Norman Rose (Born 1933) is a graduate of the LSE and now holds the Chair of International Relations at the Hebrew University, Jerusalem.
A distinguished historian and Fellow of the Royal Historical Society, he is also the author of much acclaimed biographies of Winston Churchill and Chaim Weitzman, as well as a study of the Cliveden Set.
The events in Palestine between the end of the Second World War in May 1945 and the declaration of the State of Israel in May 1948 ruptured Middle Eastern history and left an indelible mark on the modern world. Today, no conflict is felt to be more intractable or divisive, no dispute so fraught with passion or infused with so much hatred, despite the repeated attempts at reconciliation between Israelis and Palestinians in the six decades since Israel came into being.
Yet how did it feel to witness and experience these momentous events? In ‘A Senseless, Squalid War‘ Norman Rose uses contemporary sources – letters, songs, diaries and stories as well as journalism and official propaganda – to reveal the attitudes and experiences of the participants from all sides of the unfolding drama.
‘A Senseless, Squalid War‘ also chronicles the political context of these crucial years. In the immediate aftermath of the European war, amidst the horrific revelations of the Holocaust and a diplomatic stalemate over the partitioning of Palestine, militant guerrilla groups sought to undermine the British presence. Jewish refugees in their thousands had been trying to enter Palestine since the early 1940s, many on the notorious ‘death ships’ from Eastern Europe, with tragic consequences. The massacre at Deir Yassin and the forced transfer of up to 700,000 Palestinians; the British withdrawal and the celebration of independence; the mounting tensions and the ‘war of extermination and momentous massacre’ – all this, and the voices of those who lived it, are recreated as never before in Norman Rose’s powerful and vivid work.
Harold Nicolson was a man of extraordinary gifts. A renowned politician, historian, biographer, diarist, novelist, lecturer, journalist, broadcaster and gardener, his position in society and politics allowed him an insight into the most dramatic events of British, indeed world, history.
Nicolson’s personal life was no less dramatic. Married to Vita Sackville-West, one of the most famous writers of her day, their marriage survived, even prospered, despite their both being practising homosexuals. Unashamedly elitist, bound together by their literary, social, and intellectual pursuits, moving in the refined circles of the Bloomsbury group they viewed life from the rarified peaks of aristocratic haughtiness.
Few men could boast such gifts as Nicolson possessed, yet he ended his life plagued by self-doubt. ‘I am attempting nothing; therefore I cannot fail,’ he once acknowledged. What went wrong? It was a question that haunted Nicolson throughout his adult life. Relying on a wealth of archival material, Norman Rose brilliantly disentangles fact from fiction, setting Nicolson’s story of perceived failure against the wider perspective of his times.
Winston Churchill is without question one of the most important figures of the twentieth century. Famous as the bulldog who rallied his wavering and war-weary compatriots to lead the Allied resistance to Hitler, he will forever stand as Britain’s savior. Unceremoniously thrown out of office after the war, he was considered brilliant, occasionally impolitic, but morally principled by his friends, and fearsome, opportunistic, and an unruly trouble-maker by his enemies. For much of his long political career he was the most detested and mistrusted man in British public life. Yet when he retired he was acclaimed as the “greatest Englishman of all time.” Which is the real Churchill? In the past several years, a wave of revisionist scholars have attacked Churchill’s wartime strategy, domestic politics, and private life, and have even claimed that he could have responsibly kept England out of the war. Now Norman Rose, the first historian to be granted access to the Churchill archives since the publication of Churchill’s authorized biography, sets the record straight, combining a proper assessment of Churchill’s achievements with a legitimate strand of revisionism. Rose’s Churchill is impetuous, and capable of disastrous miscalculation — as in the Dardanelles expedition and the Norwegian campaign of 1940. Yet Rose defends Churchill’s place in the pantheon of history, showing that through his story runs a tragic thread — how the scion of a great aristocratic house, in many ways the quintessential English aristocrat, conservative and imperialist, came to preside over his country’s decline. It is this theme, at once dramatic and poignant, that Norman Rose handles with fine understanding andperception in this comprehensive and fully documented account of Churchill’s life.
British critics widely hailed Norman Rose’s “Churchill” as quite simply the best biography yet written, calling it a “masterpiece.” Finally now available to American readers, “Churchill: The Unruly Giant” is a definitive interpretation of one of the twentieth century’s greatest leaders.
‘In twenty years,’ Lady Astor used to say of Philip Kerr, Lord Lothian, ‘I’ve never known Philip to be wrong on foreign politics.’ Though Lothian himself thought much the same, it is, in fact, harder to think of an occasion when he was right. As Sir Robert Vansittart, the strongly anti-Nazi head of the Foreign Office in the 1930s put it, ‘Lothian was an incurably superficial Johnny-Know-All.’ In 1938, A.L. Rowse, who knew him at All Souls, went further, pillorying Lothian as ‘Britain’s public enemy number one’. That was over-harsh, but by then Lothian and the rest of the Cliveden group or clique were under fire in the press and elsewhere, and most of them deserved it.
The origins of the so-called ‘set’ lay in Milner’s ‘Kindergarten’, the bunch of young men, mostly from New College, Oxford, whom Lord Milner summoned or took with him to rebuild South Africa after the Boer War. With their mission completed by the foundation of the Union of South Africa, they returned to England but maintained some cohesion by starting a quarterly review, The Round Table, dedicated to turning the British Empire into an organic union; and they continued their South African practice of convening regular ‘moots’, which were frequently held at Cliveden, a palatial house near Windsor.
This book deals with the core members of the set: Lothian, judged by another member to be ‘airy and viewy’, a Roman Catholic who converted to Christian Science, became private secretary to Lloyd George in the First World War, and the British Ambassador in Washington in the Second; Robert Brand, thought by Jan Smuts to be ‘the most outstanding member of a very able team’ in South Africa, who became an investment banker and remained easily the best of the set; Geoffrey Dawson, editor of the Times for 26 years, who almost worshipped Neville Chamberlain; Lionel Curtis, like Brand and Dawson, a fellow of All Souls, but unlike them often a grinding bore, who pursued impossible ideas such as the unification of the British Empire, and dreamed in Shanghai ‘of all nations knit in one robe for the Infinite Mind’; and Waldorf Astor, whose father, an American multi-millionaire, had decided that, while America was ‘good enough’ for a man who had to make a living, there was no reason for ‘travelled people of independent means’ to ‘remain there for more than a week’. Consequently, his son was educated at Eton and New College but did not then go to South Africa. Apart from Brand, Astor was the only member of the group who often exercised good judgment; he did not display it in 1906, though, when he decided to marry Mrs Nancy Shaw, née Langhorne, from Virginia, who had recently divorced her impossible and drunken husband. She had wanted merely a separation, but had been forced into a divorce by her husband’s family’s discovery that he had married again and was about to be prosecuted for bigamy.
Any doubts as to whether these people merit a book of their own are soon allayed by its author. Norman Rose, professor of international relations at the Hebrew University, Jerusalem, is also a master of Britain’s internal relations. He has studied the archives and the memoirs, and apart from one or two very minor solecisms about Eton – he seems to think it was founded by George III not Henry VI – his knowledge is extensive and his touch assured. With the exception of Bob Brand the members of the Cliveden Set tended to take themselves all too seriously. Rose does not take them on their own valuation, and in fine, economical, sometimes epigrammatic prose he has written a thoroughly entertaining, absorbing account of their mostly misguided and often self-important activities.