I’ve sent the following letter to the NY Times book review in response to their Sunday essay, Winston Churchill, Neocon?
New York Times Book Review
229 West 43rd St.
New York, NY 10036-3959
To the editor:
Jacob Heilbrunn’s essay “Winston Churchill, Neocon?” (Book Review, February 27, 2005) casts a jaundiced eye on whether Reagan and Bush deserve to be regarded as Churchill’s heirs, and whether Churchill’s imperialism, which Heilbrunn badly caricatures, makes him worthy of admiration in the first place. Since Heilbrunn rightly implicates me in the pro-Churchill chorus (though neither he nor the Times’ copy desk can seem to spell my name correctly), perhaps I might be allowed a few words to respond.
The case for Reagan’s continuity with Churchill is straightforward. Reagan’s affinity with Churchill went beyond borrowing the memorable quotation. Churchill said in his famous “Iron Curtain” speech that World War II could have been prevented “without the firing of a single shot.” Reagan, heeding Churchill’s vivid lesson of “peace through strength” (for which liberals ridiculed him relentlessly) prevented World War III “without firing a single shot,” as Margaret Thatcher observed. (Indeed, Reagan’s partnership with Thatcher in the 1980s could be seen as the very fulfillment of the Anglo-American unity that Churchill had envisioned in the “Iron Curtain” speech and elsewhere.) And this is just the most obvious of the deep parallels between Churchill and Reagan.
As to whether Bush has some claim to the same tradition, merely consult the recent thoughts of Churchill’s official biographer, Sir Martin Gilbert: “Although it can easily be argued that George W. Bush and Tony Blair face a far lesser challenge than Roosevelt and Churchill did—that the war on terror is not a third world war—they may well, with the passage of time and the opening of the archives, join the ranks of Roosevelt and Churchill. Their societies are too divided today to deliver a calm judgment, and many of their achievements may be in the future: when Iraq has a stable democracy, with al-Qaeda neutralized, and when Israel and the Palestinian Authority are independent democracies, living side by side in constructive economic cooperation . . . Any accurate assessment of Bush and Blair must wait, perhaps a decade or longer, until the record can be scrutinized.” (The Observer, December 26, 2004.) I’m happy to await the judgment of history, while Heilbrunn continues his heckling just as his ideological soul mates did to Reagan in the 1980s.
One final thought: When it came to American politics, Churchill always preferred the Democratic Party to the Republican Party. Would he today?
Steven F. Hayward
American Enterprise Institute
(Note: My book comparing Reagan and Churchill will be published in October by Crown/Forum: Greatness: Reagan, Churchill, and the Making of Extraordinary Leaders).
P.S. I mailed the hard copy to the Times in an envelope with a Ronald Reagan stamp. Heh.