TERRE HAUTE, Ind. —
Broken. Humiliated. Discarded. Finished.
Few of us think of Winston Churchill in such bleak terms. Our history classes etched Churchill into our memories as the British leader who refused to submit to Hitler. The lion who inspired his countrymen to relentlessly fight the Nazis and prevail in World War II. The jowly, cigar-chomping, top-hatted prime minister who told Englishmen to brace themselves for war so that “if the British Empire and its commonwealth lasts for a thousand years, men will say, ‘This was their finest hour.’”
Indeed, that was Churchill. At age 65, the venerable Gibraltar of a man that Great Britain leaned upon in its greatest crisis.
That scene opens the new biography, “Young Titan: The Making of Winston Churchill,” written by Indiana State University professor Michael Shelden. The year is 1940. Churchill walks through the rubble of the House of Parliament in shell-shocked London, wreaked by the deadly Luftwaffe bombing campaign. Smoke fills the English air, along with talk of surrender. Churchill erases such defeatism, vowing to battle the Adolph Hitler regime to the death.
That Churchill motivated the Brits. That Churchill motivates millions worldwide, still.
Yet, as Shelden emphasized in an interview earlier this month, “That Churchill you know at 65 didn’t just show up out of nowhere.”
In reality, Churchill had risen from his own personal ashes at that moment. Like his nation, Churchill, too, was once laid low, spiritually wounded, ready to wave the white flag on his life.
That Churchill was 40. His glorious, phenomenal days of youth — as writer, 19th-century war hero, aristocrat, world traveler, romantic and brash liberal in Parliament — had crumbled around him. As leader of the British Navy in 1915, Churchill bore the blame for a catastrophic military miscalculation in the Battle of Gallipoli, regarded as one of the worst debacles for the Allies in World War I. His name was mud. As Shelden writes in “Young Titan,” Churchill’s rising star was extinguished. Destined to become prime minister, Churchill was deflated by Gallipoli and “found himself a humble major in the trenches.”