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Joe Loconte

The Old World Order

Churchill's troublesome young men.

On the evening of September 1, 1939, Winston Churchill dined at the Savoy Grill in London with Duff Cooper, former head of the Admiralty, his wife Diana, and a handful of other hawkish confidants. One can only imagine the sense of cataclysm in the air. Earlier in the day the news came that Germany had invaded Poland. Churchill, who had only recently joined the government, agreed that war must be declared the following day.

Given the pacifist mood in Britain, however, just about anything was conceivable. Less than a year had passed since the Nazi juggernaut absorbed Czechoslovakia, to which British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain acceded in the notorious Munich Agreement. When the dinner broke up, the Coopers got a ride from the Duke of Westminster, who was leaving the Savoy at the same moment. The duke launched into an anti-Semitic tirade: Jews infested the Savoy. Jews were stirring up trouble all over Europe. Jews were trying to push Britain into a confrontation with Germany. Like most of the political class of his day, the duke was delighted that Britain had avoided war. He said he hoped that Hitler knew "after all, that we were his best friends." Duff Cooper broke his silence: "I hope that by tomorrow he will know that we are his most implacable and remorseless enemies."

History may not repeat itself, but sometimes it comes awfully close. It's not hard to hear echoes of this exchange in the debate over America's struggle against radical Islam—from the apologists for Iran's nuclear ambitions to the conspiracy theorists who claim Israeli involvement in the 9/11 attacks.

A stiff tonic for this malaise can be found in Lynne Olson's Troublesome Young Men: The Rebels Who Brought Churchill to Power in 1940 and Helped to Save Britain. Numerous books have traced Churchill's rise to power and wartime leadership, but few have explored the role of the Tory parliamentarians who staged a political revolt that made his ascent possible. Olson helps fill the gap admirably with ...

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