Orwell and Churchill: The Fight for Freedom by Thomas E. Ricks is an intelligent and gripping dual biography of arguably the most important writer and politician in the twentieth century.
Orwell and Churchill were opposites in many ways: Orwell was a man of the Left, Churchill was a member of the Tory party.
Orwell was one of the first to warn about Stalin and Communism and often criticized the Left when he thought they were wrong. Churchill began as a Conservative in the House of Commons then crossed over to become a Liberal, “supporting a minimum wage, unemployment, eight-hour work day, and public health insurance.”
Orwell knew what it was like to be down and out; he tramped with the homeless and experienced extreme poverty. Churchill rejoined the Conservatives and remained a “pariah in his own party for some time.”
Both men were almost killed in the 1930s: Orwell while fighting for the Left in the Spanish Civil War when he was shot in the neck that missed an artery by millimeters. After he recuperated he found that Stalin had turned on the Left and Orwell barely made it out of Spain alive.
Churchill was captured in the Boer War in South Africa and made a daring escape that made him a hero in England. But it wasn’t in the battlefield where he almost died, but on the streets of New York when he was hit by a car and received serious injuries.
Orwell was not an important or well-known figure during his lifetime. Churchill was, of course, one of the most recognizable men in the world while Prime Minister.
Both men were fighters. It was Churchill’s indomitable personality in England’s darkest hour, when he rallied the country’s spirits and courage. Orwell shared his fierce resistance and volunteered to go to the front in the Spanish Civil War, but it is in the written word where posthumously he received acclaim.
Orwell and Churchill never met, but Churchill did read 1984 twice and evidently said it was “extraordinary.” Orwell praised Churchill in his diaries and essays and believed “he was the right man for the job at the right time.”
Neither men were perfect, and Ricks focuses on Churchill’s personal issues and foibles more than he does Orwell’s, but Churchill and Orwell were the most powerful and enduring voices to help defeat Fascism and resist totalitarianism.
But what binds these two together the most is their dedication to getting to the truth. Orwell is now lauded as the ultimate truth teller with the ability to face unpleasant facts. Facing unpleasant facts was also one of Churchill’s greatest gift.
Ricks has eloquently documented one of the most important periods in the twentieth century. I’d like to think the majority of the United States leaders are familiar with Churchill’s and Orwell’s brutal honesty and the generation that led to the creation of NATO in 1949 that has kept the peace for more than sixty-five years, but it sure doesn’t seem like it for many on the Right. It’s obvious Trump has no clue. I think everyone should read this book.
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