The Social Affairs Unit

Print Version • Website Home • Weblog Home

Use the buttons below to change the style and font size of our site.
Screen version     Print version:   
June 16, 2005

Churchill - Britain's greatest warmonger: Churchill - In - Caricature at the Political Cartoon Gallery

Posted by Christie Davies

Churchill In Caricature:
Winston Churchill, the most Caricatured Politician of all time

26th May - 8th September 2005

"Don't Lose it again!" The war-time cartoons of Philip Zec
4th May 8th August 2005

The Political Cartoon Gallery
32 Store Street, London, WC1E 7BS
Monday to Friday 9am - 5.30pm, Saturday 11am - 5.30pm
Free Admission

Winston Churchill was Britain's greatest ever warmonger. The cartoonists of the Second World War were willing to acknowledge him as a great war leader, but he was far more than that. He was a patriotic, freedom-loving "warmonger", an accurate description of Churchill but one which only Churchill's and Britain's enemies have been willing to use.

In the Political Cartoon Gallery's Churchill exhibition are many well-known cartoons of Churchill the war leader. Here is Low's All Behind You, Winston of the Evening Standard, 14th May 1940, with Churchill striding forward, coat off, rolling up his sleeves ready for the fight with Hitler, followed by politicians of all parties rolling up theirs. It has to be said that only Ernest Bevin, another warmonger, looks like a convincing scrapper. Attlee looks like a peeved ferret, and Chamberlain worn out. Arthur Greenwood looks dazed and dozy and Herbert Morrison like a cross between Tin Tin and Harry Potter. How did we ever manage to win with that lot in charge?

The Labour Party in the 1930s had tried to reduce the size of the Royal Navy and abolish the R.A.F., and was willing to place its faith in collective security and the League of Nations with Britain's "contemptibly small" army acting as a kind of international police force. Manchuria was like Manchester only further East and a few chaps with bicycle pumps could soon sort it if backed up with sanctions against the export of tea. Churchill alone was a warmonger and he later claimed that a pre-emptive strike against Hitler in 1933-1935 would have saved the world, "without a shot being fired". He did not worry about the Attorney General's view on the legality of such a move or what the League of Nations might say. Churchill was the real thing; all the rest were either appeasers or disarmers or both.

The best evocation of Churchill's will to win is Phillip Zec's July Handicap, from the Daily Mirror, 3rd July 1940. Churchill, the dogged British steeple-chase jockey, is shown riding a thin bony horse, which has Neville Chamberlain's long, sad, defeated face, all eyebrows and moustache. Zec conveys Churchill's energy and determination better than any other cartoon I have seen and justifies the Political Cartoon Gallery's decision to honour Zec with his own exhibition alongside the Churchill one. The same cannot be said of Zec's earlier cartoon, A Totalitarian Eclipse has been arranged, Daily Mirror, 8th April 1940, showing a smiling, round, dark disc, smoking a cigar, and moving across to blot out a blazing sun which has a swastika inscribed within it. Unfortunately, the disc moving across the face of the sun has a face on it that looks far more like Hermann Goering than it does Churchill, particularly his small sly eyes and twisted mouth. Oh dear! Zec was no more successful with The Modern Icarus, 12th November 1941, But the Melody lingers on!, 30th January 1942 or Ready Steady, 2nd May 1944, all in the Daily Mirror, three more sincere but failed attempts to pay tribute to Churchill's leadership. Zec never really managed to capture Churchill's inner strength; the jockey cartoon had been a brilliant one-off.

Ironically Zec's greatest and most famous cartoon in the Daily Mirror in March 1942, The Price of Petrol has been increased by one penny official, led to a confrontation with Churchill. It is a memorable drawing of an exhausted, torpedoed, merchant seaman, clinging to a life raft among the relentless waves of a cruel ocean. Churchill saw this cartoon, published in the middle of the Battle of the Atlantic, as an attack on the Government and as damaging to morale. Churchill and Herbert Morrison threatened to shut down the Daily Mirror because of it. Now we can see the cartoon for what it is, a moving tribute to the heroism of the merchant navy and a plea not to waste the petrol brought to oil-less Britain by these men risking their lives. Herbert Morrison - while admitting that "I may be dull, narrow minded and unimaginative" (what self insight!) - could not see this elementary point, and he very nearly sent the Daily Mirror to join the ranks of the banned. Chuck it, 'Erby.

Churchill's first lost chance to be a warmonger had been not in 1933-5 against Hitler but in 1919 when as Secretary of State for War he had aided the White forces against the Reds in the Russian civil war. Churchill declared at the time that "Bolshevism must be strangled in its cradle". Lloyd George was unwilling to commit the full weight of British power to the task. He was too busy frittering it away preparing the Black and Tans in Ireland and to attack the Turks. If Lloyd George had devoted half the effort he spent in fighting Michael Collins and propping up Venizelos to getting rid of Lenin, his memory might still be revered outside the borough of Caernarfon. If Churchill had prevailed in 1919, there would have been no Soviet Union, no Stalin, no Battle of Warsaw, no Communist threat in Germany, no Hitler, no Mao Tse Tung. Unfortunately, the completion of this great Churchillian task had to be left to Ronald Reagan.

During the Second World War, after Germany had invaded its Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact partner, the Soviet Union, Churchill declared that he would ally himself with the Devil if necessary in order to defeat Hitler. But at least Churchill knew that Stalin and the Soviets were the Devil, unlike the nave, new-dealer, no enemies on the Left, Roosevelt who saw Russia as almost another manifestation of American egalitarianism. At Yalta in February 1945 Roosevelt and Churchill handed Eastern Europe over to the Evil Empire. Roosevelt was a fool and Churchill was duped. In Churchill's own words:

Poor Neville Chamberlain believed he could trust Hitler. He was wrong. But I don't think I am wrong about Stalin.
But Churchill was as wrong as Chamberlain had been. Stalin deceived him as effectively as Hitler had fooled Chamberlain. Yalta ranks alongside Munich as a disaster for our civilization.

Churchill, though, can be exempted from much of the criticism which has stuck to Roosevelt, for even before Yalta Churchill had taken steps to halt Communism. In September 1944 Churchill sent a British force under General Scobie into Greece to help establish a Greek government from which the Communist partisans would be excluded Operation Manna. The Leftists in the British Cabinet objected saying that the Greek Communists were "anti-fascists" who had helped to drive the Germans out and to encourage the Italians to leave. Churchill got no help from America.

What then did the cartoonists make of this? William Combes of the Chicago Daily News, 1st December 1944 in Not Quite According to Plan drew Churchill as an incompetent skier coming down a black slope resembling a muddy lateral moraine, losing his footing and tumbling through the air. The skier drops a paper marked "internal strife in Greece". Churchill's cigar, that essential tag of recognition, stays in place but his famous hat with ear muffs added to it has come off. Stalin and Roosevelt stand to one side looking puzzled and annoyed, with balloons containing question marks above their heads. An even more savage cartoon about Churchill and Greece was prepared by Low for the Beaverbrook press, but Churchill persuaded Beaverbrook not to run it.

Here long before Yalta we see Churchill at his warmongering best, prepared to suppress Communist subversion even while World War II was still being fought. If Greek Bolshevism had been strangled in its cradle there would have been no Greek civil war later in the 1940s with the Reds sustained by Macedonian irregulars from across the frontiers of Bulgaria and Yugoslavia. The by now bankrupt Labour Government was forced to ask President Truman to come and help drive them out. The Soviets nearly gained a major naval base in the Mediterranean and came close to encircling Turkey. Churchill had been as prophetic in 1944 as he had been in 1919 and 1935.

Churchill was soon disillusioned with the Yalta Agreement which had led to the destruction of Polish independence, the very cause for which war had been declared in 1939. Churchill recalled in 1954 that in 1945:

Even before the war had ended and while the Germans were surrendering by hundreds of thousands and the streets were crowded with cheering people, I telegraphed General Montgomery to be careful in collecting the German arms so that they could be easily issued again to the German soldiers whom we should have to work with if the Soviet advance continued.
Churchill knew that dictators always betray you and that the best remedy is to prepare to betray them. Even before one war against one evil socialist dictator had finished Churchill was ready for the next, ready to repel socialist aggression from whatever side it came, ready to turn against the devil with whom he had had to ally himself against Hitler. Churchill was freedom's warmonger.

On 18th May 1945 Churchill spoke of the Soviets:

dropping an iron screen across Europe from Lűbeck to Trieste behind which we have no knowledge of what was happening.
It was the forerunner of Churchill's Iron Curtain speech in Fulton, Missouri 1946. At Fulton Churchill gave a speech of iron which confirmed his position as the world's greatest Cold Warrior; he was soon to be joined by Truman and Bevin and between them they saved the world.

Churchill was a true warmonger. He wanted to stop the totalitarians before they attacked and before they acquired their weapons of destruction, mass or otherwise. Churchill is remembered for saying, quite rightly, that "jaw jaw is better than war war". It is worth adding that "jaw jaw threatening war war" is better than either. It is also better than "law law", the creed of the internationalists who attacked Churchill after his Fulton speech. No more law! We have quite enough of it already.

Churchill's warmongering was recognized by Stalin's favourite cartoonist Boris Efimov of Pravda. Efimov gives Churchill pride of place in the company of Bevin, Eisenhower et al., as a torch bearing enemy of peace and shows him riding on a flying cannon, beating a skull and crossbones labelled drum with a torpedo. Efimov, unlike the American cartoonists, took the trouble to study the appearance of British politicians. His drawings of Churchill are splendid and his caricatures of Bevin are the best ever. One cannot say the same of Jimmy Friel, the unangelic "Gabriel" of the Daily Worker. Gabriel's Whose finger do you want on the trigger?, 10th October 1951, and American Independence Day, 4th July 1953, are badly drawn with Churchill depicted as a lackey and as an overweight, worse for wear, "running dog" trotting behind the Americans. On the contrary it was Churchill who had led the fight against the Red Menace. After his Fulton speech Churchill was denounced in the American Congress as a warmonger who was undermining the United Nations. So he was but what was wrong with that?

As in 1917 and 1941 the Americans entered the (Cold) War late, hysterical and unprepared. One consequence of this was the rise of Senator McCarthy and McCarthyism, a creed with all the psychological qualities of political correctness. The alcoholic and paranoid McCarthy even denounced Churchill as being a Communist sympathizer and collaborator because of Yalta. It made about as much sense as calling Neville Chamberlain a Nazi because of Munich. David Low captures this moment in his cartoon So, F.D., they finally got round to us of 5th May 1954 in The Guardian. The living Churchill is shown leaning against the plinth of the dead Roosevelt's statue, somewhere in London, uttering the words of the cartoon's title. On the other side lurks the sinister McCarthy with his distinctive, streaky, bald-to-balding head, holding a noose in his hand. Never forget that the wretched Senator from Wisconsin insulted Britain's greatest warmonger, namely the British hero who sent the telegram to Montgomery to be ready to repel Stalin with German troops.

The Churchill exhibition is wonderful in its variety, including little-known cartoonists from the provincial and Antipodean press and even from amateurs. Unfortunately, there are very few Zec cartoons of any kind, for Zec destroyed many of his originals. There is, though, on sale Donald Zec's interesting, extensive and well illustrated book Don't Lose it Again! The Life and Wartime Cartoons of Philip Zec, London, Political Cartoon Gallery, 2005. It is a fitting companion to Tim Benson's Churchill in Caricature, 2005, also on sale and by the same publishers. The Political Cartoon Gallery is an excellent institution. Both its exhibitions and its books are a joy for the cartoon lover.

Christie Davies is the author of The Mirth of Nations, Transaction, 2002 and The Strange Death of Moral Britain, Transaction, 2004.

Comments Notice
This comments facility is the property of the Social Affairs Unit.
We reserve the right to edit, amend or remove comments for legal reasons, policy reasons or any other reasons we judge fit.

By posting comments here you accept and acknowledge the Social Affairs Unit's absolute and unfettered right to edit your comments as set out above.

Was Yalta a failure? I don't see what else they could have done. If in 1919 the Western powers, in the effective absence of Russia, were unable to project their power into Eastern Europe what chance in 1945?

Posted by: Patrick Crozier at June 16, 2005 09:32 PM

A very good and informative piece - I will now certainly go to the exhibition. Also liked the way it turned the phrase of "Churchill as warmonger" around and used it as a phrase of commendation - reclaiming it from the disreputable types who have used it to attack Churchill in the past: first Communists during the early years of the war (up to '41) when they opposed the war, and then in more recent years Nazi-sympathising nutters like David Irving. Well done for standing up for legitimate war mongering. Blair and Bush - when they are attacked for being warmongers - should claim the term with pride. They should say, yes we are war mongers when that war - and only then - the war is legitimate.

Posted by: Jane at June 19, 2005 07:04 PM

"Was Yalta a failure? I don't see what else they could have done."

A "failure"? I think disaster is a better word. The 'what else' they could have done was not make it clear to Stalin that he had a free hand in Eastern Europe regardless of their ability to actually project power.

Posted by: Perry de Havilland at July 13, 2007 02:01 PM
Post a comment

Anti-spambot Turing code

Creative Commons License
Except where otherwise noted, this site is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

The Social Affairs Unit's weblog Privacy Statement