tv Winston Churchill and the Boer War CSPAN November 9, 2016 10:55pm-11:45pm EST
the u.s. supreme court, becoming the first jew to sit on the court. in commemoration of the 100th anniversary of his nomination, we talk about the justice' life, career, and legacy. >> brandice is trying to limit the court to a very specific role defined by the constitutional network which all government operates and which limits or should limit any one branch from exercising power beyond its prescribed proven. >> go to c-span.org for our entire tv schedule. coming up on american history tv, from the 33rd international churchill conference, we talk about the book "hero of the empire. "this is about 45 minutes.
[ applause ] >> thank you. our next speaker and i accidently sat next to each other at lunch and discovered we have something in common. we're both fast eaters. we also found that we shared a common passion for history. i'm very pleased to introduce candice mallard to you today. i'm a long-time fan of her work. i think what distinguishes her work from the work of other popular historians is her rare ability to engender suspense, despite the reader's foreknowledge of the outcome. i speak from experience. when i read her first book, "the
river of doubt," i spent a lot of time worrying about how teddy roosevelt would get out of that brazilian jungle, even though i knew he would. i was listening to the book as i was driving the washington beltway, so it was always a race to see who would get to the exit first, teddy or me. i kept hoping that james a. garfield would somehow survive the ineptitude of his doctors, even though i knew he would. . i'm well into her latest book, "hero of the empire, the boro war, daring escape and the making of winston churchill." and i can tell you i'm very on the edge of my seat, wondering if winston churchill is going to make it out of south africa alive.
if my remarks sound more like a fan letter than a formal introduction, complete with a listing of all of her awards and achievements, which there are many, that's because it is. ladies and gentlemen, it is my pleasure to introduce to you candice mallard. [ applause ] >> thank you very much. i'm so sorry. >> sorry about that. so thank you, first of all, mary
jo for that intro duduction. i wanted to say thank you to lee pollock, who has been a tremendous help to me, a source of encouragement and incredibly gracious and generous over the past five years while i've been working on this book. it's a tremendous honor to be here, very humbling to have a chance to meet some renowned historians, some of my personal heroes, including especially sir david cannondyne. he's a very difficult act to follow, but i will try my best. as i sat in this room last night, having a beautiful dinner, great conversation, i suddenly realized that i had been here before, but it was for
a very different event. i was here for a memorial for two co-workers from national geographic just across the street, who had been killed just a few days earlier on 9/11. they had been on the plane that had been flown into the pentagon. and i remember feeling at the time, as so many people did, that what we needed as a nation, as a world, was someone who cannot only lead us but someone who understood history and who understood the power of words, and could harness those words. what we needed was someone who could stir our hearts. what we needed in essence was a
winston churchill. but as we all know there was and will always be only one winston churchill. so as you might imagine, it was incredibly daunting to me years later to attempt to write about him, to understand even a small part of his life. but i have to say the more i studied him, especially his years in south africa, the more fascinated i became, and i was hooked. and like so many other writers and historians before and after me, i found him absolutely irresistible. but i think that when most of us think of winston churchill, we think of the man during world war ii.
he has become virtually a synonym for great leadership. he was, as we all know, a master politician, a savior of his country during world war ii, winner of the nobel prize for literature, and one of the most famous human beings in history. but the problem with trying to understand a leader at the height of his career is that we often end up talking about the results of that person's character instead of the forces that created it. what i am trying to understand is where that man came from. what gave him the courage, the insight, and the will to become such a towering figure? so today, i'm going to talk
about a young man. he's just 24 years old. he has just left the military. the only job he's ever had, the only job for which he's been trained, he has no money. he's already tried to run for office but lost. he is like so many other children of privilege, then and now, who amount to nothing. so how do we connect this young man to the legend he later became? what made the winston churchill we all know? how did he become one of the most powerful and effective leaders mankind has ever produced? i believe that an important part of the answer lies in an exceptional series of events, which took place in 1899 when
young winston churchill went to the bora war in south africa. chim didn't play on this story, and he couldn't have predicted it. but in every sense, he prepared for it, he understood its significance, he seized control of it. he risked everything to succeed in it, and he turned that opportunity into a life-changing moment that was directly responsible for his later path to power. there is a saying that luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity, and that is exactly what happened here. churchill was in africa for only a matter of months. but what happened there put the spark to the combustible mixture of intelligence, ambition,
courage, and resourcefulness that defined him from his earliest years. it transformed this young man into a world famous hero, setting him firmly on the path to greatness. and in doing so, it also transformed the world we live in today. to me, one of the most striking aspects of churchill's personality, one that sets him apart from the many other young men who believe that they are destined for greatness, who was dreams of glory, is that they did not wait for things to happen to him. he made them happen. he took life by the reigns, or the collar, or the scruff of the neck, whatever it took, whatever he could grab. in fact, he was so openly ambitious, so incredibly driven, that by the time he was 24 years
old, he had already written three books, including his first and only novel, run for parliament, and taken part in three different wars on three different continents. churchill had been fascinated with war from a very early age. but as he grew into a young man, it became more than just the legacy of his ancestor, john churchill, the first duke of marlboro and one of the greatest generals in british history. more than his 1500 toy soldiers or the war games, war for churchill became the fastest and most reliable route to everything he dreamed of, recognition, fame, and eventually political power. it was, he said, the glittering gateway to distinction.
and he was willing to not only fight, but to take any risk to be noticed. he had nearly been killed many times. bullets whistling by his head once killing the horse that had been standing right next to him. he had killed men himself, once coming so close to his victim that his pistol struck the man as churchill galloped by. and he had seen his friends not just killed but mutilated, sliced to ribbons by their enemies. but he did not believe that he himself would die. he wrote that he did not believe the gods would create so potent a being himself for such a posaic ending. he considered to seek out the
most brutal battles the british empire had to offer. he was the first to sign up, and the first to show off, however he could. he even, to the astonishing and horror of the men around him, rode a white pony on the battlefield in british india, just to be noticed. he said, given an audience, there is no act too noble. without the gallery, things are different. churchill was impatient to succeed and excel, to make his mark on the world. but no matter what he did, he couldn't get a foothold. the military was too slow for him, so he quit. he ran for his first seat in parliament but was rejected by voters. so frustrated and burning with ambition, he feverishly looked for his next opportunity, knowing that it was his destiny to lead.
just a few months later, war broke out in southern africa. to the british, this was just another colonial war. one that they expected to be over in a matter of months, certainly by christmas. unfortunately, they had forgotten who they were fighting. the boras had been living in southern africa for centuries and had transferred from rogue splinter groups of largely duck, hugenot and german immigrants into an entirely different ethnic group. a journalist for the london times wrote, in their manner of life, their habits, even in their character, they had undergone a profound change. they had even developed their own language, africaans.
they were highly religious, racist, and independent. most of all, they just wanted to get away. in an attempt to get away from the british empire two years after the british abolished slavery, they moved into the african interior and established three republics of their own. their independence, however, had lasted only as long as their poverty. in the mid 1800s, diamonds and gold were discovered in one of the bora publics. transforming the region from one of the poorest in the world to one of the wealthiest. paul krueger, who would become president, predicted this gold
will cause our country to be soaked in blood. and he was right. by 1877, britain had annexed them, a move that led to the first bora war in 1880. nearly 20 years later in the fall of 1899, little had changed. the british still wanted the land, and the boras still insisted on their independence. the british empire began amassing troops, and the atmosphere, churchill wrote, became tense, laden with the prestige of storm. finally, the boras said stand down or prepare for war. the british, thrilled to have an excuse to go to war, allowed the deadline for the ultimatum to pass with little more than a sneer.
three days after the war began, winston churchill, seeing his opportunity, was on a ship to south africa, hired to cover the war as a correspondent. on the same ship was the commander and chief of her majesty's army in out africa. so confident were the british that bowler would make quick work of the boras, they had already nicknamed him the steam roller. but buller was more cow shouaut. he knew the boras. he knew that although they did not have an empire, a navy or a standing army, the boras were masters of modern warfare. unlike most of britain's
colonial enemies, they had incredibly sophisticated weapons, some of which were better than what buller could give to his own men. they were extraordinary marksman, having spent two centuries doing little else other than hunting and fighting. they knew every nook and cranny of the territory, and could disappear without a trace, making them an invisible and very dangerous enemy. the boras had learned from one of their first and fiercest enemies, the bandtum, a linguistic family with hundreds of different ethnic groups, including nelson mandela's tribe and the zulu. they had fought for more than a century, and in that time, the boras had done their best not
only to take the bantu's land and subjugate their people, they learned a new kind of warfare, one that most europeans did not yet understand. not only did they know the south african area inside and out, but when this was no place to hide, they made one. they built small shelters out of piles of stone, they dug deep and long trenches, some stretching for as many as 30 miles. they didn't wear uniforms, and they moved quickly and quietly. their enemies often didn't see them at all, even after the battle had begun. in stark contrast, the british had only recently and very reluctantly begun dragging the military into the modern world. in fact, this was known as the
khaki war, because it was one of the first times the british army did not wear their dashing red coats. they hated their new uniforms. they complained it made them look like bus drivers. but they continued to fight in perfect, precise lines, spreading themselves across the flat, south africa felt like a picture in a story book, served up for slaughter. even in the midst of a brutal attack, they refused to find cover. british officers were expected to not only be brave, but to show complete disregard for their safety. solomon planky, a native south african intellectual, journalist, and statesman, who had become the first secretary of the anc, carefully observed the british army during the war, marveling at what he saw. these experienced soldiers never care how fast bullets may whiz
about them. they stroll about in a heavy volley far more recklessly than we walk through a shower of rain. although he was now only a journalist himself, churchill had a lot on his mind as he made his way to south africa. his mother, the beautiful, charismatic, and wicked smart jenny jerome, had just told him she was in love and was likely going to marry a young man named george west, who was only two weeks older than winston. churchill also for the first time had his own love life to consider. he had met a dazzling young woman named pamela plowden. but she didn't believe he was
passionate enough in his devotion. churchill was indignant, insisting he was no fickle gallant. by the time he landed, the war had already taken a startling turn. the british army had been humiliated by the boras, losing several battles, and leaving its commanders stuned and scrambling to adjust to this new war mare. as soon as churchill arrived, with his valerie, of course with 18 bottles of whisky, he went as far to the front as he could. by the time he arrived, however, the boras had completely cut off
lady smith. no one could get in or out. i was too late, churchill wrote. the door was shut. so he was forced to make camp 40 miles south of lady smith in a little town called escort. nine days later, as a heavy rain fell on the morning of november 15th, churchill climbed aboard the british army's armored train. his old friend from his days in the military had been ordered to take the train out for reconnaissances. both men knew it was a foolish, potentially disastrous decision. not only was a train an easy target on the best of days, but the boras had within sported just outside escort the day before. halden had no choice but to go. churchill, on the other hand,
-- one of 13 children on an isolated farm about 100 miles west of durbin. he had received only a couple of years of formal education. but while he would never speak much english, he was fluent in several languages, and had fought with the zulu when he was just 22 years old. leading a group of boras to help the zula defeat his rival for the throne. on the day that churchill boarded the armored train, bota
and his men were watching. long, loud, blowing a blast of smoke into the air, an absurdly easy target. not only did boten know where the train was going, he knew it would have to come back on the same tracks. as soon as the train passed, he ordered his men to move to the bottom of a hill and began piling rocks. when the train, on its way back appeared at the top of the hill, the boras opened fire, until it crashed into the stones, catapulting the first two cars off the tracks, killing several men, horribly wounding others, and trapping them all in a hailstorm of bullets and shells. although he was only a journalist, one of the few civilians on the train, and again, 24 years old, winston
churchill immediately took charge of the defense, shouting orders as he ran back and forth from the engine to the last track, organizing the men in a desperate attempt to free the train. in the end, he succeeded, and every man who made it out alive credited winston churchill's bravery and resourcefulness for saving their lives. unfortunately, churchill wasn't there to accept their gratitude or hear their praise. he had been captured and was taken as a prisoner of war. for churchill, captivity was unbearable, and he would never forget how it felt. many years later, he wrote "you feel a sense of constant humiliation and being confined to a narrow space, fenced in by railings and wire, watched by
armed men. i certainly hated every minute of my captivity, more than i have ever hated any other period my whole life. from the moment he became a prisoner, churchill resolved to escape. finally, with two other men, he had a plan. a 6 1/2 foot tall iron pailing surrounded their prison, which was constantly patrolled by guards. when the electric lights came on at night, however, one corner of the yard remained dark. if one of the guards turned his back at the right moment, they could make their move. after much discussion, and careful planning, they chose their night. but when the time came, churchill's co-conspirators found themselves trapped inside
in the glare of the lights. churchill, who had already scaled the fence, suddenly realized he was alone. facing the prospect of crossing nearly 300 miles of enemy territory with no map, no compass, no food, no weapon, no ability to speak the language, and with the boras, who were humiliat humiliated, enraged and in hot pursuit. what churchill did have was an absolute faith in his destiny, and a clear-eyed understanding is this is the opportunity he had been waiting for. the story of churchill's escape is an epic adventure by any standard. for those of you who don't know exactly how survived it, i won't tell you.
you'll have to read the book. but by the time it was over, churchill was not only a free man, he rode back to victoria, took over the prison, released the men who had been his fellow prisoners, captured the jailers, and watched as a bora flag was torn down and the british flag hoisted in its place. but more important than the story itself is what it meant to churchill as a person, as a leader, and as an architect of the world we now live in. after he returned home from south africa, he was what he had always dreamed of being -- a hero of the empire. a famous man now, churchill ran for parliament again, and this time he won. his life and british politics would never be the same. if churchill had previously dreamed about the power of his
will and his destiny, now he had proof. he was unstoppable. he had not only been parent of a great adventure, he had done it alone. he was approach life and politics in an unshakeable faith in his own abilities that would not only define his leadership but provide a foundation of courage and confidence that would inspire entire nations. churchill would also carry with him the humbling lessons of this experience. he understood better than almost any other major leader the enormous cost and tragedy of war. he was extremely compassionate about the plight of prisoners and he was determined to reach out the hand of friendship to those who had been his enemies.
churchill would never forget his capture, his impressonment, or his escape from the wars. as he himself would write, this was to lay the foundations of my later life. those foundations in turn would help to support and shape much of the world we know today. of course, churchill didn't know that at the time, but i don't think it would have come as a surprise. thank you very much. [ applause ] okay. we have 15 minutes for questions. yes? [ inaudible question ] >> so the question is, did the
boras know who they had captured? the answer is absolutely. churchill's father had been in south africa just a few years before his death, and he had traveled much of the country and he had written letters back home, which were published. he was a correspondent, and in those letters he had excoriated the boras. he had attacked them for their lack of education, for the lack of sophistication, and for their treatment of native africans, which is perfectly fair. they knew about those letters and they hated him. so when they found out that they had his son, who was also again the son of somebody who had been born into the highest ranks in the british aristocracy, they
were thrilled and made it clear they were going to keep a close eye on him. unfortunately, the boras were also determined to prove to the british that they actually were very sophisticated and very civilized, so this was an officer's prison. so they went to extreme lengths to let them have all kinds of privileges. so churchill had regular barber coming in to cut his hair and give him a shave. they had access to newspapers. if you go, you can go to this building where he was kept, and they allow them to draw a map on the wall of south africa, charting the course of the war. and so churchill, of course, as all of the men there planned to try to take advantage of some of these privileges that they had
to make it easier to escape. yes? >> i'm very interested indeed in what you said, particularly his attitude towards the boras. because after his famous victory, this is the first time he demonstrates that. of course, it leads to this great friendship with general smutz. would you say something about that and how his attitude when he gets back to england develops towards the boras. >> so he actually got in trouble for his insistence that he believed like all the british did, that the war would be over quickly. of course, they think it's going to be a couple of months and it takes almost three years. but after he escapes, after he fighting, he begins writing
letters, saying we need to think about when we, of course, are coming out of this war and how to help the boras rebuild. he really took a lot of flak for that. it was not, as you might imagine, well received. it wasn't a real understanding of importance of that at that time, i think. and when he got back and into parliament, he talked about there were things he admired about the boras. and also got in trouble with that. and he also became good friends not just with smutz, but louis bota. and he insisted that bota personally had captured him and held him at gunpoint and taken
him a captive. churchill's son, randolph, when he was working on his biography, realized after doing quite a bit of research, it wasn't and couldn't have been bota personally, even though he was absolutely there and responsible for the attack. but churchill, to his dying day said simply, you're wrong, i'm write, it was bota. and bota may have believed it. churchill talks about a conversation he has with him when he first meets him later on. and bota says, don't you recognize me? it was me who captured you personally. and churchill continue to believe that. but it was a great friendship and i think it's that kind of
reaching across the divide, especially after war. that's so important. i thish -- wish every nation would learn from that. [ inaudible ] -- more about winston's mother and the role she played on that occasion supporting a very unpopular war in america. >> so we were talking last night about jenny jerome. you know, she was a piece of work. she was a very interesting woman and incredibly beautiful. i think because of that, because of the relationships she had, you know, after her husband's death, often the focus is sort of on that instead of on -- as i said, she was incredibly smart
and charismatic and had incredible energy and vivacity. she was hugely important to her husband. obviously his father meant a great deal to him. and churchill said, you know, he wished he had been a shopkeeper's son, because he would have had an opportunity to know his father and that would have been a joy to him. but he always loved his mother. as he became a young man and became incredibly interesting and ambitious in his own right, she took a great deal of interest in him and was critical in helping him and his ambitions. because she was so involved and had so many relationships with men in powerful positions, she was able to help him get military appointments. this is obviously the height of the british empire.
so he had his pick with his mother's help wherever he wanted to go to fight. during the war, she was still incredibly involved. she raised money for a hospital ship, that went to south africa and injure british soldiers. in fact, we were talking a few -- if you haven't been to the archiving in cambridge. absolutely incredible. i found so many amazing things while i was there. one of them is a book of pictures showing jenny jones on the way to out africa, and her beautiful, sweet nurse's costumes and all that she achieves.
yes, back there? [ inaudible question ] >> -- i know this is beyond the scope of your book, but do you feel that was an influence of him when he was in the office of prison form, because he had actually been prisoner. >> yes, when he became home secretary, he never forgot what it felt like to be a prisoner. even though he was in this privileged prison, he hated the idea of being enclosed and his movements garnered and controlled.
so he made sure that prisoners, he believed they were still human beings and deserved access to books, to exercise, to the outside. so this was important to him and very formational in that way, as well. [ inaudible ] >> -- you can judge a nation by how they treat their prisoners. i think that's a wonderful benchmark to keep in this day and age. >> i agree. thank you. yes? [ inaudible ] >> -- on treatment of prisoners, he was rather brutal when world war ii broke out about enemy aliens, most of whom were deported to australia. was that a lapse under crisis?
was the record as largely as unblemished as you just indicated. >> i think we can greet that winston churchill was a great man, but he was not a perfect man. he was a conduct of the place in which he was born, the time in which he was born. but more specific than that, i think i would be very arrogant and foolish to try to comment on it. i spent five years working on this very small slice of churchill's life. maybe if i had 20 more years to look at the entirety of his life, i would be better able to answer that. >> you mentioned the british and churchill learned a lot of new less ones about guerrilla
warfare. but when we were talking about the mediterranean campaign and churchill's resistance to d-day, he became enamored with guerrilla warfare. did he perhaps learn the wrong lessons about military strategy? >> the british army going into the bora war was completely different than the one coming out and it prepared them for world war i. there was a journalist at that time, just a quick side story about winston churchill at that time. as we all know he was an extraordinary writer. and that is crystal clear at this point in his life. even though he was 24 or 25, i read a lot of contemporary
accounts of the war, and i can say absolutely he was head and holders above all of them. he was really an extraordinarily precise and insigtful and beautiful writer. with the one exception of a man named george warrington stevens, who died during the scene as he was in lady smith. and it's more like poetry. i could have quoted from him all day long. but he in particular wrote about the fact that even just watching it in real time, you can see the british suffering and confused and it's this chaos they're trying to figure out, how it's possible that they're losing what they consider to be a conial war. the reason is that war is changing. they're trying to figure it out. he said, i think at some point,
we're going to learn and get better at this. and they absolutely do. after the war they make dramatic changes. thank you so much. appreciate your time. >> more about winston churchill thursday evening. starting at 8:00 p.m., a conversation on the former british prime minister's relationships with his friends and family. then we'll hear about his time in washington, d.c. and also about his mother, who was an american. that all starts at 8:00 p.m. eastern tomorrow here on c-span3. and friday is veterans day. at 11:00 a.m. eastern, president obama lays a wreath at the tomb of the unknown soldier in arlington national cemetery. see that live on c-span.
>> this weekend on american history tv, on c-span3, saturday night a little after 7:00 eastern, kings college london visiting professor andrew roberts discusses the role of u.s. army chief of staff general george c. marshal in america's world war ii victories, arguing the general's skills transformed the u.s. army, despite opposition. >> yet he had a highly ordered mind, a skill at delegating once he had filleted the general staff of incompetence, leaving on his trusted lieutenants. and a redoubtable work ethic. this courtly pennsylvania gentleman was incorruptible, single minded and calm considering the pressures on him. >> then at 10:00 on "real america," the 1921 silent film
created by the u.s. army signal corps of the ceremony honoring the unknown soldier of world war i. >> it was tremendous. the streets of washington were lined with thousands of folks who waited for the casket to be removed and brought by the honor guard down pennsylvania avenue and across the bridge into virginia. i think what i've head is it's one of the largest turnouts for any parade in the city. >> sunday evening at 6:00 eastern on american artifacts. >> it's a beautiful building and from the moment it opened it was already too small. constructed to handle about 500,000 a year. in 1907 alone, it handled
1,207,000. >> we tour ellis island to learn about the immigrant experience. just before 9:00, president wilson nominated the first jew to sit on the nation's highest court in commemoration talks about the his life and legacy. >> he's trying to limit the court to a very specific role. one that is defined by the constitutional network which all government operates and limits or should limit any one branch from exercising power beyond its prescribed proven. >> go to c-span.org for an entire tv schedule.