In 1931, while visiting New York, Winston Churchill very nearly died in an auto accident.
Think about that: World War II with no Churchill. I’ve begun to re-read William Manchester’s Alone, the middle volume of his three-book biography of Churchill. It focuses on the run-up to the most catastrophic war in human history–a war which Churchill, practically alone, saw coming, saw the risks involved, and tried to move the Western world to avert calamity.
This maddeningly eccentric man, steeped in the Victorian Age with all its moral standards, all its virtues and its vices, became, at the age of 65–retirement age!–prime minister of Britain in 1940–with France fallen, the Third Reich triumphant everywhere, Stalin allied with Hitler, and the British army, minus all its heavy equipment, just barely saved from extinction by its mass evacuation at Dunkirk.
Think of a world without Churchill. Who else could have rallied Britain to fight on? Who else could have given the speeches, made the decisions, absorbed the punishment, and not only preserved his country, but led it to victory against a force that will be remembered forever as the most evil, ruthless power ever to arise in Europe? Who else could have survived a decade of political isolation, enmity, mockery, and massive disbelief of everything he said?
Churchill’s career reminds me of how a classical Japanese smith makes a peerless sword. He starts with a heap of scrap iron that no one else wants, melts and hammers it into a single rod, then folds it back upon itself and hammers it out again. Then folds, hammers, folds, hammers, over and over again, so that the steel will be in microscopically thin layers–hundreds, sometimes even thousands, of them. Heat, fold, and hammer. Heat, fold, and hammer. And at the end, much later, the product is a perfect sword that can cut through almost anything.
In Churchill’s case the smith was God, and all that folding and hammering was God’s way of forging one man into an instrument that would preserve an entire civilization. The work took many years, but God is patient.