Episode 13 – Winston Churchill versus Nebuchadnezzar II

Today’s podcast in the Leaders bracket pits the former Prime Minister of Great Britain during one of its most trying times, World War II versus one of the greatest rulers of the ancient world Nebuchadnezzar II who ruled ancient Babylon from 605 BCE to 562 BCE.

Sir Winston Churchill
Sir Winston Churchill

Winston Leonard Spencer-Churchill was born on November 30, 1874, at Blenheim Palace in Oxfordshire to Lord Randolph Churchill and his wife, Jeannie Jerome. His mother was a beautiful American-born socialite, coming from Brooklyn, New York. His father was a descendant of the Duke’s of Marlborough and a staunch conservative, part of the Tory party.

His family was considered wealthy when you look at them from a middle-class viewpoint but poor if you compare them with the genuinely wealthy Brits of the day. One of Churchill’s biographers, a German author, Sebastian Haffner, was quoted as saying that the Churchill’s were “rich by normal standards but poor by those of the rich.” 

Churchill was a handful, especially in his early years of school. He wasn’t very good in academics and often was disciplined because of bad behavior. In 1888, Winston passed a test to get into the Harrow School, an institution that was chartered under Queen Elizabeth I in 1572.

As with many people with his standing during the golden age of Great Britain, Winston went into the military after spending his last three years at Harrow preparing for service.

By 1895, Churchill was a second lieutenant in the Fourth Hussars regiment. With this position he was given the ability to travel the world, first heading to Cuba where he fought with the Spanish against the revolutionaries who were trying to gain independence. Winston was very much against this as we shall see.

Next up was a trip to what was then known as Bombay, British India, now known as Mumbai. Churchill was a staunch imperialist and believed that it was the right of the British to control vast swathes of land around the world. He also did not believe that many of the people in the countries that Britain ruled over were capable of self-rule. In fact, he was pretty much a racist. 

He is quoted to have said that “I hate Indians. They are a beastly people with a beastly religion. When a great famine occurred there in 1943, partly due to policies put into place by Churchill, he blamed the Indians for it because they “breed like rabbits.” Because of this and several other statements, Winston made during his life; he is generally despised in India. 

Politically, it somewhat hard to pin down his beliefs whether he was a liberal or a conservative as he belonged to both parties at one time or another. He was totally against Irish Independence or the right of women to vote, but he was a reformist, especially of government policies he disagreed with.

Initially, he joined the Conservative Party when he ran for the position of MP in 1900. His positions early on angered a number of his fellow conservatives as well as members of the press who sided with them. When he gave a speech that was pro-labor unions, the Daily Mail said that it was “Radicalism of the reddest type.” On May 31, 1904, Winston Churchill crossed the floor and joined the Liberal Party.

When the Liberal’s took over the government in 1905, Winston was made Under-Secretary of State for the Colonies until 1908. He traveled quite extensively throughout parts of the British Empire. Given his views about native people, we also have to show his other side. When responding to rebellions of native Africans during the Bambatha Rebellion in Natal, which later became a state of the Union of South Africa, he stated that the way Europeans responded was a “disgusting butchery of the natives.”

By 1910, Churchill was appointed to the senior post of Home Secretary. It is here that he began to understand the importance of the Royal Navy. He was witness to a little-known episode of history that would presage the coming of World War I known as the Agadir Crisis. 

Morocco was the focus of the crisis with both France and Germany at each other’s throats with the Germans threatening war. Churchill saw the growing militarism of Great Britain’s future opponents and warned his government that they should prepare to join the French and the Russians in opposition to the Germans if war broke out.

H. H. Asquith, the 1st Earl of Oxford and Asquith, was now the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. He appointed Winston to become the First Lord of the Admiralty in 1911 a position that he would hold until 1915.

Seeing that the Germans were preparing for war, Churchill proclaimed that for every naval ship that the Germans would build, the British would make two. His primary tasks at the helm of the Admiralty was to boost sagging morale, improve conditions for the men, build more submarines and invest in growing the new Royal Naval Air Service. By the time the First World War started, the RNAS had 93 aircraft along with 727 personnel. By 1918, they had 55,000 men, almost 3,000 aircraft along with 103 airships and 126 coastal stations.

World War I was not to be Winston Churchill’s shining moment. Quite the contrary as he would go down in history as one of the authors of a disastrous military campaign known as Gallipoli.

Fought in what is known today as Gelibolu, Turkey, the British Empire along with France and Russia, tried to launch an amphibious landing on the Gallipoli peninsula with and fight their way to Constantinople ending the Ottoman’s part in World War I. It was an utter disaster with over 300,000 casualties on the Allies side and 250,000 on the Ottoman’s. It would be the only victory the Ottoman’s side would win. One of the commanders was Mustafa Kemal, known years later as Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the founder of the nation of Turkey and one of the contestants in our Rebels, Rogues and Scholars bracket.

The Conservatives blamed Churchill for the loss, right or wrongfully. When a new coalition government was formed, the one stipulation the Conservatives demanded was the demotion of Winston Churchill. He was deeply hurt.

Years after the war, Churchill rejoined the Conservative party, but he wasn’t sold on all of their policies which kept him on the outs for some time.

In the years leading up to World War II, Winston was to move from being ambiguous about the fascist dictators in Italy and Germany as he felt that the Bolshevik’s in the Soviet Union were far more dangerous to being the loudest advocate for the preparation of war against them.

When Britain declared war against the Axis, as they were to be known, the British people lost all confidence in their leader, Neville Chamberlain, so in 1940, the King, George VI asked Churchill to be Prime Minister. This was not a very popular decision, especially among his own party, the Conservatives but, they acceded to the appointment.

The pressure was one Churchill to negotiate a peace with Germany but he Winston was vehemently opposed to any such talk. Was he so sure that the Allies would win the war? Oh, quite the contrary. He once told his chief military assistant, General Hastings Ismay, in June of 1940, that “you and I will be dead in three months’ time.”

Just before the Battle of Britain was fought, another contestant in the Battles bracket, Churchill stiffened the backbone of the people of Great Britain with his rousing speeches with his most famous line being, “…we shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend out island, whatever the cost shall be, we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills, we shall never surrender.” The problem with that premise is that the people of the UK didn’t hear that speech until after the war. Still, he did instill a never say die attitude amongst the people, especially when things were at their darkest.

Churchill would lead his people through the war to its successful conclusion in 1945. During the war years, there is a stain on him which, right or wrong, is debated until today which is the Bengal Famine of 1943. It is estimated that 2-3 million people died of starvation in the Bengal province out of 60 million inhabitants.

After the war, Churchill lost the election to the Labour Party. While still very popular with the people, it was felt that there was a yearning for change and that having him continue as Prime Minister would remind the populace of the suffering they endured. Churchill would continue to be the voice of the opposition for six more years until he returned as Prime Minister in 1951 where he would serve until his resignation in 1955. 

His health was declining slowly after he left the government. Churchill would make speeches and appearances, but he was less and less able as he had suffered ten strokes, starting with a minor one in 1949.

On January 24, 1965, at the age of 90, Sir Winston Churchill passed away, 70 years to the day of the death of his father. 

Now on to our second contestant, the longest reigning king of Babylon, Nebuchadnezzar II. 

Nebuchadnezzar II
Nebuchadnezzar II

Born in 634 BC as the eldest son to Nabopolassar the King of Babylon. His father rose to power when his troops along with the help of the Medes, an ancient Iranian people, along with the Persians, overthrew the Assyrians. Nabopolassar then made Babylon his capital and began consolidating his power in the region.

Just as Philip II of Macedon would do for his son Alexander, so too did Nabopolassar for his son Nebuchadnezzar. When the father died in 605 BC, the son gave a speech to the gods saying, “O merciful Marduk, may the house that I have built endure forever, may I be satiated with its splendor, attain old age therein, with abundant offspring, and receive therein tribute of the kings of all regions, from all mankind.”

The house he built was indeed filled with splendor as it is considered one of the ancient world’s seven great wonders, the Hanging Gardens of Babylon. He created the garden for his wife Amytis of Media, a Persian daughter of the king of Medes, Cyaxerxes. Nebuchadnezzar also built up all of the city of Babylon to make it one of the largest and most beautiful cities of the time. Today, the two-thousand-acre ruins of the city are the largest archaeological sites in the Middle East.

The King of Babylon was also talked about extensively in the Bible, in the book of Daniel, although not in always in a positive manner. He was vilified for his attack on Jerusalem and the siege of Tyre. In Jewish tradition, he is viewed somewhat favorably as he ordered the protection of Hebrew prophet Jeremiah but also forced many Jews to be deported from the area of Palestine.

There is also a legend about Nebuchadnezzar in that he had a seven-year period where he supposedly went insane, but there is some debate as to whether this actually occurred. Nonetheless, he was considered the greatest ruler and military commander of his era. 

When he died in 562 BC, he left a vast and powerful kingdom that was the dominant power in the Middle East. It only lasted until 539 BD when Babylon was conquered by the Persian king, Cyrus the Great.

Now on to our scoring. First up, is the 15 points for length of time in power. For Winston Churchill, we have his two terms are Prime Minister which add up to nine years. For Nebuchadnezzar, his reign lasted 44 years. This means that the King of Babylon get the 15 points while the British Prime Minister get 5.

Next is their effect on the rest of the world for 20 points. Here we can easily give the full twenty to Churchill because of his role in the events surrounding World War II. In comparison, while Nebuchadnezzar did have considerable influence on the entire Middle East, it is not nearly as impactful as Winston. For these reasons, I give 20 to Churchill and 10 to Nebuchadnezzar.

Next up is the effect that each leader had on world history. In my opinion, time has softened the impact that Nebuchadnezzar had on the world while Churchill’s influence remains with us today and will for many years to come. That is why I give 25 points to Sir Winston and 20 to his opponent.

Finally, we need to award the big prize of 40 points for the effect each man had on his country at the time of their leadership. I debated this in my mind for some time and have concluded that they both deserve the maximum number of points. So, by a slim margin, 90-85 the winner of this battle is Sir Winston Churchill who will move on to the second round to face Peter the Great.

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