Dinner with Churchill
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". . . policy making at the dinner table."
Hungry for a delicious book on diplomacy? Try a Dinner with Churchill, a compilation of unpublished material by Cita Stelzer, a researcher at Churchill College, that serves up Churchill’s “policy-making at the dinner table.”
Who knew that Churchill’s sharing sauerkraut and pigs’ knuckles with President Franklin Roosevelt helped steer the U.S. into World War II? Or that supping with Joseph Stalin rewrote war strategy?
Stelzer’s narratives, using Churchill’s notes and guests’ personal memories, reveal his keen ability to captivate and persuade dinner guests amply lubricated with food and drink, free of news media and with limited staff.
Churchill knew Britain would lose to Adolf Hitler unless he could persuade the US to join the war effort and gain support from the Soviet Union. After Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor, Churchill recognized an opportunity to engage the United States in Europe’s war. Aware that Gen. Douglas MacArthur, supported by most Americans, preferred retaliation against Japan over a “Europe first” strategy, Churchill made a difficult sea journey to the United States for a face-to-face encounter with Roosevelt.
The British prime minister pointedly noted that he came to the US “to do business not to eat.” Churchill, a champagne and wine drinker, was not keen on Roosevelt’s pre-dinner cocktails or the president’s favorite sauerkraut dinner. But three weeks later, after thirteen dinners and various lunches, Churchill announced “we are all in the same boat.”
In a private dinner with Joseph Stalin in his Kremlin apartment with a handful of staffers, Churchill gained Stalin’s support for an offensive off the North Africa even though Stalin preferred a second front. Churchill wrote the meal started slowly and turned into a banquet: a suckling pig, two chickens, beef, mutton. Churchill refused the pig’s head but Stalin “tackled it with relish.”
Stelzer’s book outlines the difficult wartime logistics involved in summit dinners, includes previously unpublished photographs, copies of dinner menus and guest seating arrangement. Most compelling is her concerted effort in this book to dispel the myth that Churchill was an chronic alcoholic. He indeed enjoyed his wine, champagne and watered-down morning whiskey, but there is no evidence of Churchill being incapacitated because of alcohol. Perhaps, she writes, Churchill in his humor simply encouraged this line of thinking as his tool for “intelligence gathering.”
Reviewer: Kate Padilla