Irving on Churchill
Dismantling Churchillian Mythology
Theodore J. O'Keefe
World-class historian David Irving is no stranger to readers of the IHR's Journal of Historical Review. His address to the 1983 International Revisionist Conference, which appeared in the Winter 1984 Journal of Historical Review ("On Contemporary History and Historiography"), was something of a primer on Irving's revisionist historiographical method. It was spiced as well with tantalizing hints of new directions in Irving's research and new book possibilities arising from them.
Not the least among Irving's revelations were those that touched on Winston Churchill, descendant of one of England's greatest families and leader of his nation and its empire (as he still thought it) at what many of his countrymen and many abroad still regard as Britain's "finest hour." Readers will recall that Irving exposed several instances of Churchill's venality, cowardice and hypocrisy, including Churchill's poltroonish posturing at the time of the German air raid against Coventry and the facts of Churchill and his cronies' secret subvention by the Czech government.
It will also be recalled that in his lecture Irving spoke of his projected book on Winston Churchill, which at the time was to be published in the U.S. by Doubleday and in Great Britain by MacMillan, two great firms entirely worthy of an author who has been churning out meticulously researched historical bestsellers for a quarter of a century. As has been pointed out in recent issues of the IHR Newsletter, Irving's challenges to the reigning orthodoxy have become so unbearable to the Establishment that both these major houses refused to print the books as written. The task has now been undertaken by a revisionist operation in Australia. Nearing completion is the first volume of Irving's new book Churchill's War.
Last year David Irving made a world-wide speaking tour, visiting North America (the U.S. and Canada), Australia, South Africa, and Europe. He lectured on a wide range of topics pertaining to the troubled history of our century, with his customary flair for the pointed phrase and the telling anecdote. During one of his lectures, delivered at Vancouver, British Columbia, on March 31, 1986, Irving offered a series of mordant new facts and insights on the life and career of Winston Churchill.
At the outset of his lecture, Irving remarked that the late Harold MacMillan (Lord Stockton), recently targeted by Nikolai Tolstoy (The Minister and the Massacres) for his role in the forcible deportation of tens of thousands of anti-Communist Cossacks, Byelorussians, Ukrainians, and others to the U.S.S.R. after World War lI, had stated that Irving's Churchill book would "not be published by his company, over his dead body." Clearly Lord Stockton's recent demise didn't alter things at MacMillan, however.
Then Irving let out an electrifying piece of information:
The details which I will tell you today, you will not find published in the Churchill biography. For example, you won't even find them published in Churchill's own biography because there were powers above him who were so powerful that they were able to prevent him publishing details that even he wanted to publish that he found dirty and unscrupulous about the origins of the Second World War.
For example, when I was writing my Churchill biography, I came across a lot of private papers in the files of the Time/Life organization in New York. In Columbia University, there are all the private papers of the chief editor of Time/Life, a man called Daniel Longwell. And in there, in those papers, we find all the papers relating to the original publication of the Churchill memoirs in 1947, 1949, the great six-volume set of Churchill memoirs of the Second World War. And I found there a letter from the pre-war German chancellor, the man who preceded Hitler, Dr. Heinrich Brüning, a letter he wrote to Churchill in August 1937. The sequence of events was this: Dr. Brüning became the chancellor and then Hitler succeeded him after a small indistinguishable move by another man. In other words, Brüning was the man whom Hitler replaced. And Brüning had the opportunity to see who was backing Hitler. Very interesting, who was financing Hitler during all his years in the wilderness, and Brüning knew.
Brüning wrote a letter to Churchill after he had been forced to resign and go into exile in England in August 1937, setting out the names and identities of the people who backed Hitler. And after the war, Churchill requested Brüning for permission to publish this letter in his great world history, The six-volume world history. And Brüning said no. In his letter, Brüning wrote, 'I didn't, and do not even today for understandable reasons, wish to reveal from October 1928, the two largest regular contributors to the Nazi Party were the general managers of two of the largest Berlin banks, both of Jewish faith and one of them the leader of Zionism in Germany."
Now there is a letter from Dr. Heinrich Brüning to Churchill in 1949, explaining why he wouldn't give permission to Churchill to publish the August 1937 letter. It was an extraordinary story, out of Churchill's memoirs. Even Churchill wanted to reveal that fact. You begin to sense the difficulties that we have in printing the truth today. Churchill, of course, knew all about lies. He was an expert in lying himself. He put a gloss on it. He would say to his friends, "The truth is such a fragile flower. The truth is so precious, it must be given a bodyguard of lies." This is the way Churchill put it.
Irving went on us describe several sources of secret financial support enjoyed by Churchill. In addition to money supplied by the Czech government, Churchill was financed during the "wilderness years" between 1930 and 1939 by a slush fund emanating from a secret pressure group known as the Focus.
Irving on the Focus:
The Focus was financed by a slush fund set up by some of London's wealthiest businessmen -- principally, businessmen organized by the Board of Jewish Deputies in England, whose chairman was a man called Sir Bernard Waley Cohen. Sir Bernard Waley Cohen held a private dinner party at his apartment on July 29, 1936. This is in Waley Cohen's memoirs ... The 29th of July, 1936, Waley Cohen set up a slush fund of 50,000 pounds for The Focus, the Churchill pressure group. Now, 50,000 pounds in 1936, multiply that by ten, at least, to get today's figures. By another three or four to multiply that into Canadian dollars. So, 40 times 50,000 pounds -- about $2 million in Canadian terms -- was given by Bernard Waley Cohen to this secret pressure group of Churchill in July 1936. The purpose was -- the tune that Churchill had to play was -- fight Germany. Start warning the world about Germany, about Nazi Germany. Churchill, of course, one of our most brilliant orators, a magnificent writer, did precisely that.
For two years, The Focus continued to militate, in fact, right through until 1939. And I managed to find the secret files of The Focus, I know the names of all the members. I know all their secrets. I know how much money they were getting, not just from The Focus, but from other governments. I use the word "other governments" advisedly because one of my sources of information for my Churchill biography is, in fact, the Chaim Weizmann Papers in the State of Israel. Israel has made available to me all Churchill's secret correspondence with Chain Weizmann, all his secret conferences. It is an astonishing thing, but I, despite my reputation, in a kind of negative sense with these people, am given access to files like that, just the same as the Russian Government has given me complete access to all of the Soviet records of Churchill's dealings with Ivan Maisky, Joseph Stalin, Molotov and the rest of them. I am the only historian who has been given access to these Russian records. It is a kind of horse trading method that I use when I want access to these files, because it is in these foreign archives we find the truth about Winston Churchill.
When you want the evidence about his tax dodging in 1949 and thereabouts, you are not going to look in his own tax files, you're going to look in the files of those who employed him, like the Time/Life Corporation of America. That's where you look. And when you're looking for evidence about who was putting money up for Churchill when he was in the wilderness and who was funding this secret group of his, The Focus, you're not going to look in his files. Again, you're going to look in the secret files, for example, of the Czech government in Prague, because that is where much of the money was coming from.
Irving then revealed further details of Churchill's financing by the Czechs, as well as the facts of Churchill's financial rescue by a wealthy banker of Austro-Jewish origins, Sir Henry Strakosch, who, in Irving's words, emerged "out of the woodwork of the City of London, that great pure international financial institution." When Churchill was bankrupted overnight in the American stock market crash of 1937-1938, it was Strakosch who was instrumental in setting up the central banks of South Africa and India, who bought up all Churchill's debts. When Strakosch died in 1943, the details of his will, published in the London Times, included a bequest of £20,000 to the then Prime Minister, eliminating the entire debt.
Irving dealt with Churchill's performance as a wartime leader, first as Britain's First Lord of the Admiralty and then as Prime Minister. The British historian adverted to Churchill's "great military defeat in Norway, which he himself engineered and pioneered," and mentioned the suspicion of Captain Ralph Edwards, who was on Churchill's staff at the time, that Churchill had deliberately caused the fiasco to bring down Neville Chamberlain and replace him as prime minister, which subsequently happened.
Irving spoke of Dunkirk:
In May 1940, Dunkirk, the biggest Churchill defeat of the lot. It wasn't a victory. It wasn't a triumph. Nothing for the British to be proud of. Dunkirk? If you look at the Dunkirk files in the British archives now, you will find, too, you're given only photocopies of the premier files on Dunkirk with mysterious blank pages inserted. And you think, at first, how nice of them to put these blank pages in to keep the documents apart. Not so. The blank pages are the ones that you really want to be seeing. In some cases, of course, the blank pages are genuinely censored with intelligence matters. But the other blank pages are letters between Churchill and the French Prime Minister, Paul Reynaud, which revealed the ugly truth that Churchill, himself, gave the secret order to Lord Gort, the British General in command of the British expeditionary force at Dunkirk, "Withdraw, fall back," or as Churchill put it, "Advance to the coast." That was Churchill's wording. "And you are forbidden to tell any of your neighboring allies that you are pulling out. The French and the Belgians were left in the dark that we were pulling out.
I think it's the most despicable action that any British commander could have been ordered to carry out, to pull out and not tell either his allies on his left and right flanks that he was pulling out at Dunkirk. The reason I knew this is because, although the blanks are in the British files, I got permission from the French Prime Minister Paul Reynaud's widow. His widow is still alive. A dear old lady about 95, living in Paris. And guiding her trembling hand, I managed to get her to sign a document releasing to me all the Prime Minister's files in the French National Archives in Paris. And there are documents, the originals of the documents which we're not allowed to see in London. and there we know the ugly truth about that other great Churchill triumph, the retreat to Dunkirk. If peace had broken out in June of 1940, Churchill would have been finished. No brass statue in Parliament Square for Mr. Winston Churchill. He would have been consigned to the dustbin of oblivion, forgotten for all time and good riddance I say, because the British Empire would have been preserved. We would, by now, have been the most powerful race -- can we dare use the word, the British race, the most powerful race on Earth.
Irving pointed out that Churchill rejected Hitler's peace offers in 1939, 1940, and 1941. (Irving supports the thesis that Rudolf Hess's flight to Scotland was ordered by the Führer). Irving pinpointed one critical moment, and supplied the background:
The crucial moment when he managed to kill this peace offensive in England was July 1940. If we look at the one date, July the 20th, this I think was something of a watershed between the old era of peace, the greatness of the British Empire and the new era, the new era of nuclear deterrent and the holocaust, the nuclear holocaust. July 20, 1940: Mr. Churchill is lying in bed that Sunday out in Chequers, when he gets a strange message. It's an intercept of a German ambassador's telegram in Washington to Berlin. It's only just been revealed, of course, that we were reading all of the German codes -- not only the German Army, Air Force and Navy Codes, but also the German embassy codes. And if you're silly enough to believe everything that's written in the official history of British Intelligence, you will understand that the only reason that they released half of the stories is to prevent us from trying to find out the other half. And what matters is that we are reading the German diplomatic codes as well. On July 20th, the German ambassador in Washington sent a message to Berlin saying that the British ambassador in Washington had asked him very quietly, very confidentially, just what the German peace terms were. This, of course, was the one thing that Churchill could never allow to happen, that the British find out what Hitler's peace terms are. He sends an immediate message to the foreign office, to Lord Halifax, saying, "Your ambassador in Washington is strictly forbidden to have any further contacts with the German ambassador, even indirectly." They were communicating through a Quaker intermediary.
Now, on the same day, Churchill sent a telegram to Washington ordering Lord Lothian, the British ambassador in Washington, to have nothing to do with the German ambassador. And the same day, he takes a third move to ensure that the peace moves in Britain are finally strangled at birth. He orders Sir Charles Portal to visit him at Chequers, the country residence of British prime ministers. Sir Charles Portal was Commander in Chief of Bomber Command. Now what is the significance? Well, the significance is this. Up to July 1940, not one single German bomb has fallen on British towns. Hitler had given orders that no British towns are to be bombed and, above all, bombing of London is completely forbidden and embargoed. Churchill knows this, because he's reading the German code. He's reading the German Air Force signals, which I can now read in the German files. Churchill is reading the signals, and he knows that Hitler is not doing him the favor.
Hitler is still hoping that this madman in England will see reason or that he will be outvoted by his cabinet colleagues. So he's not doing Churchill the favor of bombing any English towns. Churchill is frantic because he thinks he's being outsmarted by Hitler. On July the 20th he sends for Sir Charles Portal, the Chief of Bomber Command, and he says to Sir Charles Portal, as we know from records from Command to the Air Ministry, "When is the earliest that you could launch a vicious air attack on Berlin?" Sir Charles Portal replies to Winston, "I'm afraid we can't do it now, not until September because the nights aren't long enough to fly from England to Berlin and back in the hours of darkness. September, perhaps, and in September we will have the first hundred of the new Sterling bombers ..." But he also says, "I warn you, if you do that, the Germans will retaliate. At present they're not bombing English targets, they're not bombing civilian targets at all and you know why. And if you bomb Berlin, then Hitler will retaliate against English civilian targets." And Churchill just twinkles when he gets this reply, because he knows what he wants.
We know what he wants because he's told Joe Kennedy, the American Ambassador - Joseph P. Kennedy, father of the late President - "I want the Germans to start bombing London as early as possible because this will bring the Americans into the war when they see the Nazis' frightfulness, and above all it will put an end to this awkward and inconvenient peace movement that's afoot in my own Cabinet and among the British population." I've opened Kennedy's diary. I've also read Kennedy's telegrams back to the State Department in Washington. They're buried among the files. You can't find them easily, but they are worth reading, and you see in detail what Churchill was telling him. What cynicism. Churchill deliberately provoking the bombing of his own capital in order to kill the peace movement. He's been warned this would be the consequence, but he needs it. And still Hitler doesn't do him the favor.
Irving then gave a detailed account of the cynical maneuverings of Churchill to escalate the aerial campaign against Germany's civilian population to the point at which Hitler was driven to strike back against Britain's cities, supplying the spurious justification for the R.A.F.'s (and later the U.S. Army Air Force's) monstrous terror attacks against centuries-old citadels of culture and their helpless inhabitants.
The British historian further expanded on a theme he had touched on in his address to the IHR's 1983 conference: Churchill the drunkard. Irving substantiated his accusation with numerous citations from diaries and journals, the originals of which often differ from heavily laundered published editions. He concluded his address with an anecdote of a ludicrous incident which found Churchill pleading with William Lyon Mackenzie King, wartime prime minister of Canada, to shift production in his country's distilleries from raw materials for the war effort to whiskey and gin, twenty-five thousand cases of it. According to Mackenzie King's private diary, the Canadian prime minister tore up Churchill's memorandum on the subject at precisely twenty-five minutes to eight on August 25, 1943, and Sir Winston had to soldier on through the war with liquid sustenance from other lands and climes. As Irving emphasized, Churchill's drunken rantings, often during cabinet meetings, disgusted many of his generals, as when, at a meeting on July 6, 1944, the prime minister told his commanders to prepare to drop two million lethal anthrax bombs on German cities. Of this meeting Britain's Flrst Sea Lord, Admiral Cunningham, wrote, according the Irving: "There's no doubt that P.M. is in no state to discuss anything, too tired, and too much alcohol."
Irving's demolition of the Churchill myth, based on a wealth of documentary evidence, most of which has been studiously avoided by the keepers of the Churchill flame, may constitute his most important service to Revisionism. The legendary V-for-victory- waggling, cigar-puffing "Winnie" is for many of a centrist or conservative bent the symbol and guarantee that Britain and America fought and "won" the Second World War for traditional Western values, rather than to bleed Europe white and secure an enormous geopolitical base for Communism.
Irving's Churchill biography promises to make trash of such authorized studies as that of Martin Gilbert (which has already been described in private by one Establishment historian as "footnotes to Churchill's war memoirs"). The publication of the first volume of Churchill's War later this year should be an historiographical event of the first importance.
From The Journal of Historical Review, Winter 1986 (Vol. 7, No. 4), pp. 498 ff.