The Gathering Storm

If, like me, you've long wondered how Germany—after the Treaty of Versailles—was able to amass a big enough army and enough weapons to invade Poland and France, and wage war on Britain, just a few short years later, this is how: 1. They ignored the treaty and 2. Hitler played Neville Chamberlain like a violin.

The Gathering Storm is Winston Churchill's account of those events, and these are my notes.

Churchill's rise to fame in pre-World War Two British government largely stems on the fact that, for years, he raised warnings about Germany's build up of arms and soldiers, France's diminishing arms and soldiers, and was trying to raise alarm bells. No one listened, until, of course, they had no choice but to.

This first volume covers from the end of World War One, the signing of the Treaty of Versailles and what it was supposed to mean, Germany's eventual invasion of Poland, and Churchill's ascension to Prime Minister.

It is a very, very fun book to read. I'm quite looking forward to studying the next five volumes.

Notes

If you want to lead, you need the best information

Churchill maintained relationships with people deep within the French and German governments. This "enabled me to form and maintain opinions which did not depend on what was published in the newspapers..."


In 1932, Churchill almost met Hitler in person. The meeting was cancelled after Churchill asked one of Hitler's confidants why he hated Jews. "How can any man help how he is born?" Writing about the cancellation, Churchill says, "Thus Hitler lost his only chance of meeting me."

Thought that was a cheeky way to write that.


Disasters come fast. Though everything might look okay, decades can happen in minutes. Always be preparing; always be on the lookout.

Churchill: "Wars come very suddenly"


Churchill had great faith in human's ability to do the impossible when circumstances demanded at. When the question was raised how Britain would defend against bombers, Churchill wrote:

My experience is that in these matters, when the need is fully explained by military and political authorities, science is always able to provide something. We were told that it was impossible to grapple with submarines, but methods were found... Many things were adopted in the war which we were told were technically impossible, but patience, perseverance, and, above all, the spur of necessity under war conditions, made men's brains act with greater vigour, and science responded to the demands...


Success isn't always about having the nicest equipment or fanciest tools, but rather using what you do have better than anyone else.

Writing about the British radar system, Churchill admits the Germans "developed a technically efficient radar system which was in some respects ahead of our own." But also explains that the Germans were surprised by "the extent to which we had turned our discoveries into practical effect... it was our operational efficiency rather than novelty of equipment that was the British achievement."


You never know when something seemingly bad will end up working out for your good.

Churchill:

How little can we foresee the consequences either of wise or unwise action, of virtue or of malice! Without this measureless and perpetual uncertainty, the drama of human life would be destroyed... This was not the first time—or indeed the last—that I have received a blessing in what was at the time a very effective disguise.

That reflection came after Churchill's realization that not being formally connected to Chamberlain's administration was actually a good thing. When things needed to change, Parliament needed someone unattached and completely new to the government. Churchill was able to be this person.

At first, he was upset at not being picked to serve with Chamberlain, but then, as his reflection shows, it was a "blessing in...a very effective disguise."


If you fight when you don't have to, you won't have to fight when you're forced to

From the beginning, Churchill was an advocate of war. Not because he was a bloodthirsty scoundrel, but because he saw what was happening in Germany and how eerily similar it was to the first war. Churchill wanted to do whatever it took to prevent another full-fledged war.

Churchill reflects on the failure of the British government to act earlier:

Still, if you will not fight for the right when you can easily win without bloodshed; if you will not fight when your victory will be sure and not too costly; you may come to the moment when you will have to fight with all the odds against you and only a precarious chance of survival.

That description fits lots of things in life.

If you wait to prioritize your marriage until it's on the brink of failure, it will be a much harder battle to fight than if you would've prioritized date nights and intentionally loved your spouse from the outset.

If you wait to get your finances in order until you're on the brink of bankruptcy, it will be a much more difficult challenge than if you started budgeting when you first began working.

If you wait to start working out and eating right until you have your first heart attack, getting healthy will be much more difficult than if you started doing it thirty years ago.


Statesmen are not called upon only to settle easy questions. These often settle themselves. It is where the balance quivers, and the proportions are veiled in mist, that the opportunity for world-saving decisions presents itself.

Translation: No one is made great sitting on the sidelines, coasting along, making easy decisions. Great men and women are formed through difficult circumstances.


Churchill on Vyacheslav Molotov:

I have never seen a human being who more perfectly represented the modern conception of a robot.