kind of like the president, not fully. And then there’s the chancellor of the exchequer who’s like the secretary of the Treasury, not fully, and actually more powerful than that, blah, blah. Well, that way that came to be, by the way, was in the sweep of English history, the Parliament became gradually more powerful, and the king, who was appointing ministers, began to have to consult them, the Parliament, on who the ministers would be. And then the next thing you know, the ministers have to be members of the Parliament, and the House of Commons. And then the next thing you know, the House of Commons is appointing them. So they used to have separation of powers, but it got gobbled up. Churchill’s understanding is that the House of Commons especially, the activity of debate in the House of Commons, is what rides herd on the executive branch. And the ministers who are appointed by the House may not control the debates of the House. The House gets to argue about things. And if you go back to the roots of this Obamacare thing, it was done on weekends at Midnight on repeated weekends. It was done on straight party line votes. And it was done during a time when the public in a series of off-year elections and in polls were showing its great dissatisfaction with the whole process.

HH: That is profound. What’s interesting about that is yesterday, I was bemoaning, I like Fred Upton a lot. He may in fact be your Congressman. I’m not sure if Chairman…

LA: North of here.

HH: Yeah, just north of there.

LA: Yeah.

HH: He’s a great and a good man, but his bill, which will be voted on today, was not posted. It was not debated. It was crafted inside of closed rooms on Capitol Hill in an effort by the Republican staff to outthink the Obama staff, et cetera. Again, and I argued this out yesterday with a few friends of the administration, this is not the way to do things.

LA: No. Another point from Churchill, and these points that I’m making are definitely applicable to the American constitutional system. James Madison, so forget Churchill, but Churchill says the same thing. James Madison believed that the structure of the Constitution would make us argue. And so we would talk, and therefore think, before we acted. And the whole thing was the activity of debate, of discussion over a thing, is the, that’s what the Constitution is. The British, when Churchill says the English-speaking peoples, that, you can’t understand why that’s important until you understand that he loves to make the point that the word parliament comes from the Latin word for talking – parlay. And so it’s government by talking. And we have, in the bureaucratic age, transformed the government so that it’s government by doing. And once you understand the origins of the Obamacare bill, the way that it is centralized and relies on force, the fact that it does not enroll through their interest in their own welfare and their community millions of people to help make it work, the rollout has actually been an incredible success, given the conditions under which it started.

HH: All right, now I’ve got to play for you, my project this week has been, and I am saying at the front I am not comparing Hillary to Hitler. But Churchill always knew who the opponent was going to be, and always prepared for his opponent. Our opponent in 2016 is going to be Hillary, so I’ve been laying the groundwork for people to understand something important about her. And I had on MIT’s Jon Gruber, the father of Obamacare, and asked him about Hillarycare, about which he said this.

JG: She had a plan which was much more interventionist…The Clinton health care plan was much to the left of Obamacare. It would have more radically changed our health care system…The original Hillarycare as proposed in the early 90s would absolutely, would have been much more disruptive.

HH: Now Larry Arnn, the reason I’m doing that is I want the Republicans to etch in stone that Hillary as a candidate in 2016 has as much to answer for as President Obama does right now. Do you agree with that strategy? We have a minute to the break.

LA: Yeah, and I’ll add a point to it. The Hillarycare, I’m an old man now, so I can remember things that happened a long time ago. The Hillarycare, the first step in rolling it out was the president of the United States went about the country and gave a series of speeches attacking drug companies by name. And that was the chief prosecutor in the United States of America saying to them, I’m getting ready to do something, and you better not get in the way of it. And so Hillarycare was another use of, you know, it was in private meetings with Ira Magaziner and people like that, a bunch of eggheads designing health care for all the rest of us.

HH: And a nightmare in its aborning thing. Thank goodness it didn’t happen, but she’s back, and we’ll talk about that.

— – – — –

HH: Dr. Arnn, last week, we left off with the hedgerows being defeated by GI ingenuity, and the combined forces under Eisenhower, led by Montgomery, breaking out. At any point thereafter, as the armies of both America and England begin to sweep across Europe, did Churchill lose sight of the ultimate objective, which was the post-war alignment of forces and geography?

LA: Well, that became a sharp question, you know, beginning, actually, it didn’t really become a sharp question. So in August of 1944 is when the front began to move. And that had a lot to do with George Patton, who, you know, he went around them, and he was amazing at that. Everybody should read Victor Hanson’s book, the chapters in The Soul Of Battle, about Patton, and you’ll hear the story of what Patton did. And basically, he just was a brilliant maneuver general. And he started, and once he got to the left of the Germans, so he went to his right, to the left of the German lines in Normandy, then they began to collapse back toward Germany. And by Christmas, they were near to Germany. And of course, the Siegfried Line was very well-prepared and tremendous underground, interconnected system of defenses. And Patton was trying to race there to get there fast enough. So you’re talking about, first of all, maybe D-Day won’t work, and it’s months before we know that they really start moving. But once they start moving, one can anticipate a time when the war will end in the immediate future. And at that point, Churchill began to think about, what about after the war, and he began to think about the Soviet Union. And he was watching the Soviet Union begin to break up the German Army in the east, and begin to take territory. And so he wanted, and let me look, I’ve got the date here somewhere. There was a second European invasion, and it went through Marseilles in the south of France.

HH: Operation Anvil, right?

LA: That’s right.

HH: Yeah.

LA: And that was to the south, and also to the west of the American and British lines going east toward Germany. And so Churchill thought that was too far away. And so what he really wanted to do, and you’ll have to sort of get a picture of European geography right now. So you’ve got, if you go along the south of Europe along the Mediterranean, you’ve got Spain and then France and then Italy, and the Alps come across Italy and France, and up into Switzerland. And the Allies were fighting in Italy. And Churchill wanted to reinforce that army, and he wanted it to strike to the east or right where there was a flat place that got you up into Yugoslavia, and then a relatively flat place so armies can operate along the roads there, and then up into Austria. And then, you’re close to touching Czechoslovakia. And he wanted the Allies to go that way, and he thought that would make the Germans recoil and move back east, and then also, that that would place the Allied armies further east. And that would work to the relief of Southern Europe, and the Soviet Union would get less of it. And this is very controversial whether it was a good idea or not. Churchill had very sharp words, the sharpest of the war, with Roosevelt about it. He wrote him and said that he thinks that this is the first major strategic error we have made, but he didn’t have any power, because the Americans really had the whip hand, and especially, they controlled the landing craft that would decide where armies were to go. And so what he did after that was he made his own trip to Moscow, and didn’t go, didn’t invite Roosevelt to go with him. And Roosevelt sent Avril Harriman along, and Churchill met with Stalin and said to Stalin, well, we’d like to have Harriman at many of these meetings, but we need to talk privately, too. And Churchill proposed the famous, or infamous, percentages deal. And this deal, it’s very odd how Churchill behaved in this meeting, because, and this is happening in the late fall of 1944, and he says I have a document here. It’s a naughty document. We should destroy this document. And the document still exists. And by the way, it’s all very confidential, but there’s a British officer there to translate and take notes, so we have a full account of the meeting. These words that I’m saying, Churchill said these very words. And he complained, he said, you know, I don’t think the Americans would like this, he says. It’s the only time like it in the war that I know he said anything like this. And usually with Stalin, he would give big toast and they would talk about their future friendship, and they’d drink a lot way into the night, and both of them would cry. Now, Churchill’s with a conspirator, right, the conspirator, Stalin. And he says you get X percentage authority over the countries where the Red Army is going, and we get 90% authority in Greece. And Stalin put a blue tick on the document, it still exists…

HH: Wow.

LA: …and gave it back to him. And Churchill left that meeting and went to Greece, and appointed a priest named Damaskinos. He was described as a conniving and political priest, I think, were the adjectives. And Churchill’s response was just the man.

HH: (laughing)

LA: And before Stalin, before he left, he said to Stalin, somebody should talk to the Greek communists, because they’re using force there in ways they should not. And Stalin replied to Churchill, you know, I don’t really have any contact with them. And Churchill said well, somebody who does should talk to them. And Stalin said well, perhaps I could get word to them. And Churchill said you should do that soon. And of course, he went there, and we have a democratic Greece. And that was what he was trying to secure with the percentages deal, and he was, in my opinion, but this is all controversial, giving up things that were already lost in order to get for himself latitude in Greece to establish what became the southeastern flank of NATO, along with Turkey.

HH: How brilliantly put, giving up things that were already lost in order to obtain that which was in doubt.

— – – – –

HH: Dr. Larry Arnn, my very first full-time job out of college was as a research assistant for David Eisenhower, who was working on the book then called Eisenhower At War, and my very first assignment in my very first job was to do a day by day ledger of where Ike was, because where Ike went, the war went, and the decision went. And of course, that often intersected with Churchill’s movements. And they had a long-running debate about Eisenhower’s armies, and how fast they ought to advance, and when they ought to advance. And Ike is sometimes made the fall guy for the loss of Austria and Czechoslovakia, and perhaps he was. I’m not debating that. But what’s your assessment of what was going on there? Was Churchill indeed prodding him? Or was Churchill resigned to what inevitably happened, which was the coming down of the Iron Curtain in places where it might have been avoided had American troops moved differently?

LA: Churchill was prodding, of course. And here’s what Martin Gilbert writes about that in the big Churchill biography, the official biography. He writes that Churchill was urging Eisenhower to keep going east, and that Eisenhower made the decision himself to divert forces south to get down to where the Nazis were supposed to be hiding in the Eagle’s Nest, or whatever it was called down there, the high place where the Nazis had a defensible position, also very luxurious, and that Eisenhower informed the Soviet government about that before he informed Churchill. And Churchill was very critical of that decision, and thinks that that, too, helped to change the shape of Europe after the war. And people should know all of this is controversial, but…and Churchill, you know, very much did not like the Soviet Union. And I know that’s not fashionable today, but I guess it’s more fashionable now that they’re dead.

HH: Yes.

LA: But…

HH: Although they continue to be controversial as the Diana West-Vladimir Bukovsky-David Horowitz-Ronald Raddatz debate shows us.

LA: Yeah, that’s right, that’s right. And Churchill was very much thinking about what the shape of things would be like later. We should also talk about the Battle of the Bulge, because it’s really great.

HH: Please do.

LA: …and because it changed things, because in the middle of December, the Germans launched what everybody was confident could not be launched, which was a major counterattack that was an attempt to get all the way over to the coast and take Antwerp, a big Belgian port, and solidify the German lines. And they turned and they came at us. And it started on the 16th of December, and it went right through Christmas. And if anybody knows about the 101st Airborne, that’s Band of Brothers, that bunch, was in there. And they were basically overwhelmed. And they didn’t have the right equipment, they didn’t have coats, they didn’t have enough heavy equipment, and they had several Panzer divisions after them. And they dug in, and they fought from holes, and sometimes hand to hand, for about three weeks. And at one point, General McAuliffe was surrounded, and the Germans said time for him to surrender. And he replied with a very famous message, Nuts. (laughing) He did. Apparently, he just wrote on a piece of paper…

HH: Nuts.

LA: …nuts, and sent it back to them. And he never did surrender, never was taken. And his position was held. And Patton wheeled out of the line where he was to the south, and came to the relief. All this is happening in the Ardennes Forest. And that’s of course a famous place. That’s where Rommel and Guderian had come through to affect the conquest of France in 1940. And it’s rough ground. And they managed to stop it and turn the tide. And because of that, you know, there was a chance, people thought, that the war would come to an end sooner than it did. It ended in May, 1945, so six, five and a half months after this. And so all of that, and the point to make about all that is Churchill thought after Pearl Harbor, it’s known who’s going to win the war. But when, and at what cost, was very hard to predict. And some people thought, you know, once Patton started moving, the western army started moving in Normandy, that they might end it before Christmas. But no, it went well into the new year.

HH: And in so doing took Churchill closer and closer to the election that he had to hold, and we’re going to talk about that end game of World War II when we come back.

— – – –

HH: Dr. Arnn, three subject in these eight minutes – the bombing, whether or not Churchill wanted Hitler alive or was glad that he took his own life, and then the election and the turning out of power. I just give you the stage to try and hit these three things.

LA: Okay, the bombing, first of all, the Germans started the bombing of open cities, and the British and the Americans taught them how to do it. And they did it by, they perfected a technique. I once interviewed for Martin Gilbert, gosh, I’m having a terrible mental block. Who’s the bomber guy, the Americans?

HH: Teter? Or LeMay?

LA: Curtis LeMay, yeah. I once interviewed him in Riverside, California. And he said, I said what did you think about the nuclear bomb? And he said well, it wasn’t really in the beginning a difference in kind. It was only a difference of degree, and I said why? And he said well, we had learned that if you estimated the wind right, and bombed in a certain pattern, you could set a fire hot enough to melt steel. And so you know, they were at war here, right? And there are millions dying. And the Germans have been bombing cities. And so they bombed cities. And the worst was Dresden, where at the request of the Soviet Union, it was a railway transit port for things moving east. They firebombed Dresden, and they burned up much of the population. Churchill was not involved in the decision to do that, and did not think it was controversial. But when the film came back, he made the comment, are we beasts? And after that, the firebombing in the European theater was restricted. So they were fighting a war, and you know, Lincoln said famously, you don’t fight wars by blowing rose water through elder stalk squirts. So…and they became really good at it, and even better than they knew, and so the bombing was terrible.

HH: Wow.

LA: …and also, effective.

HH: Now about Hitler, did he want him alive? Or was he happy that he killed himself?

LA: Churchill wanted all those guys to be quietly shot by the troops that found them. And he didn’t want a big thing. He really disliked the idea of these guys preening themselves in their trials and going on about the great national socialists, blah, blah. But then, and so he was glad that Hitler shot himself. But then when the Nuremburg trials started, they were all very cowardly. And Churchill loved that, and said hey, this is really good.

HH: All right, now finally, lead us…next week, we’re going to talk about the Churchill in peacetime and his return to power. But he lost the election called after the war. We’ve touched on this before. It is almost unfathomable to a modern audience to understand how a hero like Churchill who led through all these years of depravation and suffering, but ultimately victory, could stand before the people of England and be turned out, and go without a word.

LA: Yeah, well, first of all, you have to understand, he said a terribly dramatic thing that we’ll talk about next time. He said the Socialist Party cannot achieve its ultimate aims without the use of a secret police, a gestapo. So that’s the greatest man alive saying that thing about his wartime colleagues, many of whom, by the way, had excellent service in the first war, and some in the second war. And so that was very controversial. And then, not only did he lose the election, they thumped him. It was devastating. And Churchill said two kinds of things, one of the kinds only once and in private. The kind of thing he said all the time, he made a beautiful resignation speech, and he refused, like his doctor records in his diary, and the diary is not wonderfully, Lord Moran, and the diary’s not wonderfully reliable, but this is in it. He said well, it’s ingratitude. And Churchill is recorded to have said do not say that, they’ve had a very hard time. And what Churchill did was in beautiful language, in a statement, accept their verdict, allow that he was disappointed, and thanked them for the opportunity to serve them. And then today, it’s thought that that was one of the reasons he lost the election, and that was a terribly rash thing to say. And some historians write that he ran more moderately after that, in ’50 and ’51, when in those two elections, between the two of them, he beat them and became prime minister the second time. But the truth is, he repeated that kind of thing all the time.

HH: Was he nevertheless, I know he had gone to a peace conference. He was in the middle of a peace conference.

LA: Potsdam, that’s right.

HH: …when this verdict was delivered. Were his allies shattered? Were they amazed? Could Stalin believe it, in fact?

LA: Well, so far as we know, and you know, Stalin, you know, there’s this discrepancy between what Stalin might say and what he might think. But Stalin said that he was confident that Churchill was going to win, and everybody was. And Churchill records that he had pangs and fears about the election, that he woke up in the night and thought we’d been beat. And you know, election returns were very slow to come at that time. I should tell you the gloomy thing Churchill wrote to his friend, Alfred Duff Cooper, that what disturbed him was that a lot of conscientious objectors had been returned with large majorities, and people who’d been opponents of the war, and that the soldiers seemed to have voted on questions of absence of cigarettes availability, and who would get to come home first. And he thought that was a dread thing, a sign of some change that was very bad. But also, he ends even that letter hopefully. The pendulum will swing back, he says.

HH: That was a dread thing. And Beaverbrook could not help him? The great press baron just could not help him?

LA: No, well, he lost by a landslide, right?

HH: That’s what I mean. Isn’t that interesting?

LA: Oh, yeah. And they, and you know, then they nationalized 15 major industries, and he later denationalized almost all of them. And what he didn’t get, Margaret Thatcher eventually did, except for national health insurance, which once you get it, nobody touches it, probably.

HH: When we come back next week, we are going to pick up the last chapter of Winston Churchill’s epic political career, the fight against domestic socialism, and how he waged it having lost a landslide repudiation at the end of an incredible tenure as perhaps the West’s greatest wartime political leader ever. Dr. Larry Arnn, thank you. The Hillsdale Dialogues, all of them, the first nine hours of our Churchill conversation are available at, as are all of our conversations about the Iliad, about the Old Testament and the New, about the lives of Plutarch, and about all of the other philosophers, Aristotle and Plato. They’re all available at

End of interview.


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