Book Review: Churchill And Orwell: The Fight For Freedom

Churchill and Orwell; The Fight for Freedom by Thomas E. Ricks

Churchill and Orwell: The Fight For Freedom

Thomas E. Ricks

Penguin Press

352 pages

Freedom and its pursuit is a concern that is ever the more pressing with each day. Six months after the 2016 U.S. elections, American politics have experienced a nadir. Controversy after controversy keeps being revealed, and many feel as though this is the most authoritarian government in American history. At the same time, factions within the American ruling class are pushing for President Trump to take a more confrontational tone with Russia over the matter of alleged election influence. With this situation brewing, now would be a good time to take a step back and look at history, and see how readily world events can snowball into a much larger outcome. Churchill and Orwell by Thomas E. Ricks is a new work that explores the efforts of two famous British men who contributed to the fight against totalitarianism during the 1930’s and 40’s.

Students of history know that Winston Churchill was the prime minister of Britain during World War II, and was one of the strongest voices of opposition against German Nazi aggression as it spread across Europe, annexing country after country. Writers and journalists of every political stripe know of George Orwell as the author of two classic political novels, Animal Farm and 1984. Neither of these men began their careers at the pinnacle, and could have very well remained obscure had events turned out differently.

Churchill and Orwell is a biographical compare and contrast of two British historical figures who played major roles in forming Western thought and its conception of freedom. Churchill as a politician made a stand against Nazi Germany, while Orwell as a writer and journalist critiqued and lampooned Stalin’s Soviet Union.

Orwell was a war correspondent, and served during the Spanish Civil War as part of POUM, a Trotskyist militia fighting against the Falange, led by General Francisco Franco. This book digs into that history, some of the maneuvers of the Soviet Union against these forces, and what motivated Orwell to write what he did. Digging into some of his early work, Ricks shows how Orwell developed as a writer and critic of Western civilization and totalitarianism. Whether it’s the character in 1984 Emmanuel Goldstein, who is clearly inspired by Leon Trotsky, or Napoleon from Animal Farm who is inspired by Joseph Stalin, George Orwell’s writings heavily deal in communist history.

Ricks also delves into the history of the maneuvers of Winston Churchill, and his hard-nosed efforts to get Britain ready to face, and survive the onslaught of Nazi Germany. He discusses the intentions of Churchill to bring the United States into World War II, as well as some of the tensions that would make themselves apparent between Britain and the United States, despite a common foe.

Both men lived during a time when it appeared as if totalitarian governments would be the wave of the future, and Western democracy was unstable. The sense of urgency of their actions is present, with Ricks drawing on the diaries and writings of both men to illustrate such. Churchill and Orwell  gives much insight into the early political career of Winston Churchill and the writing career of George Orwell, respectively.

At a time when there is a move towards international conflict, it’s important to deconstruct and see how these matters can manifest. There is a lot of good history here, and Ricks’ work is a refresher of World War 2 history from the perspective of the United Kingdom.

Author Thomas Ricks convincingly makes the argument that Churchill and Orwell have made a lasting impact on Western thinking. Ricks also notes that Orwell’s influence has surpassed Churchill’s, and gives numerous reasons as to why that is the case. Whether it is the theater, or political commentary, the influence endures.  The Dead Prez song “Animal in Man” from their 2000 album “Let’s Get Free” is a nod to Animal Farm. The words of Kellyanne Conway back in January sent 1984 into the stratosphere for online searches. Back in March, desensitized Americans shrugged their shoulders at the Vault 7 revelations of Wikileaks. Many feel as though Big Brother been watching, as the Edward Snowden leaks pointed out back in 2013.

Churchill and Orwell is a good read for those who are interested in World War II history, and the lives of Winston Churchill and George Orwell. It adds to the contemporary discussion of what freedom and vigilance it its defense mean. I recommend it.

-Marc W. Polite



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