Lincoln & Churchill: Statesmen at War – Lewis E. Lehrman

Lincoln

Enjoyed this book for the most part.  Great quotes, great history, and two amazing men.  The only thing that keeps me from wholly recommending it is that parts were repetitive – the author tended to repeat himself as he broke the book into different sections dealing with the respective wars.  The book probably could have been shorter and been even more effective.

Even with that, however, it was still a very interesting read.  I came away from the book with a renewed appreciation for both men.  Both were in power during some of the most unique and dangerous times in their respective country’s histories.  And both seemed to be placed by God into the exact times they were needed and no more.  Lincoln was inaugurated on March 4, 1861, and the south fired on Fort Sumter on April 12.  He was assassinated on April 14, 1865, just five days after Lee surrendered at Appomattox.  Churchill became Prime Minister on May 10, 1940, just eight months after Hitler invaded Poland on September 1, 1939.  He was voted out of office on July 26, 1945, just two months after VE (Victory in Europe) Day and a month BEFORE the Japanese surrendered (this fact amazes me every time I read it – Churchill didn’t survive in office long enough to see the end of both theaters of war – the man who had led the country through its most trying time was voted out within two months of Hitler’s defeat).

The book does a good job of switching back and forth between the two men and the two histories (it’s probably 2/3 Churchill and 1/3 Lincoln – there’s obviously much more material available on Churchill) and giving a great picture of both.  Both men were extraordinary speakers and shrewd politicians.  Lincoln was probably the easier man to get along with.  Both had to weather incredible storms and overcome horrendous defeats, and both had to search to finally find military commanders they could trust.  Lincoln not only had military and political issues to deal with, he lost his 11-year-old son to sickness in 1862 when the Union’s outlook was at its bleakest.  His son died, his army was on the run, his commanders were incompetent, and his political career looked to be doomed.  All at the same time.  Churchill had the added pressure of leading a country that was alone in standing between Hitler and the takeover of the entire continent for the first year of the war (France was defeated, Russia was a German ally, the US wasn’t interested yet).  He also had to deal with allies.  Trying to mount a war effort with Stalin, Roosevelt, and de Gaulle required incredible skill and perseverance – and a fair amount of humility (Roosevelt decided toward the end of the war that the US was better served trying to cozy up to Stalin rather than Churchill – thus he humiliated Churchill on more than one occasion when they were all together because he thought it curried favor with Stalin).

Both men sought to be magnanimous in victory.  Lincoln didn’t want revenge on the South.  Churchill didn’t see any value in making the German people pay for all Hitler did (he had a great quote about this – “Nothing is more costly, nothing is more sterile, than vengeance.”).  That said, however, both men insisted on the unconditional surrender of their enemies.  Neither would accept any terms and both had a very clear understanding of what the military goal was – the complete destruction of the enemy’s military (Lincoln spent much of the war frustrated that he couldn’t find a general who understood this – it’s why he was so relieved when Grant finally took command of the Army of the Potomac – Grant knew he had to pursue Lee until he destroyed him).

Both men had the ability to see what others couldn’t.  Toward the end of the war, Churchill foresaw what Stalin planned for eastern Europe.  He knew the allies needed the Soviets to defeat Hitler, but he also saw what would happen once they overran eastern Europe.  He saw this much better than did FDR, who couldn’t see anything beyond the end of the war and his desire to get American troops home.  Lincoln saw the need to rebuild the South rather than punish it.  He wanted nothing to do with arresting Jefferson Davis – he told Grant that he hoped Davis would escape to Europe and spare the country the pain of a trial.  He knew the key to reuniting the country was welcoming the South back rather than demanding reparations – he saw this clearly even though many in his party didn’t.  The post-war years would likely have been much different had he lived.

The bottom line with the book is that you come away very impressed with both men.  For me personally, my view of Lincoln was raised a little higher than Churchill simply because of his humility and his amazing wisdom.  Both men were put into almost unimaginable circumstances with unheard-of levels of stress.  And each shepherded his country in a way that no one else likely could’ve.

As to a recommendation?  It’s a longer book than it needs to be, but it’s full of really good information.  And it has some amazing quotes by both leaders (if you just read the quotes at the beginning of each chapter it would be worth your time).  So I give it a qualified recommendation.  If you like history and like these men, it’s worth your time.  Just know that you’ll sometimes think, “Didn’t he just say this in the last chapter?”  If you can wade through that, you’ll learn a lot and your estimation of both men will rise.

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