Wednesday, May 3, 2017

He was a cut flower in a vase; fair to see, yet bound to die

From The World Crisis 1911-1918 by Winston Churchill. Page 177.

Some historical figures have their moment and then slip from shared awareness. Others, such as Winston Churchill, persist in the public mind but in caricatured fashion. We lose sight of their nuance and complexity. To me, Churchill was certainly a major figure of the twentieth century, as a British political leader and then, later, as an Allied war leader. But what always strikes me is his writing and oratorical skills. What a word master.

This is brought to mind by a passage from the above book in which Churchill describes in clear prose the various issues attendant to Imperial Germany's East Asia Squadron in World War I, marooned on the far side of the world without a base of support. In the midst of the description there is the above line of poetry, changing the passage from one imparting information and insight to one of art.
Admiral von Spee, the German Commander in the Pacific, had therefore no lack of objectives. He had only to hide and to strike. The vastness of the Pacific and its multitude of islands offered him their shelter, and, once he had vanished, who should say where he would reappear? On the other hand, there were considerable checks on his action and a limit, certain though indefinite, to the life of his squadron. With the blockade of Tsing Tau he was cut from his only base on that side of the world. He had no means of docking his ships or executing any serious repairs, whether necessitated by battle or steaming. The wear and tear on modern ships is considerable, and difficulties multiply with every month out of dock. To steam at full speed or at high speed for any length of time on any quest was to use up his life rapidly. He was a cut flower in a vase; fair to see, yet bound to die, and to die very soon if the water was not constantly renewed. Moreover, the process of getting coal was one of extraordinary difficulty and peril. The extensive organization of the Admiralty kept the closest watch in every port on every ton of coal and every likely collier. The purchase of coal and the movement of a collier were tell-tale traces which might well lay the pursuers on his track. His own safety and his power to embarrass us alike depended upon the uncertainty of his movements. But this uncertainty might be betrayed at any moment by the movement of colliers or by the interception of wireless messages.

No comments:

Post a Comment