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As the 50th anniversary of the death of Winston Churchill approaches next year, expect many celebrations of Britain’s war-time leader. One of England’s most well-known current politicians, Boris Johnson, the Mayor of London, cautions that Churchill’s legacy risks being imperfectly remembered. In a new book, the eccentric mayor argues that the former prime minister still matters today because he transformed Britain, Europe and the Middle East—a feat he argues only Churchill could have done. Join Susan Page for a discussion with London’s mayor about the lasting impact Churchill had on the world.
- Boris Johnson Mayor of London
Read A Featured Excerpt
Reprinted from The Churchill Factor by Boris Johnson by arrangement with Riverhead Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) LLC, Copyright © 2014 by Boris Johnson
MS. SUSAN PAGEThanks for joining us. I'm Susan Page of USA Today sitting in for Diane Rehm. She's in Indianapolis on a visit to station WFYI and she'll be back on Monday. The mayor of London, Boris Johnson has written a new book about the life and legacy of Winston Churchill. There are some similarities between the wartime leader and the author, London's eccentric mayor.
MS. SUSAN PAGEBoth are non conformists who buck political party trends, both are prolific writers who started out as journalists and some argue Johnson just might be the next British prime minister. The title of his new book is "The Churchill Factor: How One Man Made History." And the mayor of London, Boris Johnson joins me from an NPR studio in New York. Welcome, sir.
MAYOR BORIS JOHNSONGood morning.
PAGEWe invite our listeners to join our conversation later in this hour. You can call our toll-free number, 1-800-433-8850. Send us an email to firstname.lastname@example.org or find us on Facebook or Twitter. Well, Mr. Mayor, there is no shortage of biographies about Winston Churchill. Why did you decide to write another one?
JOHNSONThat's absolutely right. There are probably about 100 books about Winston Churchill every year and people may say, why on earth am I adding to this mound of biographies. And the answer is that the Churchill estate, the family wanted a book that would coincide with the 50th anniversary of Winston Churchill's death. But more importantly, they felt that there wasn’t a book that really tried to explain what he had achieved to a new audience and to young people growing up in my country, in Britain, and around the world, who perhaps have forgotten the full extent of Winston Churchill's achievements.
JOHNSONAnd I think they did a survey in Britain the other day which discovered that most young people think that he's a dog in an insurance advertisement. You know, that's not very encouraging when you consider that if it hadn't been for Winston Churchill we would now -- Europe would be a terrible state. The world would've been, I think, subjected to a most appalling tyranny for a long and unforeseeable period under the Nazis and who knows what would've happened if Britain hadn't fought on in 1940.
JOHNSONBut then, there are many, many other aspects to his life that I wanted to bring in.
PAGENow, you titled the book "The Churchill Factor." What do you mean? You argue that he -- that one person made such a difference.
JOHNSONThat's right. He was. If it hadn't been for him, he was the beaver that dammed the river of history. He was the nail on which destiny snagged her coat. He was the crowbar that falls onto the railway tracks that were gonna take the great Nazi locomotive all the way through Europe and he derailed it all and the thing went off. But if he hadn't been there in May 1940 and he hadn't argued for fighting on, then things would really have been very different.
JOHNSONI know America would never have come in. We would never have had the D-Day invasions. You'd never have the liberation of Europe and it would've been a total disaster. So what I wanted to find out was what made up this character. How did he come to be the guy he was? And there are all sorts of extraordinary things I discovered in the course of researching and writing the book, things that, you know, I guess you can discover in all the books about Churchill, but that are not widely known today.
JOHNSONI don't think most people appreciate quite how brave he was as a young man. He was only...
PAGEWell, tell us, obviously Americans have a great -- Americans very much idolize Winston Churchill and appropriately so. Tell us something that you've found in your research that you think is not well known that it is an important insight.
JOHNSONWell, let me tell you, you know, this was a guy who only 10 years after the plane had been invented by Orville and Wilbur Wright was going up in the air himself, flying in these deathly -- these terrifying contraptions made of wood and canvas and so on. And as first lord of the admiralty at the age of 39, he's flying his own planes in 1930 and he's continually crashing, by the way and his instructors will die like the day after he's parted company with them and yet he continues.
JOHNSONHe's only British prime minister in history to have been fired at on four continents. He was engaged in all kinds of military conflicts. I'm afraid he probably personally dispatched a large number of people from countries with his own hand, you know, in countries that we now hope to have friendly relations with. So he, you know, was quite extraordinarily brave physically. And that, I hadn't fully appreciated.
JOHNSONAnd he was -- and yet he was a runty sort of guy. He was pretty shrimpy as a character. He was only about 5'6.5", 5'7" tall. He had a chest of 31 inches or so when he was a young man, but he kind of made himself big and buffalo-like by working out with dumbbells and to some extent, just being the person he wanted to project. So his courage, in a way, his greatest act of bravery was in overcoming his own cowardice as a young kid and becoming the Winston Churchill that we all now think about and identify with.
JOHNSONAnd that was an amazing thing to dig into. I mean, I think people are unaware of quite the role he played in the first world war. This is a guy who basically invented the tank, you know. People have forgotten that with a guy called Eustace Tennyson D'Eyncourt in the first world war, Winston Churchill was absolutely critical to the development of that particular military technology. There's a wonderful memo he wrote in which he describes how you could yoke together two steam traction engines and they could have kind of cleated wheels.
JOHNSONAnd you can see his -- watch his mind whirring as he tries to describe how this machine could cross the trenches and get through the mud. And he's basically invented this thing that, of course, by 1917, 1918 was to become absolutely critical for the final allied success in the war. And it was the tank whose breakthrough really demoralized the Germans in that great 100 day campaign. And I think people have forgotten all that. They think of Churchill just in 1940. And I think they've forgotten about what he did, you know, with the creation of the state of modern Israel, you know.
JOHNSONEverybody thinks they roughly understand. Actually, Churchill was crucial to that. The Balfour Declaration in 1917, by which Britain said, you know, we view with favor the establishment of a homeland for the Jews in Palestine. That was one thing. But it took Churchill, as colonial secretary, to give effect to it and to not only, as it were, to create Israel, but to draw the map of Jordan, to create modern Iraq, Syria and so on.
JOHNSONAnd, again, all these incredible facts about the guy, details about how he did things are sort of receding in our memories and we focus very much on the second world war. And I wanted to bring out some of the other stuff as well.
PAGESo talking about his role in the current configuration of the Middle East, I guess there could be critics who would argue that the drawing of those boundaries has turned out to be -- to have lead to war and conflict.
PAGEIn all the decades since.
JOHNSONLook, it's never been an easy area. Don't forget, you know, Mesopotamia was the area where the Roman Empire came to grief. There's no question that the problems of that area, of the splits between the Sunni and the Shia and so on, the ethnic splits are very, very difficult. And, yes, I don't think Winston Churchill found the answer in Iraq anymore than anybody else has found the answer. But I think what is interesting is how he felt very much that Iraq was a place that was basically impervious to Western intervention.
JOHNSONHe said, it's like living on an ungrateful volcano. I wish we'd never gone there. And, you know, when you think about those words, living on an ungrateful volcano, incredibly vivid phrase, it so accurately describes, I'm sure, the feeling of many modern British and American troops who've been to Iraq in recent times. And yet, there he was in the '20s, exactly forecasting how things would be.
PAGEAnd you not in your book what a prolific writer he was and what a popular writer he was in his time. He wrote...
JOHNSONThis is a guy, you know, he wrote more words, not just than Dickens, more words than Shakespeare, more words than Dickens and Shakespeare combined and he won the Nobel Prize for Literature. And Susan, I'll tell you something. The most important thing about this guy was he could do it after dinner, okay? Now, when I say dinner, I mean, a dinner which he had drunk freely and plentifully of red wine, white wine, brandy, liqueurs.
JOHNSONHe would then get up, go into his office in Chartwell at his country house in Kent and he would pace around the big office there wreathed in tobacco and alcohol and he would dictate this absolutely perfectly meditated prose. And I don't know anybody who can do that these days. I mean, it's just a sort of biological impossibility. I don't know anybody who can produce flawless prose like that after dinner.
JOHNSONAnd I think, actually, when he used to go to American sometimes, they were a bit shocked by -- as I still think many Americans are about the difference between British alcoholic consumption and American alcoholic consumption. At one stage, I think a temperance campaign in America said to him, you know, Mr. Churchill, strong drink stingeth and rageth like a serpent. And Winston Churchill said, I've been looking for a drink like that all my life. And that was his attitude.
JOHNSONSomehow -- he said, I've taken more out of alcohol than alcohol has taken out of me. And I found that whole aspect of his personality so surprising really, that this was a guy who worked so phenomenally hard and yet could to it on a regime that to most of us seems absolutely crazy, you know, starting with a glass of whiskey and water in the morning and drinking a pint of (unintelligible) champagne every day. How do you do it?
PAGEWe're gonna take a -- just a short break before we come back and continue our conversation with Boris Johnson the mayor of London. He's written a new book, "The Churchill Factor: How One Man Made History." And we'll be taking your calls, 1-800-433-8850. Our lines are open.
PAGEWelcome back, I'm Susan Page of USA Today, sitting in for Diane Rehm, And we're talking with Boris Johnson, the mayor of London. He began his career as a journalist and was elected to the British House of Commons in 2001, he was elected Mayor of London in 2008, he's written a new book, "The Churchill Factor: How One Man Made History."
PAGEBoris Johnson, you got a very nice review this morning in the Wall Street Journal and here's what the Wall Street Journal review of your books says. It says, "Like Churchill, he," meaning, you, "has a larger than life personality and a facility with language that has enabled him to establish a direct connection with the public. He is, by some margin, the most interesting political figure in Britain, today." And I was reading a piece that ran the other day...
JOHNSONWell, that's a little...
PAGE...in the Economist, it said, "Boris is back." Lots of speculation you'll be the next Prime Minister, do you want to be?
JOHNSONNo, no, well, Susan, that's wild speculation, wild and inaccurate speculation and founded on nothing. The job of mayor is absolutely engrossing and I've been doing it very, very hard now for six and a bit years. But I've still got 18 months to go and that's a hell of a long time to discharge the rest of my manifesto to set things up for the future, so that all the, you know, talking about trying to build tram tracks as I talked about Churchill derailing things, I want to do things that are going to be un-derailable, so-to-speak.
JOHNSONI want to make sure that by the time I leave office in May 2016, a lot of the transport staff that we've got going in London, all the housing projects we've got going, the Olympic legacy and so on, will be absolutely secure. So all that stuff is very much for the birds. There's no vacancy for the office of Prime Minister and it's being discharged brilliantly by David Cameron. So I'm -- but I'm looking forward to going back into politics in West Minister, I should say, that'll be interesting.
PAGENow, Mr. Mayor, as someone who covers American politicians, I would say that calling something "wild speculation" is not exactly a denial.
JOHNSONWell, it is because it's certainly the, you know, the -- on the -- I think people endlessly trying to draw comparisons between the author and the subject in this book and that is a little unfortunate because, actually, I just happened to be the guy that was fingered by fate to do the job of bringing in a new take on Churchill before the public, and trying to reawaken public interest in him.
JOHNSONAnd, I think, you know, it's suddenly doing pretty well in Britain, I think people are fascinated to find out some of the things we've brought before them. But, you know, I've got about as much really in common with Winston Churchill or as I have with -- or I got more in common, I would say, with a, you know, a three-toed sloth or a, you know, some other, I don't know, oh, a one-eyed pterodactyl.
PAGESo that, you know, I don’t buy it. Obviously, I'm flattered in my ego -- I'm not gonna deny that my ego quietly puffs itself up but, yeah, I think in people who know anything about British politics knows it's nonsense, really.
PAGEHere's another thing you have in common with Winston Churchill and that's some American heritage. You were born in New York.
JOHNSONI was and from where I'm speaking to you now and I love the place, I absolutely love New York and I love coming back. Whenever I come back here, I have an immense sort of surge of energy and excitement. I think, Churchill said, as he held his last cabinet, he had two pieces of advice for the members of the British Cabinet and this is 1955 and he says, "Man is spirit, and then he says, "Never be separated from the Americans." I don’t know what he meant by "Man in spirit" but I think the second piece of advice is definitely the right.
JOHNSONAnd, you know, he stood for the idea of a deep connection between Britain and America. And he -- it wasn't just that his mother was American, he felt very strongly that there were two things -- these were essentially -- Britain and America stood for the same values around the world. And this, the idea's of free speech, of democracy, of independence judiciary, habeas corpus, pluralism, all the things the -- what he -- the things that he thought had grown up throughout British history and then been brilliantly transposed and -- by the American Revolution and taken forward and developed by America.
JOHNSONHe thought these were of incredible value to the world, and people now talk about the Anglosphere and all that sort of stuff, but actually, I think, there is something in it. I think, there is something important in those values. They are not universally accepted. The idea of, you know, (word?) politicians out of the elections, a free speech, all that kind of thing actually isn't common ground in every country on the planet and we can think of some notable exceptions today. And that's why I think Churchill's ideas are very, very relevant.
PAGEYou know, you -- Americans remember Churchill, most, for his leadership during World War II and you write, at some length, about his decision not to compromise with Hitler in 1940.
PAGEWhy did he make that decision?
JOHNSONThat was the crucial thing. It's that meeting on May the 28, 1940 and that, you remember what's happened. You've got the appeasers, the guys like Chamberlain and Halifax in the Conservative party, the Tory party, then you've got Greenwood and Atlee from the Labour party, you've got Archie Sinclair from the Liberals. Now, the Tories, who are the majority party in Parliament, actually want him to do a deal. They think -- it's only 22 years since a million people were killed in the first -- a million Brits, a million Brits were killed in the first World War.
JOHNSONAnd the memory of that agony is there for some many families in the land. How can Churchill feed the population back into that mincing machine, you know, how can we do that again? And, so the deal is coming through via Mussolini, a suggestion of making an accommodation with Hitler, basically trying to do a deal, you know, give them (word?) Gibraltar or some -- a bit of, you know, South and North Africa to the Italians, do it that way, just -- and then Britain keeps the empire, the Nazi's have Europe, buster, that's it, that was the idea.
JOHNSONAnd, of course, it would've been in appalling disaster, it would've been a moral abomination, it would've led to a Nazi invasion, ultimately, of Britain, as well. It's been no doubt about it, because Hitler broke every promise he ever made. They would've come for us, in the end. It was totally the wrong thing to do. But the pressure to do it was huge and it was only Churchill who held out. And, you know, he makes -- he's been going at it for ages with Halifax, in particular and he can't get his way because that's the British system, the -- we don't have a dictatorship, the Prime Minister must carry the suborn of his colleagues.
JOHNSONThen he calls a meeting of the whole cabinet, all 25 ministers and they -- and he gives this incredible speech in which he ends by say, "And if our island story should end, let it end, with each of us choking on his own blood on the ground," or something like that. And there is absolutely deafening acclaim in that cabinet meeting, a crowd around him cheering and clapping him on the back.
JOHNSONAnd he's got them and it's a moment of absolutely tribal passion and patriotism and they decide to fight on. And from that day or for -- in the next 12 months, 30,000 British people are killed, men, women and children. You cannot imagine any modern politician taking that decision today. But it was the right thing to do.
PAGEAnd he understood that it would lead to many deaths.
JOHNSONOf course, he understood that. He knew that the consequences of fighting on, for Britain, would be terrible and for two half, two years and four months, Britain was alone and we -- there was absolutely -- it took a long time, as you remember before America came in. And one of the reasons why America did come in, and this was his second great achievement, was that Churchill had paved the way and he'd been out there walking around the corridors of the White House and the new and all the rest of it and he had wooed FDR and he'd got the Americans to the state where they could contemplate another European venture.
JOHNSONBecause after all, from Americans point of view, America too had suffered appalling causalities in World War I, 56,000 soldiers died, 100,000 dead overall, you know, there was no appetite at all in Congress for involvement in some shameful European conflict. And so it took a great deal of Churchill-ian persuasion to bring America in. And, you know, I, obviously, you know, Hitler made a common mistake of declaring war on America after Pearl Harbor but it was Churchill who laid the ground, as it were and to help to coax America into ever greater support for Britain.
PAGEThe friendship with FDR is so interesting and also the power, the demonstration over and over again at key moments of the power of oratory, for Churchill.
PAGEWhat a speaker he was.
JOHNSONI mean, he -- well, yes, but Susan, he was not a natural. One of the most fascinating things about Churchill is that he, he wasn't like Martin Luther King, it didn't pour from him in, you know, perfuse strains of unpremeditated art. He didn't have -- he couldn't improvise. He -- what he -- his great speeches were essentially declamations of text and he -- his trick was to use -- when he really wanted to get the point across, he would use short, simple, Anglo-Saxon words.
JOHNSONSo never in the field of human conflict to say much be known by so many, to so few and it's never in the field of human conflict is a sort of flowery way of saying, never in war, but it's has so much be known by so many, to so few. That's a beautifully simple -- once you've heard it you never forget it and it sums up so many ideas in those short, simple, English words. Again, you know, "We'll fight them on the hills, we'll fight them on the beaches, we'll fight in the land, we'll fight them in the streets, we'll never surrender." And, again, there's only one Latin word in that whole clump of words and that's "surrender."
JOHNSONSo he -- when he really wants to get through to people, he uses short, short, Anglo-Saxon derived words and that was his trick. He, you know, he uses classical, rhetorical devices but brilliantly, brilliantly composed and a lot of humor too. He was thinking not just about the British audience but he was also thinking about America and don't forget that during the war, huge numbers of Americans listened to his broadcasts as well.
PAGEI'm Susan Page and you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." We're talking to Boris Johnson, the Mayor of London, about his new book, "The Churchill Factor" and let's go to the phones and let some of our listeners join our conversation. We'll go first to Bonnie, calling us from Deming, N.M. Hi, Bonnie.
BONNIEHello, I had a teacher that was in counter espionage during the war and when he was...
BONNIE...stateside, he was assigned the worst assignment that nobody wanted, was to bodyguard Winston Churchill. He had no...
BONNIE...concept of personal safety and a great bravado. If he was gonna go someplace, he went. And it was this and he had infinite energy and there was a lot more he said but that's basically it. And some of this has already been answered while I was listening. Apparently this was total, this was just Churchill, period, a man of bravado.
JOHNSONHow fascinating. I'm sure that people would love to hear about what your teacher had to say and get some of his testimony about what it was like, actually, to be Churchill's bodyguard. But I'm -- that rings completely true to me. There's an amazing episode right to the end of the war when D-Day is being prepared and I talk about it quite a lot in the book, when Churchill, exactly as you say, he's desperate to -- he decides he is just going to be on those ships, going out to invade the continent and nothing's gonna stop him.
JOHNSONAnd all the generals and the admirals going crazy with worry because, you know, the whole thing would be, you know, he could easily be taken out by a stray shell or mine or whatever and they say, "No, no, no, you can't," in the end, the King has to write to Churchill to tell him that he cannot go to the Normandy invasions in 1944, he just simply can't be there and then Churchill still says, that it doesn't matter, he's gonna go. And then he has to write again and there's virtually sort of constitutional crisis in which it is not at all clear who ultimately calls the shots in Britain.
JOHNSONCan the King overrule the Prime Minister or can the Prime Minister, Minister of Defense, as he was, simply do what he wants to do? And in the end, Churchill, with some ill grace, backs down and didn't go until D-Day plus six, I think.
PAGEBonnie, thanks so much for your call. Well, you speculate, Boris Johnson, that Churchill had what you call, "Short man syndrome," and...
JOHNSONYes, I mean, I sort of -- I don’t want to overdo that. I mean, he, you know, he wasn't tiny, he was certainly, you know, he got -- he filled -- he had a kind of bouncy castle personality. So, you know, when he filled the room, if -- in fact he filled the whole White House really, when he was -- when he stayed -- he stayed for about three weeks at one stage, during the war and, I think, drove FDR and Eleanor Roosevelt, more or less, around the bend.
JOHNSONBut he was, I think, he certainly wanted to overcome his own sense of being a runty little kid. He once -- one stage says that, you know, he'd always had a -- always desired a reputation for physical bravery because he'd been something of a coward as a child. And there was an occasion when, at school, some kids threw cricket balls at him, pelted him with cricket balls and to his eternal shame, he ran away and I think that sort of thing, he wanted to defeat, to avenge.
PAGEWhen you were growing up in Great Britain, as a child, what did you think about before you knew you might follow, to some degree, in Winston Churchill's steps as an author and politician? What did you think of him?
JOHNSONYeah. Well, we thought, I mean, I was born in 1964, so the year before Churchill died. I became vaguely aware of him, was a very young child because there would be books about him and by him, lying around. And my brother and I used to read a wonderful pictorial biography by the great Churchill scholar, Martin Gilbert, and I think it got to the point where actually, Liam, my brother and I, could recite the captions on -- in the book because it was an amazingly diverse.
JOHNSONWe could see, you know, we could see the pictures of him in South Africa, we see what he, you know, he was up there in the Northwest frontier. We could see, you know, he'd been in Cuba, he'd been in -- all around the world. And, I think, we form the impression that he was a quite colossal guy and a most fascinating character and I think that my generation were absolutely in no doubt that he was a greater statesman that Britain had ever produced. I think that, as time goes by, he's kind of like a gigantic constellation of stars that's slightly receding from us in the space time continuum or whatever.
JOHNSONAnd so, the bright one, 1940, Beetlejuice or Alpha Centauri or whatever, is still beaming away but some of the others are losing their luminescence and they're fading and people's knowledge of what he did with to help found modern Ireland or create the...
JOHNSON...idea of unemployment insurance or giving...
JOHNSON...British workers the tea break.
PAGE...we're gonna talk more about...
JOHNSONThat's what they did.
PAGE...that after we take another short break, and we'll come back to your calls. We're talking with Boris Johnson about "The Churchill Factor," stay with us.
PAGEWelcome back, I'm Susan Page of USA Today, sitting in for Diane Rehm. We're talking this hour with Boris Johnson, the Mayor of London, he's written a book, "The Churchill Factor: How One Man Made History." Let's go to the phones and let some of our listeners ask their questions, make their comments. We'll go to Houston, Texas and talk to Brian. Hi Brian.
PAGEOkay, Ryan, thanks for joining us.
RYANThank you, thank you very much for taking my call, hello Mayor Johnson. First off...
RYAN...I just wanted to give him a compliment on his great metaphorical style. The nail -- calling Winston Churchill the nail on which destiny snagged her coat, literally, just got a huge laugh out of me. I thought it was great.
JOHNSON...well, I'm so pleased. Well, you go. Thank you.
JOHNSONWell, he -- we -- Churchill was the guy for metaphors. He was the -- his language was inimitable.
RYANYes, indeed. Anyway, I just wanted to ask Mayor Johnson, how much of writing this biography about Winston Churchill was for you, in a sense that you did it for yourself?
JOHNSONWell, it's a...
RYANAnd that's all, I'll take my -- I'll take the answer off the air.
JOHNSONOkay. It's a very good question and I love writing about and thinking about Churchill. He's absolutely a fascinating guy. It is also true that the publishers approached me, they came and they said, would I do it because the Churchill estate wanted a book to go with the 50th Anniversary of his death. I think they had read an essay I'd written about Churchill before. But it was -- I won't hide it from you, Ryan, it was something that I absolutely loved doing and I would -- I -- people might ask, how the hell did I do it given I'm gonna be Mayor of the, you know, the greater city on Earth with great respect to New York.
JOHNSONHow could I possibly have fitted it in? The answer was, I had to work incredibly hard sometimes and it -- you know, you had to get up -- I had to get up very, very early and work late. But in the end, it was Churchill that carried the whole thing through. It was the fascination, the drive, the exuberance of his character that really, really gripped me. And it is an amazing story. It's a story of a guy who never, never gave in, you know, that is the -- that's the most amazing thing about Churchill.
JOHNSONAnd even after the war, when he's been dealt this incredible rebuff by fate and the British people have slapped him in the face and told him that they don't want him to be Prime Minister anymore, even though he's just, basically, won the war and helped to save the world, he goes on and he comes back as Prime Minister and he does many other incredible things, helping to, as I say, to build the modern architecture of the Atlantic relationship, for instance.
JOHNSONHe, you know, the -- his Fulton, Mo. speech was indispensable for the whole dynamic for laying out the ground work and the thinking behind the Cold War, which -- about which eventually, of course, he was completely vindicated, proved right. The communism collapsed just as he said it would. And, I think, you say, did I do it for myself? I suppose it was an act of -- it was -- writing it was a -- it was certainly something that I absolutely, passionately wanted to do, but Churchill made it easy.
PAGEWe have a couple questions relating to you. Here's Peter in Columbia, Md., who sends us an email, he writes, "It's very hard to renounce US citizenship. Has your guest done so or is he a dual citizen, having been born in New York?"
JOHNSONPeter, I have to confess to you, that you're right, it is a very -- it is very hard but I will say this, the great United States of America does have some pretty tough rules, you know. You may not believe this but if you're an American citizen, America exercises this incredible doctrine of global taxation, so that even though tax rates in the U.K. are far higher and I'm Mayor of London, I pay all my tax in the U.K. and so I pay a much higher proportion of my income in tax, then I would if I lived in America.
JOHNSONThe United States comes after me, would you believe it, for the -- for capital gains tax on the sale of your first residence which is not taxable in Britain, but they're trying to hit me with some bill, can you believe it? Anyway, I just wanted to point that out to you...
PAGEAre you paying -- are you gonna pay the bill?
JOHNSON...I think it's outrageous. I think it's outrageous. It's un...
PAGEWell, saying it's outrageous doesn't respond to whether you're going to pay the bill or not. Outrageous or not, will you pay this tax bill?
JOHNSONWell, I'm -- no, is the answer. I think, it's absolutely outrageous. Why should I? I think, you know, I'm not a -- I, you know, I haven't lived in the United States for, you know, well, since I was five years old.
PAGEYou know, we have a lot of deficit problems here and you could help.
JOHNSONI could but I pay -- I pay the lion's share of my tax, I pay my taxes to the full in the United Kingdom where I live and work.
PAGENow, I've read in a story, that you carry both a British passport and an American passport, is that true?
PAGEAnd why do you continue to carry an American passport?
JOHNSONBecause as your caller, Peter, rightly points out, it's very difficult to give it up.
PAGEAnd if you become British Prime Minister, would you have to give up your U.S. citizenship? Is there a rule?
JOHNSONWell, I, you know, as we've discussed earlier on, I think the chances of that happening are vanishingly small. And, you know, that's what we call -- that's called a luxury, a luxury problem to deal with. I think it unlikely to eventuate...
JOHNSON...I've got a long time still to go as Mayor of London.
PAGEAll right, let's go to Cleveland, Ohio and talk to Marnie. Marnie, hi, thanks for being with us on "The Diane Rehm Show."
MARNIEOh, thank you for taking my call. I also listen to a German, I'm not a German, I'm an American by many generations, for the music, and the head of the program, who has, you know, some renowned and re -- only regionally, but over and over again, and I'm not talking about three, four, nine, 10 times, I'm talking about maybe 30, 40 times I've heard him say that Winston Churchill started World War II because of British jealousy of rising German industrial might. That was always my understanding, that it was the invasion of Poland and the agreement to defend Poland. And other things. And, you know, I was wondering, how do you refute something like that? I mean, it goes on and on and on.
JOHNSONWell, I just think you just gotta look -- you gotta look at the historical facts, what happened was that -- there's no question that it was Hitlerian aggression against Poland, it was against Czechoslovakia, it was -- it was the German revanchism, the remilitarization of the Rhineland, those were the reasons for the outbreak of World War II. And, you know, let's face it, everybody was hoping this thing would not happen, people desperately hoped that the Germans would see sense but they were bent on war.
JOHNSONAnd I think it's very, very difficult to blame Winston Churchill or anybody in Britain for Hitler's invasion of Poland or, indeed, Hitler's invasion of France. And, you know, I think, though it is important to address these myths because people do say that Churchill was a warmonger. He wasn't a warmonger. If you look at what he tried to do in the first World War, he was desperately trying to find ways of averting slaughter. The whole objective of the Gallipoli operation was to try and get around the carnage on the western front and to get a speedier solution that would spare lives.
JOHNSONAnd that was his thinking and he, you know, he hated bloodshed. So I really think that, you know, whoever it was who took that line, is just, you know, got the facts diametrically upside down.
PAGELet's talk to Ket. Ket hi, where you calling us from?
KETI'm calling from the National Churchill Museum in Fulton, Mo., on the campus of Westminster College.
JOHNSONOh, all right.
KETThis is -- I just heard Mr. Johnson reference the 1946 speech in Missouri and I thought I'd call in and say hello.
JOHNSONHello, well, I'm delighted to talk to you and of course that Fulton, Mo., speech was absolutely extraordinary. It was unlike any speech that you read today. And of -- most interesting thing about it, of course, at the time, was that people thought, you know, that it was too strong, that it was too belly coat in its rhetoric, that it was...
JOHNSON...and Truman, in fact, refused to admit that he already read it and approved it because they were worried, everybody was so worried about the reaction of the Russians and in the British Parliament, large members of -- large numbers of labor MPs actually denounced Winston Churchill and put down emotion, accusing him of, you know, of totally misreading the situation. And, yet, he was completely right. There was an iron curtain that had been drawn across Europe and there was a Cold War beginning. And he was right to call attention to the disaster that was unfolding.
PAGEKet, did you have a question you wanted to ask about the speech?
KETOh, well, I just wanted to let Mr. Johnson know that we will be celebrating, observing, the 50th Anniversary of Churchill's death here in -- at the National Churchill Museum on January 24 and if he's in the United States, we'd love to have him come. The people of London gave us a 17th Century Christopher Wren Church and we're located in its undercroft. So, thank you very much for...
KET...mentioning it. I do want to ask a speech -- how -- ask a question. I didn't -- I haven't read the entire book and I was looking for information on the Zurich speech and how that contrasts with the Fulton speech. Did you have any insights on that?
JOHNSONYes, I -- well, there's plenty in there on, I think, was the Zurich speech, the Strasbourg speech, the Brussels speech, there's many speeches that he gives. I mean, that's one of the incredible things. As I was saying earlier, to an earlier caller, you know, he is amazing in that he just keeps going after the second World War and he makes a series of extraordinary speeches.
PAGEKet, thanks very much for your call.
JOHNSONAnd, thank -- and the Zurich speech is one of the speeches he gives on the -- on Europe and he's associated with the foundation of the idea of a united Europe. But, of course, his view of Britain's role in that Europe is more nuanced, he doesn't necessarily want to see Britain absorbed within a united Europe. He wants to see Britain having a role as the broker, the creator of that united Europe, but also having a particular relationship with America and, of course, with the former countries of the empire.
PAGEKet, thanks for your call. I'm Susan Page and you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." We're taking your calls and reading your emails in our conversation with Boris Johnson, the Mayor of London. He's written a new book, "The Churchill Factor: How One Man Made History," and the fundamental point of your book, Mr. Mayor, I think, may be that an individual can make such a difference. That Churchill was such a man of his time, who made such consequence.
PAGENow -- but we have an email from Luke who writes us from Caledonia, Mich., and he writes, "Social and cultural factors make history, not individuals. The glorifying of individuals leads to dictatorships and fascism because people begin to think that, all we need to solve our current problem is some extraordinary superman. This has happened in nations like Britain and the U.S. where all constitutional constraints were given out to people like Abraham Lincoln and Winston Churchill." This way of thinking will someday lead to the demise of our great constitutional systems." What would you say to Luke?
JOHNSONWell, on the contrary, what happened in Britain was that Winston Churchill, having taken these extraordinary decisions and having, effectively in my view, rescued civilization from disaster, was then ejected by the electorate. So you couldn't have a more convincing rebuttal of the idea that somehow he's -- you know, he was given unconstitutional powers. He was kicked out.
JOHNSONThat was the most spectacular thing. He was -- you know, and Stalin couldn't believe it. Of course, it was not something that could've happened in Soviet Russia, which was a tyranny and where, indeed, they do believe in -- one of the doctrines of Marxism is that the whole -- is that humanity proceeds by an electable economic forces. But in reality, the communist states are the -- are, rather were, run according to the whims of tyrance, it's democracies that constrain people, constrain powerful figures, it's democracies in places that have freedom of speech in which Churchill believed that are able to knock these people off their pedestal with the regularity that the electorate needs.
JOHNSONSo, you know, I think that, it's completely wrong to say that Churchill became, in some way, too powerful. That's absolutely not the case. What he did was within the democratic frame work, he was indispensible to stopping things from becoming utterly horrific. And if it hadn't been for him sitting there in Downing Street in 1940, then there is every possibility that Britain would, indeed, have made an accommodation with evil on the European continent. And that evil might've have lasted for a very long time.
PAGEWe have an email from -- Luke, thanks for your email. We have another email from Jim, asking why that happened. "Why did Winston Churchill get ousted after such, leading to such a great victory in World War II?" Why did that happen?
JOHNSONWell, I think, he -- very good reason that he had -- he basically becomes a figure that was larger than his party, being detached from the conservatives all his life in some ways because after all he'd left the Tories in 1904 and then rejoined them in the '20s when they came back in favor of free trade. He was somehow bigger than political party. And he -- when the war came to and, end, labor was very clever, the labor party, the opposition, was very clever.
JOHNSONThey said, cheer for Churchill, vote labor. And people did. And they wanted a new era, they remembered the -- how very tough it had been under the Tories in the '30s. They wanted -- they liked the idea of the -- a new dispensation, welfare reforms and so on. And they -- and to some extent, Atlee was able to claim the future, to paint a vision for Britain, in more compelling colors than Churchill was.
JOHNSONChurchill, he got a bit tin-eared about how to fight socialism, towards the end of his career, towards the end of the war. And he complained, you know, I have no theme, all I say is fight the damn socialists, I have no theme. And I think, that was a problem for him, even though, actually, when you look at what he was doing in the war, when you look at what he'd done earlier in the century, when he was indispensible to the setting up of many progressive measures. You know, he could claim to have been there at the beginning of those ideas of better healthcare, better unemployment insurance, all those things that Atlee wanted to put forth.
PAGEYes. Boris Johnson, thank you so much for joining us this hour in "The Diane Rehm Show," to talk about your new book, "The Churchill Factor: How One Man Made History," and if you do become the Prime Minister of Great Britain, we hope you'll come back to "The Diane Rehm Show."
JOHNSONThank you, thank you, thank you, Susan. It's highly unlikely but I hope to come back, even if I don't.
PAGEThank you. I'm Susan Page of USA Today, sitting in for Diane Rehm, thanks for listening.
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