Derek Turner’s review of Andrew Roberts’ Hitler & Churchill (“Style in History,” Reviews, September) is flawed.

He writes that Roberts “is a conservative and a patriot” and that “All his books are informed by these identities . . . ”  And, according to Turner, Roberts writes “to counterattack various revisionist views of Hitler and Churchill that have been making headway in recent years.  [He] singles out revisionists as diverse as David Irving, Christopher Hitchens, Clive Ponting, Patrick Buchanan, Ralph Raico . . . To some degree, he shares John Lukacs’s concern that, if Western civilization keeps unraveling, desperate Westerners may come to view Hitler [favorably] . . . ”

Nonsense.  This is the old stumblingblock for thinkers, some of them quite good, of being “on the horns of a false dilemma.”  Simply put, you do not necessarily have to like Hitler to dislike Churchill.  Hitler’s evil deeds are not only well known but magnified, while Churchill’s are suppressed.

When England’s valiant Fighter Command wrote one chapter of history, Chur-chill commended them with the famous words “Never have so many owed so much to so few . . . ”  Very true.  However, his Bomber Command was writing a different chapter of history: The carpet bombing of German cities had begun.  The “splendid decision” of May 11, 1940, the day after Churchill became prime minister, took English bombers over German cities when they were sorely needed over the battlefield.  Granting that Churchill was a great national leader capable of inspiring his people to shoulder wartime burdens should not override clear evidence that reveals his errors, his conniving, his duplicities.

The “strategic” bombing campaign is enough to establish Churchill (as Ralph Raico puts it) as “a man of blood”: No amount of cover-up will hide the fact that Churchill authorized and pushed for the destruction of population centers—killing civilians wholesale—and only backed away from it after the uproar over the destruction of Dresden less than three months before war’s end in Europe.  And when he did, he wrote, “It seems to me that the moment has come when the question of bombing of German cities simply for the sake of increasing the terror, though under other pretexts, should be reviewed . . . The destruction of Dresden remains a serious query against the conduct of Allied bombing . . . I feel the need for more precise concentration upon military objectives . . . rather than on mere acts of terror and wanton destruction, however impressive.”  This note is reproduced in the official English history The Strategic Air Offensive Against Germany, 1939-1945 (by Sir Charles Webster and Noble Frankland), and the authors go on to relate dryly that the note “seemed to overlook the fact that, after encouraging the Air Staff, and more directly the Commander-in-Chief, Bomber Command, in the policy of area attack upon large German towns for the past four years, the Prime Minister had himself, as recently as 26th January 1945, suggested the application of this principle to the great eastern cities of Germany in somewhat peremptory terms and that he had, at that time, been informed by Sir Archibald Sinclair that Dresden was among the targets which had, in consequence, been selected.”  That fact was enough to get Churchill to withdraw the note and to substitute another, a dissembling move he employed whenever it suited him.

“Poland took a giant sidestep,” or something to that effect, said Churchill, to explain that half of Poland’s territory, which Britain had entered the war to defend, was to be lost to the Russians—but never mind, Poland would be compensated by a similar amount from Germany.  Standing the old axiom on its head, two wrongs were to make a right.

As Srdja Trifkovic wrote in another connection, “the key to understanding is not sympathy or respect . . . it is curiosity, intellectual engagement, and a respect for truth.”  A respect for truth is sorely needed to put Churchill into perspective.

        —Howard Sitton
Carmel Valley, CA

Mr. Turner Replies:

I agree with Mr. Sitton that Chur-chill was culpable for having ordered the unnecessary deaths of many thousands of German civilians during RAF bombing raids, most notoriously in Dresden.  I also agree that Churchill could be devious when he chose.  Nor am I blind to Churchill’s personal weaknesses or his many mistakes, which extended over a very long period, from ordering the Gallipoli invasion to presiding over the beginnings of postwar immigration into the United Kingdom.  And I hope I have “a respect for truth,” believing, as I do, that the reputations and records of figures such as Churchill should always be open to objective examination.

Yet, when his personality and his government—and his “evil deeds”—are measured against those of Hitler, there is a clear imbalance in Churchill’s favor.  While the crimes of the Nazis are certainly continually emphasized, there is no doubt that there were important qualitative differences between Churchill’s and Hitler’s systems of government.  Although Chur-chill’s postwar governments were inglorious to say the least, his most profound instincts were conservative, patriotic, and as democratic as one might expect from an English aristocrat of his generation.  Hitler’s instincts, on the other hand, were radically anticonservative, brutally imperialist, and profoundly undemocratic.  The injustices and crimes of wartime Britain were nothing compared with those of wartime Germany.

I would suggest that Mr. Sitton is overly preoccupied with Churchill’s admittedly regrettable record on the bombing of civilians in Dresden and elsewhere.  While these were horrific events, the raids were themselves a response—even if, at times, an inappropriate and sanguinary response—to massive German raids on London and elsewhere.  Excesses inevitably happen on all sides during wars, when the normal rules of behavior are suspended and politicians want—and want to be seen to want—revenge on enemies who have killed their comrades and countrymen.  I say this not to exculpate but to explain.

As I see it, Churchill’s greatest mistake was that he did not galvanize the postwar Tory party to take action to preserve the kind of Britain so many people—not just British ones—died to save.