Churchill And Strategic Dilemmas Before The World Wars


Title:                      Churchill And Strategic Dilemmas Before The World Wars

Author:                  John H. Maurer

Maurer, John H. (2003). Churchill And Strategic Dilemmas Before The World Wars: Essays in Honor of Michael I. Handel. London; Portland: F. Cass.

LOC:       2003051450

UA647 .C564 2003

Date Posted:      March 17, 2013

The Journal of Military History 68.3 (2004) 983-985 contained a review of this work. Including this book, three volumes[1] were published including a stimulating collection of essays written for an international conference held in honor of the late Michael I. Handel in November 2001 at the Naval War College in Newport, Rhode Island.

As the titles indicate, the essays explore wide-ranging themes, questions, and issues that had preoccupied Handel’s powerful intellect throughout his life’s study of strategy and war. The combination of uniformly high quality essays and well-conceived organization makes the volumes attractive not only individually but also as a set.

Michael Handel was a prolific author and editor, publishing nine books and numerous articles and monographs. References to Winston Churchill are plentiful throughout his writings, as Handel greatly admired Churchill’s strategic gifts, leadership, and writings. In honor of his great interest in Churchill, in Churchill and Strategic Dilemmas Before the World Wars, John Maurer, Christopher Bell, Brian McKercher, and David Jablonsky analyze Churchill’s appreciation of the changing international environment in the years preceding the two world wars. All four are worthy of careful study and loyal to Handel’s longstanding interest in Churchill, however two are especially noteworthy.

John Maurer argues that as First Lord of the Admiralty in 1911 Churchill clearly recognized that the German naval building program constituted an “ever-present danger” to Britain and deftly mobilized domestic support for a program of naval construction that ensured Britain’s naval preeminence. But Maurer also shows how Churchill believed that the arms race benefited neither country and actively sought to end the competition through calls for an Anglo-German naval holiday in shipbuilding. To Churchill’s chagrin, the German government did not evince any interest in what Maurer believes was a most serious proposal. However, while Churchill may have underestimated the recklessness of Germany’s leaders, he had successfully blunted their challenge to Britain’s first line of defense.

Christopher Bell’s chapter on the limits of British power in the Pacific in the period 1921 to 1941 also concludes that Churchill may have exaggerated his ability to persuade Japan’s leaders that a war against the Anglo-Americans would be disastrous and was to be avoided. Bell’s account reveals Churchill fully appreciated the weakness of Britain’s hand and its dependence upon American power and will to contain Japan, but also that he seriously misjudged Tokyo.

The following is the publisher’s description of the book.

Before the two world wars, Churchill was deeply concerned by the threats that faced Great Britain in the international arena. This volume examines Churchill’s views about the rise of German and Japanese power, and how the growing armed strength of these two countries undermined the security of Britain and its empire.

In addition, new technologies were transforming the international and strategic environment, not always to Britain’s advantage. The growing importance of air power in modern warfare, for example, posed the grave danger of direct attacks by bombers on the British home isles. The authors also offer new appraisals of the foreign policy and strategic prescriptions advocated by Churchill.


[1] The three volumes are Lee, Bradford A. (2003) and Karl F. Walling, eds. Strategic Logic and Political Rationality. Essays in Honor of Michael I. Handel. Portland, OR: Frank Cass; this book edited by John H. Mauer, and Betts, Richard K. (2003) Thomas G. Mahnken eds. Paradoxes of Strategic Intelligence. Essays in Honor of Michael I. Handel. Portland, OR: Frank Cass

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