Politics Before Country, 1936-2011, Part 4

Politics Before Country, 1936-2011, Part 4

con­tin­ued from Part 3

Amer­i­ca and the oth­er great democ­ra­cies con­front no mighty super­pow­er, like Britain did in 1936. Yet we face  prob­lems which, long sim­mer­ing, may indeed result in a wreck­age sim­i­lar to what might have befall­en the world, had Churchill’s Britain, and its Com­mon­wealth, not stood alone against Hitler, until, as he put it, “those who hith­er­to had been half blind were half ready.” The clear­est dec­la­ra­tion of Churchill’s char­ac­ter and prin­ci­ple I have ever read came in July 1936, at the height of the rear­ma­ment debate, Churchill told Parliament:

I would endure with patience the roar of exul­ta­tion that would go up when I was proved wrong, because it would lift a load off my heart and off the hearts of many Mem­bers. What does it mat­ter who gets exposed or dis­com­fit­ed? If the coun­try is safe, who cares for indi­vid­ual politi­cians, in or out of office?

That ring­ing dec­la­ra­tion demon­strates Churchill’s devo­tion to prin­ci­ple and to his nation, regard­less of poll rat­ings or unpopularity—characteristics some in Con­gress also demon­strate, from time to time.

Beaver­brook and Churchill, 1940

They may be struck also by cer­tain ear­li­er Churchill remarks in 1928, which serve as a warn­ing against inac­tion in the face of the obvi­ous, by any nation’s lead­ers today. They were writ­ten by Churchill to Lord Beaver­brook, after he had read Beaverbrook’s book about World War I, Politi­cians and the War. They were meant in no invid­i­ous sense, but only, I think, in sorrow:

Think of all these people—decent, edu­cat­ed, the sto­ry of the past laid out before them—What to avoid—what to do etc.—patriotic, loy­al, clean—trying their utmost—What a ghast­ly mud­dle they made of it! Unteach­able from infan­cy to tomb—There is the first and main char­ac­ter­is­tic of mankind.

Worth heed­ing too are Churchill’s words to the Roy­al Soci­ety of St. George on 24 April 1933, which are ever­green: “We ought to rejoice at the respon­si­bil­i­ties with which des­tiny has hon­oured us, and be proud that we are guardians of our coun­try in an age when her life is at stake.”

2 thoughts on “Politics Before Country, 1936-2011, Part 4

  1. Churchill didn’t believe his­to­ry exact­ly repeats, but he want­ed us to learn from his­to­ry so as not to make the old mis­takes. Toward the end of his life he did har­bor a kind of sad res­ig­na­tion. On 1 March 1955, in his last major speech in Par­lia­ment, he declared: “Which way shall we turn to save our lives and the future of the world? It does not mat­ter so much to old peo­ple; they are going soon any­way; but I find it poignant to look at youth in all its activ­i­ty and ardour and, most of all, to watch lit­tle chil­dren play­ing their mer­ry games, and won­der what would lie before
    them if God wea­ried of mankind.”

  2. Would this still be accu­rate today where our Amer­i­can cul­ture, his­to­ry and tra­di­tions are being threat­ened by pol­i­tics? Would it now be “coun­try before politics”?

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