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Most enhanced reputation

LAURENCE REES: Who do you think was the person who emerged with their reputation most enhanced from the war?

GEOFFREY WAWRO: I think there’s no question that Winston Churchill is someone who emerges from relative obscurity to this titanic position in Great Britain during the war and this titanic position in history, because of his exertions during the war, and his rallying of the British people in their darkest hour. So that changes from someone who is regarded as being rather washed up before the war. He had a long run; he was seen as increasingly cantankerous and out of touch and he really found his moment in the Second World War.

Another example would be General Dwight D. Eisenhower. Here was someone who was regarded as being a relatively indifferent American officer, rather bland, bright and efficient enough, but nobody that’d set the world on fire. But he proved absolutely peerless as an administrator. That’s not damning him with faint praise, I mean, here was someone who was able to knit together this vast coalition and this whole array of great outsized egos on the British and the American sides, and then eventually the French side as well, and pull them all together and make them all work in harness. And you read anecdotes about Eisenhower during the war and the pressures he was under and the number of packs of cigarettes he went through every day, his teeth and nails stained with nicotine. He was chain smoking because of the pressure. Yet he really held it all together and kept his equanimity and kept all pieces of the coalition: British, American, French and Polish all working in harness.