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Right Man at the Right Time


As the son of a World War II veteran, I was force-fed a steady diet of war stories from birth.  I knew which countries were on which side and why.  I knew the various campaigns and their outcome.  I learned that there was no one war, and there was a lot of ethnic-score-settling masquerading as a single war.  Most interesting to me was that the decision of when to start the war was made by the European bond market, not Hitler.  Destitute after the reparations of the first World War, Germany began selling bonds or borrowing money to build their military might.  When the bond market stopped taking German bonds, the monetary inflows stopped.  Hitler knew he would never be stronger than he was then and ordered the invasion of Poland.

However, I had just a cardboard understanding of the leaders.  I understood both Hitler and Churchill were great orators, except one was clownish, while the other was evil.  A good friend recommended The Splendid and the Vile by Erik Larson, about the enigmatic Winston Churchill during the buildup to the war.  I am grateful for that recommendation, as I learned Churchill was not mere cardboard.  He was a bully like Donald Trump but cried as honestly as John Boehner.  He cared little about his personal appearance but wore pink silk underwear.  He was tolerant of a person’s religion but intolerant of people who whistle.  He was masterful at “positioning” — phrasing ideas to reinforce each other.  He was personally quite brave, taking needless risks with his personal safety.   He could  deliver bad news in such a way that actually inspired his people.  He was the embodiment of leadership!

But he was also human.  His youngest daughter felt “so ignored by the war” that she volunteered to be an antiaircraft gunner in Hyde Park.  His son, Randolph, found too many beds to sleep in and took too many gambles, losing his wife, Pamela.

Averill Harriman was Chairman of Union Pacific and close to President Roosevelt, who sent him to evaluate Churchill’s prospects.  In the process, he became very close to Churchill’s daughter-in-law, Pamela . . . same Pamela.  She would become his third wife.

Everybody has family troubles . . . even Churchill.

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