It is not in question that Winston Churchill was a great man- but insofar as greatness is concerned, I believe those same traits that raised him above ordinary men can also be attributed to all of his failures. During the course of his political career until 1940, he moved from failure to failure, outspoken, extreme, and disliked and mistrusted by many. He was always acknowledged as brilliant and eloquent, but he was not liked. This change from mistrusted politician to one of the greatest men of the 20th century, I propose, was not a change in the man himself, but rather due to a change on the face of Europe.
Mistrust is not always evoked by poor decisions, although Churchill made some poor decisions. Mistrust is a feeling rather than a logical, proven judgment of someone’s character. The peoples’ mistrust of Churchill had less to do with his policies (although they did pave the way for some poor decisions) and more to do with his lack of commitment to a party, and his self-assurance against all others and quite frankly, his attitude. Churchill never doubted himself, and consequently jumped from party to party depending on which most fell in line with what he had personally decided was the right choice. He felt no loyalty to his aristocratic heritage, his party, or any set of beliefs widely held by politicians or the public. Instead, he pursued what his own brilliant intellect predicted would happen. In cases where he was in error, this made him seem bold, ridiculous, and extreme. His speeches, which matched the needs of the people in WWII, felt out of place on issues in which people did not strongly agree. Still he spoke on, bold denouncing and insulting anyone who stood in the way of what he believed.
In the case of the rise of Nazism, his outspokenness made him fiercely diligent to distrust Hitler and declare that another war would come. The people of Briton were feeling the effects of depression and still very much remembered the first world war, and most refused to see the implications of Hitler’s Germany until it would have been far too late for action. Churchill’s defiant trust in his own keen insight was his demolition on issues such as the Dardanelles defeat during WWI, and of Indian home rule, and yet allowed him unprecedented authority in 1940.
In order to adequately understand why the British people mistrusted Churchill, it is worth examining why they trusted him - and trusted him immensely during the course of World War II. The characteristic of defiant self-appreciation, which made party lines, bloodlines, and most men below his gaze, was precisely the kind of thing that could lead Briton to victory. Brilliant as he was, he was remarkably unquestioning of himself- and so, when men listened to him they did not question.
I was once told that great men see what other men do not see. I find no better example of this than the life of Winston Churchill. The man was brilliant, and the fact was not in question. However, great political leaders are required to posses more than sight - they are required to possess strength. Churchill is not a man who it can be said did everything with accuracy, but he did everything with the belief that he was accurate, and that is what marks him. Churchill’s belief in himself dominated all other personal characteristics throughout his life. His authoritativeness superseded commitment to the position of aristocracy he was born into, political parties and the ties of any current thought. It is a remarkable human spirit that can navigate the waters of his own society. There is nothing more untrustworthy to a people than a politician who will not settle- who constantly changes his party depending on who best sides with his view, who constantly stirs up trouble with bold and offensively direct speeches and ideas. In not all situations was he correct, but he possessed keen insight into history, which enabled him, often, to accurately assess the future of Europe. Churchill was undoubtedly in the right place at the right time in 1940. When England was forced to face a war more horrible than seemed possible, Churchill stepped in. He spoke boldly and confidently of success, he was born for times of war and expected to have complete authority, which gave the average man listening to his words courage to hope. It is a special kind of genius that fears no man in speaking a truth no man wants to hear, but it is no little thing that even the Israelites stoned their prophets.