History spawned two great opposites on the spectrum of good and evil. Without one we couldn’t have had the other. After reading many books on history’s greatest antagonists it’s clear they shared personality traits, behavioral issues, peccadilloes, and family histories. Without further ado, let’s peek into the curious similarities and differences of character between Winston Spencer Churchill and Adolf Hitler.
Strained Relationships with Parents:
Winston had a difficult relationship with his father. Randolph viewed him as an undisciplined layabout who refused to apply himself in his studies. As with most ruling-class children he was sent to boarding school. His parents never visited, his father involved in government, his mother involved with society’s leading men, most notably the future Edward VII. Starved for affection, Winston developed a close bond with his nanny.
Adolf feared his father, receiving unwarranted beatings. The Hitler children sought refuge in the mother. His teachers reported so-so results. His aged father died when Adolf was a boy, creating a difficult financial situation for the family. His mother died of breast cancer when Adolf was sixteen. The family doctor hinted that mother and son were unnaturally close, without specifying details.
Both fathers had died when their boys were undeveloped. Winston’s father died of syphilis. Both mothers died tragically. Churchill’s mum died after a broken leg went gangrenous. She had the leg removed. During recuperation, the leg started leaking blood. She died before help arrived.
Weak Relationships with Women:
Hitler had difficult relationships with women. His first, at forty-two, was his niece Geli Raubal, nineteen years younger. Locked up in an apartment, forbidden to leave, she shot herself. Some say because he controlled her life, others say she was forced to get naked, squat over his face and perform acts of a scatalogical nature. In either case, not the ideal romance. With his next girlfriend there’d be a greater disparity in age. His late marriage to Eva Braun ended shortly after with a bullet to the head. He was 56, she 33.
Churchill also had strained relationships with women until he met his wife Clementine at thirty-five. Aloof and boring, when introduced to Clementine he was literally speechless. Knowing how garrulous and self-confident Winston was with men, his fear of women explains his behaviour. He’s lucky she came back for more.
Winston was a poor student. Disruptive in class, he found Greek, Latin or Math boring and useless. Never applying himself, he fell into disfavor with his father. Attending military college, he struggled with the material except for matters martial. Between this poor start and his career as a journalist, through voracious reading of history he taught himself an engrossing manner of writing, although critics ague his view of history is self-serving. Throughout his life his main interest would remain military history, especially England’s.
Neither was Hitler a good student. Interested only in military history, he delighted in crossing play-swords with mates. His political education began after his mother died. Homeless in Vienna, he visited libraries and read political discussions. At a shelter, he read to keep busy but discovered a penchant for military histories and polemics. These formed the basis of long diatribes in the WWI trenches, boring comrades to distraction. With his mouth running politics all day, it’s possibly the reason he was made a courier – to give the troops in the trenches a break.
After becoming homeless in his teens Hitler took up painting. He sold bland watercolors of houses to the tourists of Vienna. His ambition was to become an architect but was denied entry into university due to low artistic ability. Later, he would idolize and befriend an architect – Albert Speer.
Winston began painting in the Twenties to relax from politics after it dealt disappointments. Upon his death, five hundred paintings were at the country mansion Chartwell. Many others had been given away during his life.
Winston augmented his meager subaltern’s salary by writing news articles. A cavalry subaltern was expected to provide his own horse, uniform and pay mess dues. Elected to Parliament, he had a similar dilemma caused by an MP’s yearly salary of £150. His writing soon expanded to histories that were well received. Churchill signed contracts for books and, having been in government and well connected, he created authoritative bird’s-eye views for his readers. First-hand accounts of military engagements were popular with the public. He wrote hundreds of magazine and newspaper articles, syndicated world wide. When it became lucrative, he bought an estate, naming it Chartwell. Eventually he won the Nobel Prize for literature.
Hitler, on the other hand, wrote only two volumes, both of them autobiographical, but mostly outlining his political vision for Germany. The first was entitled My Four Year Struggle Against Lies, Stupidity, and Cowardice, compiled while confined in Landsberg prison for treason. Convinced by his editor to shorten the title, My Struggle (Mein Kampf) first had modest sales. After coming to power in 1933, the book was read by new party members, selling millions each year. He followed up with a poorly selling update, a repetitious harangue against Jews and Bolshevism. With the millions he made from Mein Kampf he bought a mountain retreat in the Alps, calling it the Berghof. Although Mein Kampf sold millions, it wasn’t enjoyable reading. Given away at weddings and military promotions, it was similar to the ubiquitous Gideon’s Bible found in hotels everywhere, taking a revered place on shelves but mostly unread.
Churchill served with distinction and bravery in war. Physically very brave, as a cavalry subaltern in the Boer War, he took charge of a troop train that was under attack. Exposing himself to rifle fire, he got the damaged train in running order and moving again. In WWI he resigned from Cabinet, taking responsibility for the Gallipoli disaster (later exonerated in a secret report) and marched to the front lines. Resented for not having earned his rank, he soon gained the respect of his men, leading patrols to inspect the wire under extremely dangerous circumstances. Running the Home Office during an anarchist shoot-out in London, newspaper photos portray him directing operations at the scene. There’s no question of his courage.
Adolf Hitler would be awarded the Iron Cross in WWI. Twice wounded while serving as a courier in the trenches, he was temporarily blinded by poison gas. During early Nazi street brawls he was shot at several times. He carried pistols in his trenchcoat pockets, probably using them during street clashes.
Both Powerful Orators:
Elected to Parliament in his twenties, Winston rehearsed his speeches thoroughly, staging when he should stammer, correct himself, or look skyward for better words. Even gestures were annotated. He made certain he had room from the lectern to gesticulate. At the start his nerves betrayed him while ‘acting’ out speeches, but through experience learned better delivery. He developed into such a good orator and a sharp critic of anyone who opposed his views, that when he rose in the House to speak the word went out that ‘Winston was up,’ causing absent members to rush back to the House to witness a spectacle. The House was always packed to hear Winston, not so the other members, many of them senior. At his peak, he motivated the nation, making them believe in themselves as superhuman, sacrificing all for England.
Adolf Hitler began speaking in the trenches. He endlessly harangued comrades with diatribes about the Jews, so much so he was universally disliked. After WWI the army decided to employ him, delivering anti-Bolshevik speeches to demobilized troops. He took over the Nazi Party leadership based on the strength of his oratory. He began his speeches slowly, quietly, folding his arms and waiting for the hubbub to stop. He made room for his flinging arms, wild gesticulations, and doubling over when pointing down, lifting a knee as he did so. Soon he would spellbind the nation, allowing them to believe in their superiority, the individual should sacrifice everything for Germany. Both leaders motivated their countrymen to believe in victory.
Both Supremacists, Nationalistic:
Churchill held the view, common among Victorian patricians, that darker skinned peoples were incapable of self-government. He opposed Indian self-government, leading to his isolation. Imperialists, in whose camp he clearly stood, were often racist, believing England stood for civilization and enlightenment, a view often held in complete denial of English domestic inequities, English lack of justice for the poor, downtrodden classes, lack of literacy, education, social benefits, basic hygiene, food and housing, lack of medical attention, lack of political representation, exploitation of the working poor, etcetera. If one were outside looking in, it would have been hard not to regard English people holding these views as utterly and contemptuously arrogant.
Hitler’s arrogance towards other races was plainly evident in his treatment of non-Germans. The list of crimes towards the Untermenschen (sub-humans) is endless. The Jews were equated to vermin in propaganda films in order to justify their extermination. The Slavs were slave labor, deliberately worked to death – their lands de-populated for German ‘living space’. Hitler took it badly when Jessie Owens and Joe Louis gave him two clear demonstrations of Black superiority over Germans.
A back-seat-driver in every sphere of involvement, Winston was loathed for constantly criticizing colleagues and superiors. From Kitchener in Khartoum, to every Prime Minister he served, he dominated conversations with criticism and corrections. On committees he controlled the room. In Cabinet, he waded into others’ portfolios without regard to the proprieties of turf. As First Lord of the Admiralty or as Chancellor of the Exchequer (Finance) he strayed into all territories, critical of any and all holding opposing views. Many would warn their Prime Minister, ‘I won’t serve if Winston is in the Cabinet’. As PM, he made himself Minister of Defense. He meddled thoroughly in the affairs of generals, sacking one after another until he found one he liked. Montgomery was a character equal in obstinacy to Churchill and couldn’t be pushed. Monty had successes early on, and a mentor in Alan Brooke, Chief of the Imperial General Staff. Churchill’s meddling was responsible for ludicrous ideas being investigated, ie: aircraft carriers made of ice, and a steel cable anti-aircraft device. But many ideas were used, such as the Tank, Mulberry (artificial harbors), Pluto (Pipe Line Under The Ocean), and magnetic mines. FDR once said ‘Winston has about fifty ideas per day, three or four of them good’. Undoubtedly, the other forty-six were a source of limitless irritation to experienced staff required to investigate and report on their usefulness.
In June 1934, Hitler himself arrested his party rival, leader of the Sturm Abteilung (Storm Troopers). Without a trial or basis in law, Röhm was executed shortly thereafter, along with 250 people who disagreed with Hitler. Der Führer often involved himself in low-level details of military planning, believing that no one was more competent than he, incredibly frustrating for experienced generals. It’s no wonder that assassination attempts were orchestrated by the military hierarchy.
Given alternatives by planners, Hitler would choose the correct one. Meddling led to successes, especially in France and the Low Countries. He correctly gauged the Western Democracies’ unwillingness to fight for the Rhineland, Austria, the Sudetenland, Czechoslovakia, Poland, and in the end, themselves. England sent under ten divisions to fight alongside France’s 75 mobile divisions. During ‘la Drôle de Guerre’ (Phony War) France refused to allow England to bomb Germany from French bases, refused to allow mining the Rhine, and didn’t permit shooting at Germans across the boundary. When overwhelmed by 136 German mechanized and air-supported divisions, the British quickly evacuated France. The French threw down their weapons en masse after symbolic fights. The defeatist graffiti slogans of ‘Pour qui et pour quoi?’ were only matched by England’s appeasers. In suicidal charges against machine guns a generation earlier, England had lost her manliness on the fields of the Somme, commanded by brain-dead, upperclass twits. France had been bled white in countless other battles, pitting flesh against bullets and shells. Hitler knew the Democracies had no fight in them.
Although Churchill was slow to appreciate dominance of air power over battleships, he saw the bigger picture clearly. England’s life-line to the world was through shipping. Winston knew he had to defeat the U-boat. The Battle of the Atlantic was his greatest worry. When 10 centimeter radar was combined with long range aircraft, the U-boat menace was defeated. Critics argued that sinkings of U-boats hadn’t increased, how could that be called a victory. Churchill said they had missed the point; more shipping was getting through. Radar equipped airplanes were causing U-boats to dive; easily discovered or being in hiding they were unable to stalk their prey. It wasn’t necessary to sink them to render them ineffective. Furthermore, Churchill saw quite clearly that the USSR and Americans had to be allies, that Germany could not sustain a two-front war. Despite his profound distaste for Bolshevism, he supplied Russia with info from Ultra decrypts (Top Secret Intel). He diverted weapons and supplies to Russia once they were at war with Germany, and convinced Americans that Germany must be defeated before Japan. His predecessor, Chamberlain, had spurned alliances with both the Soviets and the U.S. Both then were men of grand vision, seen as geniuses by their followers and constituents.
Both Committed to Fight to the End:
Winston, at England’s darkest hour, made his ‘We shall fight on the beaches’ speech and ‘so let us bear ourselves, that if the British Empire and her Commonwealth last for a thousand years, men will still say this was their finest hour’ and ‘Hitler knows that he will have to break us on this island or lose the war’. Winston was a fighter; he’d take England to a smoldering end before capitulating. There’d be no more running from Nazis. Publicity photos portray him brandishing a Thommy gun at his hip, daring Hitler to come to England. Hitler fought to the end, leaving his country a smoking, bombed-out ruin.
Under Hitler’s aegis, the Third Reich spawned many technical innovations which could have been decisive. The V1 and V2 are notable but most menacingly was the first operational jet aircraft and radar-controlled anti-aircraft guns. It’s an Allied myth that Germany didn’t develop radar as quickly as England. The facts are the reverse. Germany also tested remote, radio-guided bombs against Allied ships invading Italy in 1943. Furthermore, some German tanks were equipped with infrared gun sights in 1944. Developed in 1942, the Messerschmitt 262 sped by P-51 Mustangs at 540 miles per hour. Luckily, there weren’t sufficient numbers to change the balance. At war’s end, all German aircraft production was exclusively fighter aircraft and had been moved to bomb-proof caves.
Technical innovations by the Allies were many and decisive, some even originating from Churchill’s own fertile mind. Mulberry, artificial harbors to supply the D-Day beachhead, was towed in sections to Normandy to create two artificial harbors. Window, another Churchillian brainstorm, was instrumental in fouling German radar with strips of floating tin foil, first used in bombing Hamburg. He encouraged other technical innovations that were decisive as well. Hobarth’s Funnies were tanks adapted to special purposes for D-Day, chain flailing to detonate mines, flame throwers, carpet laying over soft ground, or vaulting tank traps with wood bundles. The development of the cavity magnetron making radar sensitive enough to spot a periscope over the horizon was all-decisive in the Atlantic. As a result, America safely ferried over 2.2 million troops to England. On D-Day only two submarines were encountered by an armada of 7,000 ships. Churchill sent scientists to work on the Manhattan Project, which successfully produced the A-bomb, proving decisive against Japan. It was a war between the scientists of the military/industrial economies.
Both Banned Defeatism:
Hitler’s regime made it a capital offence for a soldier to be defeatist. Citizens who mentioned defeat, or negativity about the war were reported to the Gestapo. Dissention was effectively suppressed, usually by violent means. Generals speaking of defeat in any terms were dismissed immediately. Leaders who retreated without permission were let go. With Germany in a state of imminent collapse, Berlin lying in ruins, Hitler dismissed generals who didn’t have that gung-ho, can-do spirit against massive Russian opposition. As Hitler’s bunker became the focus of fighting in Berlin, he permitted himself the ultimate defeatist act: for fear of being captured alive he shot himself and his wife, Eva Braun.
England had many defeatists, in government (the Appeasers, the Clivedon Set, and Socialists), the media (editors sympathetic to the Appeasers and opposed to Churchill, notably Geoffrey Dawson of The Times), foreign allies (France), foreign embassies (Joe Kennedy, Sr.), influential foreign spokesmen (Charles Lindbergh), former adversaries (Ireland), political agitators (The British Nazis) to name a few. Churchill wanted them muzzled since defeatism is infectious and largely responsible for England’s shocking lack of preparedness against an aggressive dictatorship. During the war, Churchill almost suffered a breakdown of the coalition government in a dispute with Labourites over suppression of the press under section 4D of the War Measures Act. Citizens guilty of spreading defeatism were reported and tried if the case was serious enough to consider.
They both took steps to silence the opposition. England had camps built on the Isle of Man for the collection of enemy aliens and the imprisonment of members of the British Nazi party. Censorship was established for all newspapers and radio broadcasts.
Good Judges of Character:
Each assessed the character of the other astutely. Churchill, alone and with few friends in parliament, predicted accurately what Hitler would do once he was in power, what countries he would threaten next, and how dangerous he would be to world peace. Hitler assessed correctly that Churchill, without influence at the time, was the real enemy of Germany. He also predicted Churchill would become the next prime minister and focused much of his government’s vitriol against Winston, although he was merely an isolated backbencher at the time. Hitler would make peace speeches after each conquest (Friedensrede) whereby he attempted to calm the nervous appeasers in neighboring countries in order to keep them from reacting. “We want nothing but peace and have no further territorial ambitions in Europe. War is the furthest thing from our minds,” he would say. Winston retorted, “A snake will slather a dead carcass in saliva before it swallows the meal whole.”
Instilled Loyalty With Speeches:
In the days before professional speech writers, Churchill and Hitler inspired their followers with radio addresses. Churchill’s were moving calls for the freedoms of subjugated peoples of the world and appeals to the common decency of man, meant mostly to inspire his countrymen but also with an eye to motivating Americans. Hitler made speeches that inspired hatred against outsiders, Jews, and Communists, some of which garnered sympathy in the countries he invaded. Most of Europe was anti-Semitic to the core, and he used that hatred to his advantage. Bad weather? Jews. Bad economy? Jews. Americans not on our side? Jews. Bolsheviks in the navy? Jews. A disenfranchised middle class made poor by the Versailles Treaty were only too ready to accept it. Joseph (jr.) and John Kennedy touring Germany in the late 30’s were confronted and jostled by angry Nazis for not raising their arms in the Hitler salute. The seduction of Germany into Fascism was complete.
Both Felt Righteous:
Churchill and Hitler were both devoted to their respective causes. Each was imbued with a sense of rightness of their cause, obsessiveness that kept them going long after ordinary men would have given up or retired. Winston became PM six months after he was eligible to collect a pension. Hitler viewed himself as the savior of Germany. Both were obsessed with a sense that they were born for the purpose of leadership, that it was their destiny to govern.
Churchill was very often rude to his valet at Chartwell, and the valet stood up for himself, returning the rudeness to Churchill. Winston said, “You can’t talk to me like that, that was rude.” The valet replied, “But you were rude too!” and Churchill without much contemplation said, “But I am a great man!” In the Twenties he had not yet become the heroic leader, indicating that he had a sense of his own worth to the future.
Neither Intimidated the Other:
Each having experienced real combat and having placed their lives in the ante in the Big Gamble of War, neither was intimidated easily by saber rattling, unlike Churchill’s three predecessors. When Germany re-occupied the Rhine in 1936, Hitler had been nervous and ready to withdraw at a moment’s notice, since with her small army Germany was not prepared for prolonged conflict with the Allies. But what he didn’t know and would only learn later was that his adversaries were also quite timid about confrontation.
Winston was perhaps the only parliamentarian whose knees did not shake at the sound of sword clattering Nazis. He would need to be confronted by real force of arms, not imagined. Had he been in power then, or had his speeches inspired the least backbone in Stanley Baldwin or Neville Chamberlain, the Nazi hand would have been forced. Instead Hitler got what was wanted through intimidation and knew from that point onward England would not lift a finger. Unfortunately for the world, Churchill stood alone, ridiculed by the Press (friends of Chamberlain) for his aggressive stance. He was unfairly labelled “The Warmonger”. They lacked the courage to call Hitler that though, they were afraid to insult the regime in Germany, and so ganged up on Winston instead. Winston had said of World War One that ‘Victory had been obtained at such a cost as to make it indistinguishable from defeat.’ Clearly the appeasers were allowing their judgments to lean toward the latter.
Both Seen as Warmongers:
In Winston’s case, war or having a strong military was seen as the only way to confront a dictator on a rampage. While the Germans were constructing a huge re-militarization program it would have been the only sensible path to take, but the pacifists in England wanted to appease the Germans through a reduction in arms. The two countries embarked on diverging paths. In Hitler’s case war was seen as the only way of redressing the wrongs he felt were done to Germany after her defeat in WWI, and the only way to conquer neighboring countries for ‘living space’. The pacifists in Germany, such as Albert Einstein, were forced to leave.
Both men had schedules that took them late into the night, and very seldom got out of bed early. Hitler had given strict orders that reserve armored divisions were not to be moved after the D-Day invasion except on his personal authorization. Only he could decide where the main Allied thrust would be. Von Rundstedt tried telephoning him but was informed that Hitler could not be disturbed for any reason. In the event he slept until 10 o’clock. When he awoke he still did not believe that the main Allied thrust had come, and so withheld permission for the movement of reserve tanks.
Churchill slept almost every day until 10 a.m. napped in the late afternoon, and worked well into the wee hours of the morning. He managed his time effectively, sometimes by being stark naked in front of typists and secretaries, while dressing or taking baths. He surprised FDR by disrobing completely at the White House and FDR suggested he would come back to finish their conversation but Churchill, tongue in cheek, assured the president he had nothing to hide.
Both Used Intuition:
Both Winston and Adolf used intuition in assessing political or military situations, not relying on the rational. At least that’s the way it appeared to the outside observer. In Winston’s case his judgments would have been formed by his martial knowledge steeped in military history. In another facet, he had many insiders reporting government secrets to him because they were disgruntled with the appeasers habit of suppressing disturbing reports about Germany’s re-arming. In succession, Prime Ministers MacDonald, Baldwin, and Chamberlain buried the truth about Germany’s rapid military build up, withholding it from the country, so much so that Churchill appeared to be a barking lunatic ranting off facts and figures, the source of which he had to keep secret or betray his insiders. In a conspiracy of silence, the government knew the reports were correct, it was the same information they had chosen to suppress.
Hitler correctly constructed many strategies and gambles based on gut feeling. He had an intuition that the British were trying to get into Norway to block German imports of steel. He had a gut feeling that Stalin would be amenable to signing a non-aggression treaty, if the Soviets received a guarantee of spheres of domination in the Baltic States. His intuition completely failed him with regard to the invasion of Russia less than two years later however, and the decisive impact that America would have on the war. Hitler in essence was gambling with his armies and his intuition kept telling him to roll the dice one more time.
Both Believed in Absolutes:
Both Hitler and Churchill saw things in absolutes, either black or white. Churchill did not like to paint with anything but vibrant reds, blues, greens, and yellows. Absent were any closely related shades of gray or brown. Churchill only made friends with people who held his views of the world, other viewpoints not being worthy of consideration.
To a visiting British dignitary Hitler offered a solution to England’s Indian question: “Just shoot Gandhi”. Hitler prescribed death and destruction to anybody not on his side. Opposition ‘was to be crushed’, “Czechoslovakia will be eliminated”, “the Jews will cease to exist in Europe”, “Poland will be wiped off the map”. Hitler’s solution for the mentally handicapped became murder in September 1939. Since they didn’t contribute to the supremacy of Germany over other races, they took valuable resources away from German society, and so had to be executed. One by one, they were shipped off in busses to a killing center, their families sent fabricated notices of death by illness, looking much like a commercial form letter with names penciled in. Seventy thousand mentally handicapped people were disposed of in this manner, along with recidivist criminals, prostitutes or the chronically unemployed. Using these methods the Nazis learned how to commit the systematic murder of European Jewry – efficient, planned, orderly, and above all thorough. One of the captured German generals said when viewing films of British soldiers bulldozing mountains of emaciated dead Bergen-Belsen Jews into a pit, “If anything about the Third Reich lasts a thousand years, it will be this.”
Although they had many similarities in their development, what is crucial is where they differed. Adolf never drank, smoked or ate meat, but one can’t help thinking he could have been quite different had he indulged in the occasional human weakness. Hitler said in Mein Kampf “the bigger the lie the more they believed” which became his credo. He lied monumentally to his people and foreigners alike, and in the end to himself. Subjugation, enslavement and murder were the tools in his arsenal to achieve the German hegemony. Inflexible in the face of contrary facts, he annihilated opponents of his vision as would a medieval king – with brutality, imprisonment, banishment or death. He singled out weaker or neutral nations, conquered them with violence, digested them, enslaved their peoples to build bulwarks against counter-attack and then selected his next victim. As the Messiah, only he could lead his people to a glorious future, anyone else claiming an alternative way was possible would be murdered. In the shameful last days of the war he sent 13 and 14 year old lads to their deaths to save his empire rather than call it quits. He dealt only in the currency of death.
Winston Churchill, for all his faults (went to WWI with suitcases filled with liquor and cigars) firmly believed in democratic principles. He submitted his viewpoints to others, soliciting ‘comments and corrections’ and tirelessly struggled for consensus. For nearly a decade he held views that were contrary to the majority but kept a civil tongue, even though he in turn was very badly mistreated. When world events finally vindicated him, he never once took the opportunity to say ‘I told you so’. He allowed his former opponents to enter his camp and all was forgiven. Courageous to a fault, he told the truth, or at least what his convictions told him was the truth, however unpopular, whatever the personal cost or repercussions to his career and prestige. Nancy Astor, (Clivedon was her country home and headquarters for the appeasers and Nazi sympathizers. Her visitors were known as the Clivedon Set) a member of parliament but perhaps the dimmest light for democracy ever voted to represent it, the consummate appeaser, said many times ‘Winston is finished’. Yet his faith in the righteousness of his cause kept him fighting her and the Clivedon Set long after lesser men would have retired, beaten. He was malleable enough to change his opinions if justified by facts, but no one had better access to facts than Churchill, even as a backbencher. He worked tirelessly into the night but would never ask of man or woman what he wasn’t prepared to do himself. Most importantly, of all his differences to his alter ego and nemesis, he found abhorrent the concept of the enslavement of freedom loving peoples the world over and served to maintain and protect the peace. In opposing Hitler with all he could muster, allying himself with friends (America) and ideological foes (Russia), he restored and preserved peace for the modern world. Without his indefatigable strength of character and limitless energy the world would have descended into darkness, and almost did.