Erik Larsen, Prime Minister, Winston Churchill discussed on Fresh Air


On this Memorial Day we're listening to my interview with author Erik Larsen he has a new book about British prime minister Winston Churchill's first year in office when his country was finding virtually alone against **** Germany the German Air Force waged a deadly bombing campaign against British cities Morrison's book is called the splendid and the vial we recorded this interview in March in the early days of social isolation when we on the fresh air staff were developing strategies to produce our show from our homes I spoke to Larson via Skype from my home in Philadelphia so these bombings inflicted enormous damage to buildings and people killed thousands how did the citizens prepare how did they respond first there was obviously a good deal of terror people flocked to shelters a lot of people had actually built already shelters in their backyards trivializing Anderson's Shelton's work essentially closes that would be buried and that we're getting to be pretty effective against all but a direct hit but over time as rates became no I mean we're talking here the first phase what's is fifty seven consecutive nights of bombing over time the kind of I will I will save weariness but some are a resilient seem to come into the the population on that not many mailers last but many many more many more stay and the first non flocked to the office and so forth but over time market in many side now it's up to it's up to shake it German what's going to happen to me tonight so I'm just sitting in my bed I'm going down to my basement I'm gonna be in my living room sh it is a mess that most Londoners flocked to stops they did not relatively small percentage of London's get so depressed state typically stay home sh yeah yeah there was a fundamental channel calculus at work here and that was that on any given night during a race you could not point to a particular individual and say that person is going to die tomorrow but what you could say one hundred percent accuracy is that someone would die that night that doesn't require that night in this very sort of strange kind of thing think about because what it meant is that you were just as likely as the next guy to be killed that much there was nothing you could do about you know that that the British Royal Air Force was actually pretty ineffective in doing anything about these night German bombing raids and they really couldn't see them to attack the the invading aircraft I mean there were anti aircraft batteries on the ground but they really couldn't see much to hit anyway but there's an important decision that Churchill made about how often they would fire them this is again goes to I think that the the value of symbolic actions don't explain very much so so the the the blitz begins on on September seventh nineteen forty in there and there are several nights and brains work one thing that is really striking to the populace of wonder is that it it it doesn't seem to be any response by the city's anti aircraft guns and and this is infuriating it's like why are we letting the **** you'll have full access to the skies over money why aren't we doing something about it and what's that that that the that in order to conserve ammunition after his runner were under instructions to really you know the sensing sensing not fire do you see the whites of their eyes you know don't fire until there isn't a clear target over Iraq sh so a lot of these guns remained quiescent during during during these three things right attention recognize that that this was this was a this was a problem so much so he he issues an order that says that says that henceforth I think it was September eleventh this weekend I want he said henceforth the guns could fire with fire at will yeah just fire and sure enough they did this happen masons the heartless that office it won't it just thrilled and cheered in nineteen forty the idea of an a bombing campaign to terrorize and demoralize citizens wasn't a relatively new thing I'm in the den one case of a during the Spanish Civil War but this was something kind of new and Hitler and Hermann Goring the head of the German Air Force the Luftwaffe continue to be astounded that the British public was taking this in and Churchill wasn't giving in and then they expanded the attacks beyond London to some other industrial cities like Coventry and Bristol tell us about what that was like for the for those to sh yeah yeah the raid against Coventry in November nineteen forty was particularly significant rain because the Luftwaffe mask and immense forces aircraft with the idea of a literate the city of Coventry and and and actually right let's succeeded in that act so much so that afterwards both on the German side and the British side coverage it was kind of the gold standard if you will the bridge referred to concentrate the cation a measure of the effectiveness of a raid was with wasn't one Coventry to Coventry street Coventry's that is a real jarring and amazingly amazingly affected from the German point of view German ranked one of the most interesting was just what happened in in in in in Bristol England this is in nineteen forty one Churchill was on his way to Bristol to award honorary degrees at as not all chances of Bristol university and that his whole entourage with various officials in his special training and they're on their way to write a personal I was on a sidewalk outside the city have only because that night Juventus rate struck the city of Bristol and as they arrived in town the next morning no the city the city is flying one of the Churchill goals goes on goes ahead with his plans to award these these degrees rise just looking over some buildings literally next door to the the space in which they're holding degree ceremony building next door are on fire people who people arrive in the audience who have clearly been up all night fighting fires digging bodies out of destroyed buildings and so forth there in the audience up on the diets with him are men who have their clothing is wet and Saudi and and and and so forth but they're still wearing their yeah they're still wearing their robes and this this degree ceremony still goes on after which Churchill gives wonderful extemporaneous speech just just about the courage Bristol residents and and it's and it was really good and I think a very amazing very moving moment specially prepared who just just not a lot for her his daughter Mary who just felt her love for her father just become so much more amplified even in in that moment it is interesting because you know Churchill was an inspirational speaker on it before parliament and on the radio but you also say that these visits to bombed out neighborhoods in London and cities throughout the British islands were also headed inspirational effect which is you know it can be tricky for an elected leader to go to an area where people have lost their livelihoods and their loved ones and are utterly shattered and shell shocked this is this politician coming in with a nice car and an entourage it can rub people the wrong way how did he manage to make it inspirational we know this is this is something that after that first rate on September seventh nineteen forty the next day Churchill went to the very heavily bombed doctors took the stand with an entourage and one member general Hastings Ismay addicting okay because he looked like okay his name recounts how when they arrived in the stand he was very concerned there would be a negative reaction to Churchill arriving after after this this this horrible event that there might be a lot of recrimination like why what why were you not able to save us from from this thank for one reason or another that was not the case as they could be found the public was the people there who bombed out of their homes and so forth loved it that Churchill had arrived loved it that he was there now whether that had a lot to do with Churchill himself on you know it's hard to say it was a moment when when maybe it could have gone either way but the fact is they embrace Churchill and Churchill embraced them and one thing that endeared him to the public was the fact that he was he was not afraid to cry he was deeply moved by this by this event seven and then again constantly on this idea of recognizing the power of symbolic acts there was one moment you describe where it might have been touring Bristol where such a large crowd gathered that not everyone could see him he hosts his bowler hat on his cane and listed high so that people can see that is there yeah listen hide swirls it around in the air so that people can see that the leaders there I should say also by the way that that you know this is he was not this wasn't sort of a desire justice yeah no rebel and an adulation of his audiences that was not it at all he was he was deeply deeply moved by everything they saw him she was the case that Bristol as he was after he had lived at the speech and after he had made his way back to the training with this huge crowd of people from the city had clustered around and we're following his card back to the train bridge it could have been as merry points of merry Churchill's daughter retirees she points out it could have been a festival day in Bristol so he arrived to train board since waving to the crowd wasted crowd ways he's waiting until the train is out of sight and obviously out of sight of anybody back in Bristol and then he picks up a newspaper holes in front of his hand behind the newspaper begins to cry he's he's that moved by the situation I believe it's at that point that he says the sense something effectively it's a great responsibility Erik Larsen's book is the splendid and the vial we'll talk more after a short break this is.

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