Thinking In Public

December 2, 2020

Leadership Forged in War: A Conversation With Historian Andrew Roberts

Transcript

Albert Mohler:

This is Thinking in Public, a program dedicated to intelligent conversation about frontline, theological and cultural issues with the people who are shaping them. I'm Albert Mohler, your host and president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky. Andrew Roberts is a renowned historian. He's the author of several bestselling histories, the history of World War II, biographies of figures such as Lord Halifax and Winston Churchill, even of course Napoleon Bonaparte and others. He’s an historian of wide range, and he’s also an historian of enormous ability. I’ve had conversations with Andrew Roberts on Thinking in Public before about books including his history of World War II, Storm of War. Today, I’m going to be talking with Andrew Roberts about his latest book, Leadership in War: Essential Lessons from Those Who Made History. Andrew Roberts, welcome to Thinking in Public.

Andrew Roberts:

Thank you very much, indeed, Albert. It’s great to be back on the show.

Albert Mohler:

I have enjoyed all of your books. If there’s any one genre of literature to which I first turn, it’s history and especially historical biography. So, you’ve written a motherlode of work over the course of the last several decades, all the way from Halifax and Salisbury to Churchill and Napoleon, and now leaders in war. I want to talk about your newest book, Leadership in War, but I also want to talk about historical biography, how you do it, how you see it. And I guess I want to start out by asking you about a central premise of the introduction of your book, and that is that no matter how great a prime minister of Luxembourg may be, outside the context of war and with world history at stake, it’s very hard for a leader to emerge as a world consequential leader.

Andrew Roberts:

Yes, I think that’s probably a little bit unfair to Luxembourg, but nonetheless, I can’t think of any peacetime prime ministers of Luxembourg who are going to have chapters dedicated to them in books on statesmanship. You really, I think, need to have something that’s akin to a national crisis, and war obviously is the worst national crisis that can befall a nation. And so, yes, I do stand by that. I’m afraid it doesn’t say very much about the human condition, does it, but nonetheless, I do think that for a really great statesman from a minor country... Of course, that’s not the case with the United States, for example, but for a minor country, you really do have to have gone through the fire.

Albert Mohler:

Yes, and a fire of consequence, because Luxembourg is a dignified country. It has a dignified history and far more than most people outside of Europe, or perhaps even outside of Luxembourg, would understand. But the leaders that you have chosen to profile in your book on Leadership in War, they were not only tried in a crucible of the crisis of war, they also played a role on the historical stage that affected far more than their own country. I mean, there’s a sense in which looking at every one of these chapters, how this story turns out has a great deal to do with how you and I live and in our respective countries and in many other countries of the world, war has lamentably been one of the most important shaping energies of history.

 

 

Andrew Roberts:

And not necessarily always in a bad way. I think it's worthwhile to remember that a great deal of inventions have come about as a result of warfare. That way in which the human mind is concentrated entirely on trying to win victory does mean that people in their different spheres all put their best into it. And also, the other thing that happens sometimes during war is that nations become more efficient at just concentrating on getting things done as opposed to sitting around in committees and waiting for years, and not directing resources and so on. So, although obviously it is the most appalling, monstrous evil that can distend, nonetheless, I think we ought to recognize that it has, in the past, been a progressive force occasionally, as well.

Albert Mohler:

And a force that has changed history and changed politics in ways most people don't recognize. And on both sides of the Atlantic, in Great Britain and in the United States, we can now look back and see that the consolidation of government and the reach of government into everyday lives of ordinary citizens really came in both nations after World War I, and especially in Great Britain, yes.

Andrew Roberts:

Yes, that's right. There's a fascinating passage by the historian, A.J.P. Taylor, the opening of his book England 1914-'45 in which he points out that a freeboard Englishman, a normal, ordinary Englishman could go about his life without having any influence, from or connection with, the state. Until the First World War broke out, he didn't need a passport to visit any other foreign country. Apart from incredibly low taxation, something like 3-5%, the state really did not impose in his life at all. And now, of course, it's an incredibly, almost overpowering, force in every aspect.

Albert Mohler:

Yes. Now in your book on Leadership in War, you dedicate chapters to Napoleon Bonaparte, Horatio Nelson, Winston Churchill, Adolf Hitler, Joseph Stalin, George C. Marshall, Charles de Gaulle, Dwight Eisenhower, Margaret Thatcher. You look at them and you say, "Well, that's an interesting collection." At least in part, I think would be surprising, if not shocking, to some people is that Hitler is there on that list as well, but I think-

Andrew Roberts:

And Stalin, of course. Together, those two really are the Tweedledum and Tweedledee of totalitarianism.

Albert Mohler:

Right, no, absolutely.

Andrew Roberts:

It is the evil figures in their own rights, but it doesn't mean that they weren't extraordinarily impressive leaders at certain parts of their lives when they were followed by millions of people. And of course, the very fact that they weren't Democrats actually meant that ultimately they were not as good leaders as if they had been. Hitler making error after error, blunder after blunder, and Stalin fighting a war in such a way that 27,000,000 Russians got killed with enormous inefficiencies and complete disregard for human life. And so, that has to be factored in. They'd have done better if they were Democrats, but you can't deny that they were immensely important leaders in the Second World War.

Albert Mohler:

Yes, well, as a matter of fact, one can't explain the 20th century without explaining how those two horrific personalities attracted so many millions of devotees who were willing both to kill and to die for them.

Andrew Roberts:

Yes, I go into that in my chapters, the way in which they were able to use all the tentacles of the state. You were mentioning earlier about the power of the state—had it not been for the power of the state in both Fascist Germany and Soviet Russia, there's simply no way that that could have been done really. The way in which Hitler had the propaganda arm of Nazi Germany was in itself invaluable, the way in which he could create massive rallies by the work of Albert Speer and the Leni Riefenstahl's movies and so on. These things were absolutely cutting edge at that time and, of course, unbelievably destructive. So one of the things I argue in the preface of the book is that leadership is not naturally and, in and of itself, a good thing. It is like nuclear fissure. It can be used for good as well as for evil.

Albert Mohler:

And is, not only in history but also very much so in the present. But you had to begin somewhere. And so, as you begin the series of lives, chapter length, considerations of Leadership in War, you begin with Napoleon Bonaparte. Now, I want to ask you a couple of questions related to this. Number one, is that where you would really date the beginning of modern warfare? Would you look to Napoleon and say that Napoleon's campaigns were the beginning of war and a continuous narrative of modern war?

Andrew Roberts:

I wouldn't really, no. I think actually that starts in your continent with the American Civil War. I think when you look at the importance of the machine gun and trains, mass transit, the use of trenches and barbed wire and so on, all essential for 20th century war certainly, you see it first, in all of those cases you see in the United States. The reason that I started with Napoleon, apart from the fact that I’d written a big book about Napoleon and felt I had something useful to say about him, is that he did encompass so many of the prerequisites of leadership. The end of that chapter, there's a paragraph in which I list the 20 important aspects of leadership, and it struck me that Napoleon encapsulated all of them, which is in itself very interesting, of course, because he lost. The fact that you can be a great leader, as Napoleon was, does not necessarily mean you're going ultimately to be victorious.

Albert Mohler:

Well, there's so many moral lessons that have been drawn from the historical example, someone like a Napoleon, and one of them is the fact that one can be brilliant on the field, and many do date modern warfare from Napoleon because of his strategic grasp of massive land armies that could basically dominate an entire continent. And if he'd been satisfied, in one sense, the history might be very different, and we might be talking about a very long Napoleonic Age, but the other moral lesson about Napoleon is simply the fact that he could not rest without invading Russia. And that's never been a good plan, but had that not happened, there's every reason to argue that Napoleon could have sustained his rule as emperor for decades.

Andrew Roberts:

Yes, absolutely. And then, of course, passed onto his son, the king of Rome. And subsequently, if the king of Rome had died in 1832 of tuberculosis as he did, and then onto Napoleon III in a very different Europe. There's absolutely no reason why there couldn't have been a Bonaparte on the throne of France today, for example, if he hadn't invaded Russia. But I think one of the things you have to remember when looking at that invasion of Russia is that it's not as insane as it seems to be in retrospect or as it's made out to be in War and Peace, and pretty much every other history book. Actually, he had an army twice the size of Russia's. He invaded with 615,000 men, which was the same size as Paris at the time. He defeated the Russians twice before. He only intended to go about 50 miles into Russia in a three-week campaign. He never intended to go all the way to Moscow, for example, and of course he didn't know about typhus, which was the thing that killed one-third of his troops. So all in all, it wasn't such an insane gamble and a hubristic adventure as it seems to be in retrospect.

Albert Mohler:

About Napoleon in particular, and I enjoyed your debate of sorts with Adam Zamoyski over whether or not Napoleon should be recognized as Napoleon the Great. I've discussed just about all of your book with you on this program. I also did a Thinking in Public with Mr. Zamoyski on his work on Napoleon, and the debate was fascinating to watch. It was a bit light-hearted and not so academic, but there were some serious ideas exchanged back and forth, and I've commended that debate to many, but one of the-

Andrew Roberts:

Well, you must have commended it to quite a few, because I was just told yesterday that 544,000 people have watched it, over half a million people.

Albert Mohler:

That is pretty amazing, and I have recommended it. I’ve recommended it on this program, so I'll take credit for at least part of that. But a part of the dynamism of that exchange is just over whether Napoleon is to be judged as a colossal failure in the end or as someone who actually did change the face of not only France but much of Europe, and you argued for the latter. And so, in a sense, that also explains why Napoleon begins your book, because you think he has lasting influence.

Andrew Roberts:

I do, yes. You can't understand modern France without appreciating the influence of Napoleon, it strikes me I can hardly walk down the street in Paris without spotting him in some way or another. Concepts of equality before the law and religious toleration and so on are revolutionary concepts, the French Revolution, but nonetheless, I mean, of course they existed in America 20 years before that, but in terms of Europe, they were revolutionary concepts. For the last 1,000 years of French history before then, you were judged upon who your father and grandfather were. That was where your rank and status in society came from, and Napoleon ensured that it was replaced with meritocracy. And that is something that a lot of people did not want to happen, and one of the reasons that he was brought down was that he had to fight seven coalitions. And that was because the powers of Europe, powers like Prussia and Russia and Austria, to a lesser extent Britain, did not believe in this kind of meritocracy and, in fact, wanted to extinguish it.

Albert Mohler:

Yes, and thought they had, but Napoleon ended up winning the argument. It took basically the Franco-Prussian War and then World War I to make that argument as convincingly as it should have been understood. But nonetheless by the time you do get to World War II, there is at least an understanding that, in theory, even military leadership ought to be based upon a meritocracy, not upon titled nobility or upon a gentry, but old ideas die long deaths.

Andrew Roberts:

Of course, that's right. And actually, when you look at the military leaders of the First World War, not so much in France, but certainly in Britain and in Germany, you see the aristocracy still very much, or the squirearchy at least, still very much in control. The officer corps of the Prussians and, indeed, the British high command tended to be people who came from the upper middle or the upper classes. That doesn't mean they're bad soldiers, by the way, of course. Both of those classes have produced extraordinarily impressive leaders, and several of them are in my book, like Napoleon and Wellington came from the upper classes. Winston Churchill came from the upper classes. So I'm absolutely not suggesting they don't make good leaders, but it's so much more impressive, isn't it? By the time of the Second World War, when George Marshall can choose from a much wider gene pool as it were than just the aristocracy.

Albert Mohler:

Which, by the way, he had largely built up when they were at the rank of major, and George C. Marshall had had enormous impact on them as younger men. At that point, quite frankly, there was very little hope for serious promotion within the American army. All that changed.

Andrew Roberts:

Yes, and a lot of people, like Dwight Eisenhower of course, had to stay for a very long time in the sub-general rank, for the obvious reason that there were an awful lot of people who were superior to him.

Albert Mohler:

And the army itself was quite small and politically kept small. One of the-

Andrew Roberts:

Tiny, I mean 200,000 people. When the Second World War breaks out, your army is fewer than 200,000. It's the 16th largest army in the world, same size as Romania. And so, when you look at that capacity, the way in which George Marshall was able to make it 80 times bigger by the time the war, Second World War, ended, just the sheer, to grasp that kind of enormous expansion required a really hugely impressive administrative and organizational arrangement.

Albert Mohler:

Right, the American army was fairly close in size to the army of Portugal at the beginning of the war. As you think about this, by the way, one of the things that I think is a great advantage about chapter length of biographical studies is that you really have to concentrate your mind, and you've done that very much in evidence in this book. You're clearly concentrating the mind on Napoleon and Churchill and Hitler, and you just go down the list, all the way down to Margaret Thatcher. And you have to make judgements, and you also have to provide insights. But for several of these, you've written 900-page biographies and now, you've got to reduce it to this. But what I found interesting in Leadership in Warfare is the fact that you actually... I don't even know if you connected this in your own mind, but you actually bring out some character traits of leadership that end up being points of contrast. For instance, and I don't know if you were conscious of this when you were writing it, but you make the point that Adolf Hitler was lazy, extraordinarily lazy, just in terms of his workday.

On the other hand, Napoleon was basically a workaholic, we might say. He had, what you call, an extraordinary capacity for work, and you just think about it. You realize that observers of both of those men certainly must have noted those traits, but there's somehow an alchemy, isn't there, a combination of traits that produces the reason why these individuals end up in an entire chapter of your book. One very lazy, one with an incredible work capacity, but they both end up here.

Andrew Roberts:

I would say that Hitler is the only one of those nine who were lazy. Margaret Thatcher famously only slept four hours-

Albert Mohler:

Absolutely.

Andrew Roberts:

... in every 24. George Marshall, who we mentioned earlier, worked 16-hour days on a regular basis, so did Dwight Eisenhower. Actually, although Winston Churchill took a 45-minute nap every afternoon, that was in order so that he could stay up until 3:00 in the morning working. So these people are, except for Hitler, they are pretty much workaholics, as you say.

Albert Mohler:

Well, and I understand that. I think leadership really demands that, and I think that when it's absent, then it must be explained. And pondering this from my own historical interest in these figures, it seems to me that Hitler is an outlier in so many ways. He's almost difficult to put alongside others, including the others in this book, and certainly in terms of his influence, again, the question's raised by how he could have such power over so many millions and especially in war. He deserves a place here, but he is an outlier in so many ways.

Let me, if I may, just walk through some of these chapters, because I think even the following of the chapters, the consequence of them... You go to Horatio Nelson. You actually make the point that Horatio Nelson was the greatest war hero of British history, which is quite a thing to say. And I wondered if later, when you got to Churchill, you would put Churchill in the same category, although not on the battlefield as Nelson was. But you also point all the way to his death and statements that he had made even earlier when he said, "Either I shall be in Westminster Abbey," which meant dead, "or a titled peer."

He understood what was at stake, but he personalized war. I guess that’s what I want to ask you. To the extent that you have a Horatio Nelson, who I grew up admiring as a boy and still do, to what extent would he have been a leader in any context other than war?

Andrew Roberts:

Oh, I think he would have been, actually. I think he would have made a great takeover tycoon in the world of business. His strategy was attack, attack, attack. He was just constantly active, and that was something which, of course, worked immensely well in the age of fighting sail when he had the capacity to pour two broadsides into an enemy vessel, either French or Spanish, in the same time that it took them to fire one back because of the training that he had insisted on from his sailors. But his strategy, his tactics, at least, were to take advantage of this great advantage over the French and Spanish by attacking constantly. And I think you could see him in lots of other areas, besides the age of fighting sail.

Albert Mohler:

But there really were no capitalist takeover artists in the age of Horatio Nelson.

Andrew Roberts:

Oh sorry, he's got to stay in his own century, has he?

Albert Mohler:

Yes.

Andrew Roberts:

Oh well, fine. In that case, no, no, you're quite right. I mean, he wouldn't have done so well on land where the British army wasn't able to fire twice as fast as the French. He wouldn't have done as well, pretty much, in politics either. He was an extreme reactionary, pro-slavery. He was not a good man when it came to his political views and those, I think, would have caught up with him before too long. His father, of course, was a vicar, was somebody in the Church of England. I can't see him ever getting very far as a priest either. So I think we're pretty lucky that poor old Nelson at the age of 12 years old was sent off to the Royal Navy as a midshipman.

Albert Mohler:

When you look at someone like Horatio Nelson, you look at a name. I mean, there at Trafalgar Square, there he is on that enormously elevated column. To people in Britain today, is Horatio Nelson at all a part of the living imagination? Or if so, among whom?

Andrew Roberts:

Less and less, I'm sorry to say. There have been people who've wanted to have him pulled off the column, on Nelson's column in Trafalgar Square because of the views that I mentioned earlier, his pro-slavery views. He's not really taught terribly much as a hero and, in fact, he was a question. When we have our people who become British through immigration, they get taught various things about British history. ‘Who is the hero on the top of the column in Trafalgar Square?’ was one of the questions. They're thinking of getting rid of that, because it's considered to be too militaristic. So I'm afraid, no, Nelson is... He's being sort of downgraded, not quite canceled, but he's a marked man unfortunately.

Albert Mohler:

Well, I am not only one with an intense historical and theological interest, I am also an Anglophile, but I will say that if London seeks to remove all militaristic imagery, you're going to have a naked city.

Andrew Roberts:

Of course, no, no, no, and we won't, but we just have to have a little bit more leadership, I think. When the statue of Winston Churchill and, indeed, our Cenotaph in Whitehall, the monument to the dead of the First World War and the Second World War, both of those things were spray painted and vandalized recently in a demonstration, and the police stood around and did nothing about it. And it's infuriating really and also very depressing to think that we have got to the stage where we're unable to stand up for our heroes and our values in the way that we ought to.

Albert Mohler:

Right, I think London and Washington, but London more than Washington because of the tragedies of war and a longer history of war, but in particular even looking at the First World War and the massive loss of what Churchill would've called British manhood to that horrible war, the commemoration of that war, so much a part of national identity. It just seems to me that trying in any way to desecrate or to erase that means that you just have blank tape. It doesn't make historical sense. It doesn't even serve the moral purposes of the present.

Andrew Roberts:

Precisely. And actually, another thing that we're seeing a bit of at the moment, which is awful, is not so much mocking the great services for the dead as to hijack them. In London on the 11th, just a few days ago, at the time of the Remembrance Day ceremony in Whitehall, the Extinction Rebellion environmentalists, activists, staged their own attempted Remembrance Day service for the planet, and it's not the right time to do something like that. It jars terribly with the now 100-year old ceremony for the dead of the Great War and the Second World War and subsequent.

Albert Mohler:

Well, it also shows tragically and immorally the luxury of people who did not have to fight in those wars and do not have to take any moral stance about what was at stake in those wars, but the only reason they can do what they did, abhorrently enough, is because Britain and the Allies were victorious in those wars.

Andrew Roberts:

Precisely, yes. You're essentially politicizing something and taking advantage of the fact that you do have free speech, which had it not been for the people who everybody else is trying to memorialize at the time, you wouldn't have. I mean, there's simply no way. If the Germans had won either the First World War, certainly the Second World War, that we would have had anything like free speech in this country, free speech which ought to be treated respectfully and not abused in the way that it was just the other day, and will be again frankly. This is an ongoing struggle, the cultural struggle in Britain at the moment.

Albert Mohler:

Well, and on both sides of the Atlantic. But you cross history here. You end your chapter on Nelson by referring to him citing Emma Hamilton as the... Nelson as the guardian angel of England. But then you fast-forward to Winston Churchill, and so, you're skipping a lot of territory there. But on the other hand, with Winston Churchill you've got everything from the Victorian Age into the reign of Elizabeth II. So, you can actually cover about, well, half the modern age with Winston Churchill.

Andrew Roberts:

It's amazing, isn't it? He took part in the last great cavalry charge of the Britain Empire. So you tie him in, therefore, with the British Empire as he's charging with a sword and a pistol. And then, you fast-forward through and he's prime minster at the time that we have the nuclear bomb. So yes, he does straddle the whole gamut of warfare like a colossus.

Albert Mohler:

I've been fascinated with Churchill since I was 13 years old. And in my study, there are three oil portraits of Churchill as a matter of fact, along with many others, most of them theological. But Churchill is there, because he has been a focus of fascination for me and not just a matter of historical interest but a matter of the formation of worldview and understanding of leadership. And Churchill was such a man of parts. It's difficult to imagine how you could write a chapter on him.

I did that myself, but to compress Churchill down into just a few thousand words is an enormous challenge, but it's also a joy. I mean, you're talking about someone, who unlike several of the others you're talking about here, let's put it this way, was able to smile while he raised the victory sign in the smoldering ruins of a Blitz and bombing, someone who did indeed work with maps and strategy, and brilliantly so with his generals and admirals until 3:00 in the morning, but someone who did also consume an enormous... And for a Baptist, this is just a historical note, consumed an enormous amount of champagne at the same time. He appears to me to stand out from these others in the fact that Churchill far more, I would argue, than someone like Nelson, was, indeed, going to dominate his age one way or the other.

Andrew Roberts:

Yes, I mean, he was very lucky again and again. I think had he not resigned over the, or forced to resign at least over the, Italy Campaign and then gone into the trenches and served in the First World War on the dangerous end of the First World War in the Western France trenches, that might have damaged his career extremely badly, because of course he had made these blunders in the Dardanelles, well intentions. And it could have come off, but it didn't and it led to the . . .

Albert Mohler:

It wasn't a stupid idea.

Andrew Roberts:

No, it wasn't a stupid idea.

Albert Mohler:

But it was carried off stupidly.

Andrew Roberts:

Actually, it was a brilliant idea. To have got the Royal Navy through the straits of the Dardanelles and to have moored it off Istanbul, modern day Istanbul, then Constantinople, you would've taken the Ottoman Empire out of the Great War. It would have been one of the greatest strategic coups in the history of warfare, but because of the way it was organized on the 18th of March 1915, we lost six ships trying to get through. If we'd done it earlier, if we had done it slightly differently, that wouldn't have happened.

And so, it wasn't a bad idea. It was just he was tremendously unlucky, and that could've knocked him out. That could've taken him out, and he could've just spent the rest of his career painting or writing books or so on. So I don't think we can assume that he would always have been in the forefront at all time.

Albert Mohler:

Well, he thought he would. Even as a 16-year-old, he's telling his friends of this vision he has in which he alone is going to save England, which could not make you very popular as a 16-year-old.

Andrew Roberts:

It's amazing, isn't it? Yes, he told his best friend when he's a schoolboy at Harrow School, "There shall be great upheavals and terrible struggles in our lives, and that I should be called upon to save England and save London and save the Empire." And then, half a century later, that does happen. But for that to have happened, it required him to go off and put his life on the line in the trenches of the First World War.

Albert Mohler:

Yes. You said he was lucky. I'll just say providentially, it was not without note that he was born as the first son of the second son of the Duke of Marlborough, and I've been to Blenheim more than once. You're there and you realize any baby born here is going to have a certain sense of historical destiny that another baby is likely never to have.

Andrew Roberts:

Yes, I've just had the honor of being appointed to the Blenheim, a trustee of the Blenheim Palace Foundation. And I have to say, I can't go through those gates, those extraordinary gates, without thinking, "Gosh, what a total megalomaniac I'd have been if I was born here."

Albert Mohler:

No, I will tell you, I had the same thought. My other thought was, I'll just say since I had an opportunity to speak to someone who's a member of the board of the trust, please do not desecrate Blenheim Palace with the modern art, the display that was there when I was there a matter of months ago.

Andrew Roberts:

You know what they had last year? They had, speaking again on a Baptist show, a lavatory, a gold-plated lavatory-

Albert Mohler:

Stolen days before I was there.

Andrew Roberts:

You did know. Yes, did you not see this? I'm pleased by that. Anyhow, well, nobody sees it now, because it had two million pounds worth of gold on it and somebody stole it.

Albert Mohler:

No, I just will tell you that walking through Blenheim Palace and understanding what that meant and seeing a dead horse hanging from the ceiling as a supposed demonstration of modern art and other things, including an assassinated pope, that just led me to say, "This is what happens when an Empire no longer believes in itself." But I will leave that to you and other members of the trust to adjudicate going forward.

Andrew Roberts:

I'm not going to say a word on this.

Albert Mohler:

Yeah, you go from Churchill to Hitler and that is jarring, but nonetheless, historically it's explicable. And you begin by saying, "Any understanding of Adolf Hitler has to begin by acknowledging the fact that he was extravagantly admired and even worshiped by millions of normal people for more than a decade." Now, that leads me to wonder, using the careful prose that you employed in that sentence, would you use the word ’worshiped’ of any other of the leaders here? I mean, I can think of one you might but-

Andrew Roberts:

Stalin.

Albert Mohler:

... not necessarily. Stalin, yes.

Andrew Roberts:

Stalin, you would, as well. When you think that there are still people, even today in Russia, who admire Stalin and look up to him and think he was a great man, even though they know perfectly well he was responsible for the Ukraine famine and the Katyn massacres and the six million or so people who died in the Gulag. There too you can no longer see this as just a political decision. This unfortunately goes into the whole area of religion.

 

 

Albert Mohler:

Yes. I think, theologically, you're exactly right and both of them had an iconography. They had a cult. They had effective state worship, one way or another, and of course they had heretics and they had heresy trials, so to speak.

Andrew Roberts:

And Mein Kampf was a bible, just as some of Stalin's works on Leninism were as well. You see the whole gamut of the Catholic 16th century Inquisition at work in both of those countries, Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia.

Albert Mohler:

It reminds me of that great paragraph in The Last Lion by William Manchester in which he says... It's that great paragraph in which he ends by saying, "In London, there was such a man." But it mentions that what would be necessary for England to survive would be someone who could rally the English people the way that Hitler rallied the German people but without a cult of self-worship.

Andrew Roberts:

Precisely and also to appear, to appeal, sorry, to the best in human nature rather than the worst. Churchill was appealing to emotions that we should be proud of. Whereas, Hitler, of course, with his rage and resentment, his racism, his anti-Semitism and so on was appealing to the lowest in human nature.

Albert Mohler:

Now one of the issues that you raised with reference to Hitler is the fact that he, in one sense, defeated himself and that was by the fact that he evidently was so committed to his ideology, that he allowed his ideology to subvert his war aims. And I think there are lot of people who don't reach that insight about Hitler in that the ideology is central to the man. It's inseparable.

Andrew Roberts:

So central to him that it leads him on to make the greatest strategic error of his life, or at least a couple of them. The first, of course, was to invade Russia in June 1941. The thing that impelled Operation Barbarossa was not strategy. It was Nazism. He wanted to have, what he called, a final reckoning with the Bolsheviks who he'd been denouncing on street corners since the 1920s. He wanted Lebensraum for his so-called master race, again essentially a Nazi concept.

And of course, he also wanted to annihilate the Jews, over 50% of whom lived in Russia in 1941. So these things are driven by his politics and not by grand strategy. And then the mistake that he made six months later was to declare war against the United States, an uninvadable country that he simply couldn't truly damage. And he did this again, because he thought that American democracy was, by its very nature, weak and would be unable to respond effectively. So, this is his Nazi ideology. We see it in lots of other areas too, actually impelling him towards what ultimately, of course, was to be his and Germany’s doom.

 

 

Albert Mohler:

And you cannot fail to also mention here the final solution, the energies, the horrifying, unspeakably evil energies of the Nazi regime driven by Hitler and the elimination of European jury, which actually, in many ways, fatally undermined his own war effort in two ways—by directing so much energy towards the annihilation of the Jews, and secondly, he destroyed literally millions of people he could have put to work in the war effort.

Andrew Roberts:

And not just normal people, the most highly intelligent and hardworking and well-educated people in German society. So yes, as you say. I go into this, actually, in some detail in my book Storm of War, published about ten years ago or so, and look at the way in which through the Holocaust, but also through all these other ways, that he put his ideology before Germany's best interest, best military interest, that he managed to, as you mentioned earlier, to undermine his chances really.

Albert Mohler:

We have to move from Hitler to Stalin, and you do so in the book. And I think, honestly, most people in the West alive today in 2020 have at least some mental referent for Adolf Hitler, but I think fewer and fewer have a mental referent for Joseph Stalin. And yet, Stalin was as consequential in world history as Adolf Hitler was and perhaps more so, considering the length of his reign and the continuation of his regime long after Stalin's own death.

Andrew Roberts:

That's right, yes. And ultimately, it's an incredibly tragic story, isn't it, that one of these terrible dictators should have been able to be killed in 1945. And the other one, unfortunately, is allowed to carry on for another eight years, tyrannizing his own country and then extending, attempting to extend communism and Soviet communism, a truly evil totalitarian concept across other parts of the world, especially of course Eastern Europe. And so, yes, it's also one of the difficult moral issues really, that we only won the Second World War because the German army was destroyed in Russia.

It wasn't destroyed by the British and the Americans and Canadians and French and the rest of people in Western Europe. For every five Germans killed in combat during the Second World War, four died on the Eastern Front. So, we have to somehow get our minds round the fact that, although we did win the Second World War, it was only with the help of a tyrant who was, for all intents and purposes, as bad as the one we were destroying.

Albert Mohler:

Well, about 20 years after the end of the Second World War, historians began to raise some basic questions about this, and we could go through the bibliography here. But, one of the most humbling assessments was that, perhaps, only a regime like the Soviet regime under Stalin in Russia could be as ruthless and as, how can I put this, as callous in the death of their own people as Stalin was to absorb that kind of violence in order to allow the German army to be spent out in places such as Stalingrad. No democratic regime would be likely to survive that kind of test.

 

 

Andrew Roberts:

I used to believe that, but I slightly wonder whether that is true now. I think that if Britain had been invaded by the Nazis in 1940, I think Churchill would've been able to have told us that we needed to carry on fighting to the death in the way that... Stalin, of course, with him, it was just orders. He killed the equivalent of an entire division at Stalingrad. The NKVD would shoot anybody who retreated, and that led to over 14,000 people being shot, and they would have to charge into German machine gun fire without weapons in the hope that they would be able to pick up the weapons of the dead person in front of them.

Andrew Roberts:

And this is extraordinary stuff. But nonetheless, I wonder whether or not, when you're fighting for your hearth and home and when you're encouraged by somebody like Winston Churchill, that we wouldn't have also been able to have undergone appalling and extreme circumstances like that.

Albert Mohler:

But that assumes that there would have been a war, but your own historical work in several different of your books points to the fact that the appeasement class was such a powerful threat that, but for Winston Churchill and others such as he, it might never have gotten to that. I think one of the most amazing questions to me, and it's one that we don't even time really to trace out here, but the fact is that even after Winston Churchill becomes prime minister, he's still being undercut by Halifax and others.

Andrew Roberts:

Yes, I do go into that a bit in my biography of Winston Churchill, Walking with Destiny, that we spoke about a few months ago and you're right. But actually, one of the extraordinary things about him was that there was so few others who were saying the same thing. Usually in politics, you have a few people who stick their necks out. Other than Winston Churchill, it's very difficult to think of anyone, not just in Britain but in the West really, who denounced Hitler and demanded high defence spending and opposed him right from the beginning. It's a sorry tale.

Albert Mohler:

And there are no ways to track actually counterfactuals in history. I know you've edited a book about what might have been, but the fact is, as intellectually stimulating and curious as that is, you really don't know, but it's certainly, I think, true. I'll go back to the point I made that when you look at the United States in World War II, it would be very difficult to imagine a democratically elected government here surviving anything like the military losses that the Soviet Union had experienced when the war was not understood to affect the American continental mainland. And so, the United States was in a different position.

Andrew Roberts:

Well, that's because you're lucky enough to have a 3,000-mile ocean between you and-

Albert Mohler:

Providentially, yes.

Andrew Roberts:

... the Nazis.

Albert Mohler:

Yes, yes, but that enabled America to suffer under illusions, such that we had an army about the size of Portugal as World War II's beginning in Europe, and that's not envisionable now. We're looking at a different world order, and that takes us to the continuation of your book. You go from Joseph Stalin to George C. Marshall, and Marshall becomes a bridge figure, not only between say World War I and World War II, and he's absolutely instrumental to World War II in ways he doesn't often get credit for. And then, also as secretary of state after the war, he has a leading role in rebuilding the very Europe over which he had supervised war.

Andrew Roberts:

Yes, he was a giant, wasn't he? I mean, a truly extraordinary figure. The Marshall Plan saved Europe, I believe, or at least large wodges of it, including probably the whole of Italy from communism, maybe even France. It was absolutely essential that the European economies be rebuilt as soon as possible after the war, and that couldn't have been done without massive American financial aid, which of course ultimately was repaid, not financially repaid but ultimately repaid, because it meant that you had people who were going to be able to buy your products.

So, it was a very broadminded and farsighted economic action as well as a political action. It was one of the most selfless moments really and ultimately, I'm really pleased to say, managed to work. Can you imagine a Europe in which France and Italy had fallen to communism?

Albert Mohler:

Right, looked at from an American perspective, it represents a high watermark of bipartisan government in the United States in the aftermath of the war. The Marshall Plan was only possible because Democrats and Republicans were willing to spend more money than the United States had even collected in many previous years in taxes and to devote it to the rebuilding of a war-ravaged continent, and especially Western Europe in such a way that it would reestablish civilization.

It was broadminded. It was also in the national interest of the United States, but that was a near run thing. I mean, it only is recognized as being in the national interest of the United States, because it effectively worked.

Andrew Roberts:

Well, that's right. And can you imagine you're a senator in 1949 or 1948, say, and somebody comes to you and says that America must take on these huge debts in order to give money to foreign countries. It's not an easy sale politically. And yet, the leadership was so broadminded that they were able to do that. I see it as almost as important as the Germany First policy that the Roosevelt administration adopted in 1941, whereby they decided they were going to attack Germany before Japan. That too required extraordinary statesmanship to sell to people, but they managed it.

Albert Mohler:

I just gave recently a major address on Dwight Eisenhower, and he's a far more interesting figure than most people think of him as being. But he's another one who in the United States is receding into the imagination, partly because the Cold War has disappeared from American consciousness. And so, the continued leadership of Dwight Eisenhower after the war becomes something of a footnote now.

Andrew Roberts:

Yes, how sad and tragic that is, one of your great presidents, president at a time when America was at its most powerful really, the 1950s, and a good president and a very, very fine man. And if you're starting to forget people like Dwight Eisenhower, then that does not bode well for the American future.

Albert Mohler:

No, we recently, finally after decades of controversy, dedicated the Eisenhower Memorial in Washington DC, and it's not the atrocity it almost was, but it's still an atrocity. We can't connect. We're just unwilling. We don't have the moral fiber anymore to connect our own leaders with classical models of leadership. We have to cut them down to size, so to speak, but when you're talking about the achievements of someone like Dwight Eisenhower, you really can't cut them down to size.

So it ends up being this remarkably out of scale Eisenhower with this monumental, modern recreation of the Normandy Cliffs. You look at it and you go, "We're not the civilization we once were. That's for certain." As you think of two others in your book, and Margaret Thatcher's been another fascination to me ever since, because I was a very young man when she came to power and I was absolutely fascinated by her. I had the opportunity to meet her and actually talk with her at length.

My favorite photograph in my study is of my wife and I visiting with Lady Baroness Thatcher at the time. And, I continue to believe that there is still a possibility for convictional leadership on the world stage. And I still believe that Margaret Thatcher was a convictional leader. I hold her up as a model of convictional leadership. She had certain ideas that she represented, and she represented them to the very end.

Andrew Roberts:

That's so right. Yes, exactly. My country was in the danger of slipping down to being a third-rate power in 1979 when she came to power. We had the most terrible systemic issues and problems, and lack of leadership and lack of vision of whereabouts we wanted to be, and it was a bad time. I remember it personally. I was born in 1963, so I was 16 when she became prime minister. I remember it extremely well, and then I got to know her, and she came to dinner several times here in my house in London, and I went round the corner.

She lived about 200 yards away from where I'm sitting now. And so, I knew her well and she appointed me to take her place on the Margaret Thatcher Archive Trust. And so, she is such an important figure in my overview of politics that I'm not for a moment pretending now to be objective. I can't be about Margaret Thatcher. I'm entirely subjective. I think that she was a great woman, a great statesperson and somebody who effectively saved my country. So it's impossible really for me to be objective about her.

 

Albert Mohler:

No, and I appreciate that. I share your admiration from across the sea and as a-

Andrew Roberts:

And in that chapter, the choice, by the way, of her to be in my book, Leadership in War, is not down to the fact that I feel veneration for her but down to the fact that she did fight this war, the Falklands War, in a Churchillian way. You can hear the echoes and overturns in her speeches. You can see the way in which she got a small war cabinet, that she empowered the admirals and so on, the way she worked it politically in the House of Commons and in the wider cabinet. This was a woman who had read her Churchill and was going to put it into effect, and you see it extremely effectively in the Falklands Conflict.

Albert Mohler:

And I think of her as something of an heir of Nelson in the sense that I believe it is still true today in 2020 that the British naval action against Argentina in the Falklands War is the most distant mobilization of naval forces in all of human history.

Andrew Roberts:

Yes, yes, we were fighting 8,500 miles away or something totally extraordinary like that, yes, the longest lines of communication of any naval engagement.

Albert Mohler:

Well, and the other problem is that in the modern age with satellites and all the rest, there was no way that the British navy could sneak up on Argentina. In other words, everyone knew that that naval force was headed to Argentina and that afforded opportunity for negotiation, but of course the Argentinian regime was not open to negotiation.

Andrew Roberts:

That's right.

Albert Mohler:

When you look at Charles de Gaulle, and he's become more of a figure of fascination to me at this stage in my life than he was when I was a boy, because he was certainly a part of the landscape, de Gaulle and the Fifth Republic but he, to Americans, was always a difficult person to think about, because he was basically anti-American. Of course, it turns out he was anti-everybody but France, and his own term about France is that France must have a certain idea about itself.

He said he had a certain idea of France, and it seems to me that de Gaulle represents someone who nearly is absent from the world scene today, and that is the national leader who embodies the nation.

Andrew Roberts:

Yes, that's true. It's very difficult to see anyone like that. Perhaps you need a war for an individual to embody a nation in a democracy, at least.

Albert Mohler:

And an existential threat.

Andrew Roberts:

One of the things that FDR and Churchill both worried about was whether or not Charles de Gaulle was a Democrat or whether or not he was a basically authoritarian figure, such as you saw in Eastern Europe in the 1930s, for example, again and again, a kind of Admiral Horthy figure or a General Franco perhaps, that kind of leader, which he was not. He was a Democrat. And of course, when he lost elections, he stood down. And it's not just that he was anti-American. He was anti-Anglo-Saxon.

He was anti- ‘les roast beef’ He despised us in England just as much and thought that we were exactly the same thing, Anglo-Saxon cousins. He needed to outmaneuver and to split as much as possible and to beat. And there's an extraordinary moment when he went off to visit the battlefields of Russia and at one point, he says, "What an extraordinary people, extraordinary people." And his private secretary recognizes that, in fact, he's talking about the Germans, to have got as far as Stalingrad rather than the Russians who ultimately defeated them. So you're right. Yes, there was a sort of equal opportunities contempt that de Gaulle felt for everybody else.

Albert Mohler:

What a very morally complex figure, to be honest, a very difficult figure to untangle, but that raises another question, which is how exactly is de Gaulle remembered in France today?

Andrew Roberts:

Well, it totally depends on which part of the political spectrum you come from in France. He's admired by Emmanuel Macron. He is, of course, followed by the Gaullist right. He's interestingly despised by the National Fronts, the neo-fascist French politicians because of what he did in Algeria, which was to withdraw the French Empire from Algeria. And they hate him for that. In fact, the National Front party was created by people who had grown up opposing de Gaulle.

On the left, he is also despised for having been an ultra-conservative in many ways, although not actually all the time economically. He was a nationalist economically. So he's a divisive figure in one sense, although every Frenchman will agree and I hope… and Winston Churchill agreed with this as well, and I certainly do—I'm sure you do too, that ultimately when push came to shove against the Nazis, he was the man of destiny and he was the person who saved the honor of France.

Albert Mohler:

Yes, even by fiction, but he did save the honor of France, marching into Paris as if the French had won the war when they did no such thing. I think you point out less than 1% of the casualties-

Andrew Roberts:

Believing. I mean, no, I'm thinking-

Albert Mohler:

... were French.

 

Andrew Roberts:

... more in terms of saving the honor of France in June 1940, leaving France, refusing to go along with a pessimist surrender, coming to London to continue the war against the Germans. That's when he saved the honor of France.

Albert Mohler:

Right, no, and I would agree with you on that. And also, he did so at the cost... And again, you think about what's at stake. Had de Gaulle been unsuccessful, he would've been shot as a traitor or worse. And so, he put his life on the line, demonstrated personal courage, as well. Every one of these figures is fascinating. I think every one of them is fully justified in the chapters of your book, Leadership in War: Essential Lessons from Those Who Made History.

It's another wonderful work, Andrew. I really admire what you do. I read all of your works, including ones we never had the opportunity to talk about, Salisbury and Halifax. And I want to thank you for the work you put into these books, and then the evident joy that you demonstrate in talking about them. This is not just the matter of authorial interest to you. There's deeply a personal interest here.

Andrew Roberts:

Thank you very much. I appreciate that. Yes, I'm not one of those writers who thinks that when you put the final full stop on the final page, then it's all done, and you can just leave the rest of it to the publishers. Part of the great pleasure, for me, about being a writer is sharing it and talking to people about it and interacting with them and listening to their reactions to it. So thank you very much, indeed, Albert. It's been a complete delight to be on the show. My next book is a biography of King George III, which is coming out this time next year. So I'd love to talk to you about that then.

Albert Mohler:

Well, consider this your first invitation from a rebellious colonist to talk about your biography on George III.  I guarantee you I will consume it ravenously as soon as it gets to me and look forward to talking with you about it. Thank you again to Andrew Roberts for joining me today for Thinking in Public. God bless you.

Andrew Roberts:

Thank you.

Albert Mohler:

Many thanks to my guest, Andrew Roberts, for thinking with me today. If you enjoyed this conversation, you'll find more than 100 of these as Thinking in Public episodes at albertmohler.com. Just go to the tab, Thinking in Public. I hope that you've enjoyed these conversations as much as I have. And I'll tell you, there's nothing like reading a book and then having the opportunity to discuss the book with the author. For more information on the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, go to SBTS.edu. For information on Boyce College, just go to boycecollege.com. I'll meet you again for Thinking in Public. And until then, keep thinking. I'm Albert Mohler.

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