“No Peace with Hitler: Why Churchill Chose to Fight WWII Alone Rather than Negotiate with Germany”

No Peace with Hitler: Why Churchill Chose to Fight WWII Alone Rather than Negotiate with Germany

Alan I. Saltman
WG Hobart Publishers (2022)
ISBN: 979-8985479423
Reviewed by Lee Barckmann for Reader Views (07/2022)

“No Peace with Hitler” is a 700 page survey of Churchill’s life. It attempts to explain why Churchill rejected what seemed at the time like common sense and reason, and refused to parley with Hitler in the spring of 1940, and instead rallied Britain to fight Germany.

Churchill, like Forrest Gump, is ever present in the history of the first half of the 20th century. He was a loser in half of the elections he participated in before 1930. The list of his failures and wrongheaded ideas is long and sometimes appalling. His political peers of the time, left and right, almost universally hated him. Yet, he is seen by many as the most consequential Man of The Age. How did that happen?

Alan Saltman, pulling from a host of authors, some academic, (A.J.P. Taylor, and others) some popular historians (like Pat Buchanan) and even a professor of clinical psychiatry, attempts to explain what personal qualities and experiences formed Churchill.

Churchill’s childhood was a sad parody of a Victorian upbringing. His father Randolph was a leading Conservative member of Parliament, and his mother Jennie, an American, was “for all her beauty, charm, and social prowess, no more cut out to be a parent than her promiscuity showed she was cut out to be a wife.” Both of his parents neglected him and he was raised almost exclusively by his nanny. As he got older he exhibited what appeared to be hyperactivity, and ADHD. He was a poor student and was beaten continuously by headmasters at the exclusive schools he attended. He constantly rebelled against authority, was an exhibitionist and an extreme daredevil. Much of his behavior throughout his life could be seen as an attempt to secure the affection of his parents. After WWII, as an old man, he wrote a short story called “The Dream” where his father comes back to him and asks what has happened in his life. In this dream, his father asked detailed questions about what happened in the 20th century, wars, personalities etc. Winston explains it all to him. But his father never really asked about what happened to him, and Winston never tells his dead father he became Prime Minister, much less his role in winning WWII. The story was not published in his lifetime.

In the 1890s, he fought in Sudan with Kitchener, and later was captured in the Boer War and escaped. He became famous because of his self-promoting journalism about his adventures, was elected to Parliament and pushed his way into the cabinet during WWI. As Lord of the Admiralty, he promoted the invasion of Turkey at the Gallipoli peninsula. It was a disaster, where 46,000 Allied troops (mostly Aussies and Kiwis) were killed and over 200,000 were wounded. He is credited with being the “inventor” (political Godfather) of the tank, and toward the end of the war served as a Battalion commander in the trenches. 

He was not trusted by either the Conservatives or Labour. He lost his seat in the House of Commons after the war. But after two attempts gained it back in the late 1920s.

All this, and much more is recounted in great detail in Saltman’s book. For a serious history buff, “No Peace with Hitler” is a goldmine, but it might be a daunting challenge for the casual reader. The book’s method and organization are not consistent. Sometimes it is written in a normal expository style, other times it is often a series of lists, like a corporate PowerPoint. Sometimes it is breezy, and others, such as the 300 some pages dedicated to 1936-1940, it is a day-to-day slog through speeches and committee meetings, often repetitious, with various explanations of events from other authors.

His portrayal of the German side of events is noticeably thin, when discussing the diplomatic flurry of the times. For me, the biggest miss was that Saltman does not address Churchill’s well-known alcoholism and how that might have affected his actions as Prime Minister during the WWII.

That aside, the book is a strong addition to the mountain of books written about Churchill. “No Peace with Hitler” has a particular purpose – to explain in deep detail how and why Churchill came to stand not only against Hitler, but also against the policy of appeasement of his peers, his political party, the press, and the war-weary general public. It explains how he rallied Britain – and the Democratic world – to fight against Nazi/Fascism. It achieves this better than anything I have read before. Because Saltman attempts to fearlessly push into so many aspects of the period, and of the personalities who lived through it and to merge general history with a technical diplomatic history, and with a psycho-history of Churchill, it is understandable why the book’s style is necessarily uneven in approach. For me, a semi-serious history buff, it was a very interesting and worthwhile read.

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