Winston Churchill, Presaging His Iron Curtain Speech, Prepares to Counter the Bolshevik Threat and Diminishment of British Power in 1920

He calls in his future advisor: “What follies unspeakable are being committed.”

He looks forward to drinking a bottle of whiskey given to him by the Managing Director of Johnnie Walker

With World War I ongoing, in July 1917 Churchill was appointed Minister of Munitions, and in January 1919 Secretary of State for War and Air.

A major preoccupation of his tenure in the...

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Winston Churchill, Presaging His Iron Curtain Speech, Prepares to Counter the Bolshevik Threat and Diminishment of British Power in 1920

He calls in his future advisor: “What follies unspeakable are being committed.”

He looks forward to drinking a bottle of whiskey given to him by the Managing Director of Johnnie Walker

With World War I ongoing, in July 1917 Churchill was appointed Minister of Munitions, and in January 1919 Secretary of State for War and Air.

A major preoccupation of his tenure in the War Office was the Allied intervention in the Russian Civil War. when British, Canadian, and French troops landed on Russian soil to aid Russians fighting with the Bolsheviks for control of the country. Churchill was a staunch advocate of foreign intervention, declaring that Bolshevism must be “strangled in its cradle”. He secured, from a divided and loosely organized Cabinet, intensification and prolongation of the British involvement beyond the wishes of any major group in Parliament or the nation—and in the face of the bitter hostility of the Labour Party. In 1920, after the last British forces had been withdrawn, Churchill was instrumental in having arms sent to the Poles when they invaded Ukraine.

As R. Crosby Kemper wrote in “Winston Churchill: Resolution, Defiance, Magnanimity, Good Will, “On May 1, 1920, Churchill set out his view of Bolshevik tyranny in a cabinet memorandum. The Bolsheviks, he wrote, have “committed, and are committing unspeakable atrocities, and are maintaining themselves in power by a terrorism on an unprecedented scale, and by the denial of the most elementary rights of citizenship and freedom.”

As the Russian civil war ended in the Crimea with a Bolshevik victory, Churchill feared another Red triumph at the gates of Warsaw. He wrote Lloyd George, Bonar Law and Lord Balfour that “we are deliberately throwing away piecemeal the friends who could have helped us. Half-hearted war is being followed by halfhearted peace. We are going I fear to lose both: and be left alone … we are just crumbling our power away. Before long we shall not have a single card in our hands.” He also worked for a peace treaty which would place British support on the side of Turkey against Greece. When he could not carry the Cabinet or the Prime Minister he worried that war would ensue in Palestine and Mesopotamia. Some of his fears would, in time, be justified.

One concern was the expense of British intervention in an Arab uprising in Mesopotamia. Nevertheless, he also believed that a restrained response would lead to greater violence. Although he called for “vigorous action and decisive results,” as Secretary of State for War and Air he faced a chronic shortfall in manpower to meet all of Britain’s military commitments.

In 1920, the Churchill’s bought a home at 2 Sussex Square. In the Summer, the Churchills moved in, and would stay there less than 2 years, until 1922, when they acquired Chartwell.

Lord James Stevenson joined the Johnnie Walker whiskey blending company in 1888, working his way up to become its joint Managing Director. He is credited with having come up with the company’s advertising slogan ‘Born in 1820 – still going strong.’ In 1920, he was returning from the war to London. He sent a bottle of whiskey, perhaps Johnnie Walker, to Churchill, who responded with this letter, during the Russians’ movement west, using that same language on atrocities, and inviting him to his home to consult.

Autograph letter signed, late 1920, to Stevenson. “My dear Stevenson, Thank you so much for the whiskey which I shall greatly appreciate hereafter; and thank you even more for your kindness in thinking of me. Let me know when you return to London and can come to see me. What follies unspeakable are being committed.”

Stevenson would become a permanent commercial advisor to Churchill; the Stevenson Committee, which he chaired starting in early 1921, sought to save the post-war rubber industry from a supply glut.

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