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Churchill on the Optimist and the Pessimist

Churchill on the Optimist and the Pessimist

Opti­mist and Pes­simist: Fif­teen min­utes of fame! David Davis MP, Sec­re­tary of State for Brex­it, boots one in his recent speech and I’m final­ly in The Guardian. Prob­a­bly the first and last time, giv­en my opin­ions. **

Ques­tion: Refer­ring to your posts of quotations Churchill nev­er said, do you know who actu­al­ly did say “A pes­simist sees the dif­fi­culty in every oppor­tu­nity; an opti­mist sees the oppor­tu­nity in every dif­fi­cul­ty”? I find no attri­bu­tion oth­er than to Churchill.

Pessimist: Not Churchill’s Quip

Answer: Sor­ry. I can’t track it; nor can my col­league Ralph Keyes, edi­tor of The Quote Ver­i­fi­er.

Like many “red her­rings,” the optimist/pessimist quote is all over the web ascribed to Churchill–and not one of those appear­ances offers a source (speech, book or what­ev­er). If he said it, no one has pro­duced the source.

Churchill did say some amus­ing and thought­ful things about opti­mists and pes­simists:

We remem­ber the sar­don­ic war-time joke about the opti­mist and the pes­simist. The opti­mist was the man who did not mind what hap­pened so long as it did not hap­pen to him. The pes­simist was the man who lived with the opti­mist. (1 Decem­ber, 1938, “How Stand Britain and France Since Munich?” Dai­ly Tele­graph; reprint­ed in Step by Step, first edi­tion, page 293.)

For myself I am an optimist—it does not seem to be much use being any­thing else…. (9 Novem­ber 1954, Lord Mayor’s Ban­quet, Guild­hall, Lon­don; The Unwrit­ten Alliance, page 195.)

** Optimist: Nice lines about Europe?

In report­ing this mis­quote in The Guardian, 19 June 2017, Mr. David Hen­ley kind­ly links to this post, while adding:

The great man did, how­ev­er, come up with a few nice lines about Europe. The “sov­er­eign rem­e­dy” to the tragedy of post­war Europe, he said in 1946, was to “re-cre­ate the Euro­pean fam­i­ly … and pro­vide it with a struc­ture under which it can dwell in peace, in safe­ty and in free­dom. We must build a kind of Unit­ed States of Europe.” (Zurich Uni­ver­si­ty, 19 Sep­tem­ber 1946)

A lit­tle more dig­ging would pro­duce a cou­ple of oth­er Churchill lines, from a time when Europe had begun indeed to unite:

It is only when plans for unit­ing Europe take a fed­er­al form that we our­selves can­not take part, because we can­not sub­or­di­nate our­selves or the con­trol of British pol­i­cy to fed­er­al author­i­ties. (House of Com­mons, 29 Novem­ber 1951)

We are not mem­bers of the Euro­pean Defence Com­mu­ni­ty, nor do we intend to be merged in a fed­er­al Euro­pean sys­tem. We feel we have a spe­cial rela­tion­ship to both. (House of Com­mons, 11 May, 1953)

What Churchill real­ly thought about Euro­pean union is devel­oped here­in. See “Zurich +70” and “Bri­tan­nia Waives the Rules.” Not like­ly to make The Guardian, I fear.

Quotations are from…

Churchill By Him­self (USA) and Churchill in His Own Words (new edi­tion, UK).

Churchill as Anti-Semite: Rubbish

Churchill as Anti-Semite: Rubbish

A life­long sup­port­er of Zion­ism and the Jews, Win­ston Churchill is some­times labeled an anti-Semi­te. The prof­fered evi­dence, an alleged arti­cle of his, has made the oblig­a­tory rounds of the Inter­net.

A 1937 arti­cle draft in the Churchill Archives sup­pos­ed­ly proves that Churchill’s off-expressed sym­pa­thy for the Jews was hypocrisy. Churchill was, if this arti­cle is to be believed, a clos­et anti-Semi­te.

Origins of a Slur

The alle­ga­tions began with a 2007 arti­cle in Britain’s The Inde­pen­dent: “Uncov­ered: Churchill’s Warn­ings About the ‘Hebrew Blood­suck­ers.’”

The 1937 draft, “How the Jews Can Com­bat Per­se­cu­tion,” had “appar­ent­ly lain unno­ticed in the Churchill Archives at Cam­bridge since the ear­ly months of the Sec­ond World War,” stat­ed The Inde­pen­dent:

Churchill crit­i­cised the “aloof­ness” of Jew­ish peo­ple from wider soci­ety and urged them to make the effort to inte­grate themselves….Churchill says: “The cen­tral fact which dom­i­nates the rela­tions of Jew and non-Jew is that the Jew is ‘dif­fer­ent.’ He looks dif­fer­ent. He thinks dif­fer­ent­ly. He has a dif­fer­ent tra­di­tion and back­ground.” He then goes on to crit­i­cise Jew­ish money­len­ders: “Every Jew­ish money­len­der recalls Shy­lock and the idea of the Jews as usurers. And you can­not rea­son­ably expect a strug­gling clerk or shop­keep­er, pay­ing 40 or 50 per­cent inter­est on bor­rowed mon­ey to a ‘Hebrew Blood­suck­er,’ to reflect that almost every oth­er way of life was closed to the Jew­ish peo­ple.”

Some of this could be the words of an anti-Semi­te. But Churchill did not write them. Nor did he pub­lish them. Nor did he approve of them.

Anti-Semite Marshall Diston

“How the Jews Can Com­bat Per­se­cu­tion” had not “lain unno­ticed since the Sec­ond World War.” It was “unearthed” over three decades ago by the Churchill biog­ra­ph­er Sir Mar­tin Gilbert. It is among the mil­lion doc­u­ments in the Churchill Archives Cen­tre. Gilbert pub­lished it in 1982 in Win­ston S. Churchill, Com­pan­ion Vol­ume V, Part 3, The Com­ing of War: Doc­u­ments 1936-1939. Today it is in The Churchill Doc­u­ments, Vol­ume 13 (Hills­dale Col­lege Press, 2009), page 670.

Gilbert reveals that the arti­cle was writ­ten entire­ly by a British jour­nal­ist, Adam Mar­shall Dis­ton (1893-1956)—a jour­nal­ist, a fol­low­er of Sir Oswald Mosley’s New Par­ty before it became fas­cist, and a would-be Labour can­di­date for Par­lia­ment in 1935. Dis­ton was also an anti-Semi­te. Churchill, Gilbert notes, was then writ­ing on aver­age an arti­cle a week—so he hired Dis­ton to draft cer­tain arti­cles. Churchill amend­ed most Dis­ton drafts before pub­li­ca­tion; he pub­lished una­mend­ed.

It is impor­tant to keep Diston’s role in per­spec­tive. Drafts for Churchill’s weighty his­to­ries, such as Marl­bor­ough and A His­to­ry of the Eng­lish Speak­ing Peo­pleswere pre­pared by dis­tin­guished his­to­ri­ans such as Bill Deakin and Kei­th Feil­ing. Dis­ton draft­ed some of what Churchill called “potboilers”—articles writ­ten to help main­tain his expan­sive staff and lux­u­ri­ous lifestyle. (“We loved pot-boil­ers,” his for­mer sec­re­tary Grace Ham­blin told me. Churned out raid­fire, they went straight to mag­a­zine edi­tors. They had none of the fas­tid­i­ous revi­sion Churchill afford­ed his books.)

Not Churchill’s Work

“How the Jews Can Com­bat Per­se­cu­tion,” con­tin­ued Sir Mar­tin, “was the only seri­ous sub­ject Dis­ton was asked to tack­le. [And] he went over the top in the use of his lan­guage.”

When con­vey­ing the draft to Churchill, Dis­ton rec­og­nized his excess­es: “Mrs. Pear­man [Churchill’s sec­re­tary] did not tell me for what paper it was want­ed,” he wrote Churchill. “If it is for a Jew­ish jour­nal, it may in places be rather out­spo­ken. Even then, how­ev­er, I do not know that that is alto­geth­er a bad thing. There are quite a num­ber of Jews who might, with advan­tage, reflect on the epi­gram: ‘How odd, Of God, To choose, The Jews.’” It is impos­si­ble to describe those words as oth­er than those of an anti-Semi­te.

Sub­se­quent cor­re­spon­dence in the Churchill Archives, from March 1940, has Charles Eade, then Churchill’s edi­tor for his war speech­es, sug­gest­ing that Diston’s “rather provoca­tive” arti­cle be pub­lished in the Sun­day Dis­patch. Kath­leen Hill, for­ward­ed Eade’s pro­pos­al to Churchill with a note:

I can­not trace that this arti­cle on the Jews has ever been pub­lished. You orig­i­nal­ly wrote it for the Amer­i­can Mag­a­zine Lib­er­ty about June 1937….However, the arti­cle was not pub­lished as Col­liers object­ed to any of your arti­cles appear­ing in a rival mag­a­zine. (Churchill Archives, CHAR 8/660/32.)

Churchill him­self would not have him­self sought to pub­lish the arti­cle, Mar­tin Gilbert explained: “His pri­vate office did that, and was always most effi­cient.” It is not clear that Churchill even read either the orig­i­nal or the retyped Dis­ton arti­cle. His usu­al­ly copi­ious red-ink cor­rec­tions are not there.

Excuses and Prevarications

Were Col­liers’ objec­tions the prob­lem? Col­liers was Churchill’s pri­ma­ry Amer­i­can arti­cle out­let. But that opin­ion was Mrs. Hill’s, not Churchill’s. While she might have remem­bered Col­liers’ objec­tions, Churchill had oth­er out­lets. And he was nev­er one to fail to place a good sto­ry. Yet, after read­ing Mrs. Hill’s memo, Churchill him­self wrote across the bot­tom: “bet­ter not.” Mrs. Hill duly informed Charles Eade: “Mr. Churchill thinks it would be inad­vis­able to pub­lish the arti­cle.” (Churchill Archives, CHAR 8/660/31.)

Notwith­stand­ing that it was Dis­ton not Churchill who wrote of “Shy­lock” and “Hebrew Blood­suck­ers,” we may be sure The Independent’s sto­ry or por­tions of the Dis­ton draft will con­tin­ue to sur­face as proof of Churchill’s anti-Semi­tism. There is an ele­ment today that seeks always to decon­struct time-proven insti­tu­tions, soci­eties and lead­ers. No mat­ter how pos­i­tive their record, their least pec­ca­dil­loes prove they are no bet­ter than the vil­lains of his­to­ry: that “we” are no bet­ter than “they.” Call it the Feet of Clay School.

Leave aside Churchill’s life­long sup­port of Zion­ism. For­get his legion of Jew­ish friends, from Sir Ernest Cas­sel to Hen­ry Strakosch to Bernard Baruch, who stuck by him when it took courage to do so, often bail­ing him out of finan­cial mis­for­tune. Omit the fact that his offi­cial biog­ra­ph­er was also a lead­ing Holo­caust and Jew­ish his­to­ri­an. Churchill cham­pi­oned the Jews. He deplored their per­se­cu­tion. “How can any man be dis­crim­i­nat­ed against,” he once asked, “pure­ly because of how he was born?”

Second and Third Thoughts

But Churchill was not an uncrit­i­cal friend. Out­raged by the 1944 killing of his friend Lord Moyne, Min­is­ter Res­i­dent in Cairo, by mem­bers of the ter­ror­ist Stern Gang, Churchill said: “If our dreams for Zion­ism are to end in the smoke of assas­sins’ pis­tols and our labours for its future to pro­duce only a new set of gang­sters wor­thy of Nazi Ger­many, many like myself will have to recon­sid­er the posi­tion we have main­tained so con­sis­tent­ly and so long in the past.” Despite his out­rage, he refused to agree to a Colo­nial Office pro­pos­al after Moyne’s death to curb Jew­ish immi­gra­tion to Pales­tine, and refused to appoint as Moyne’s suc­ces­sor two senior Con­ser­v­a­tives whom he knew were opposed to Zion­ism.

Churchill “always had sec­ond and third thoughts, and they usu­al­ly improved as he went along,” wrote William Man­ches­ter. Along with his sec­ond thoughts go Churchill’s integri­ty. He pays no heed to “pub­lic opin­ion.” He would not rec­og­nize what we call today Polit­i­cal Cor­rect­ness.

Reflect­ing on his four decades as offi­cial biog­ra­ph­er many years ago, Sir Mar­tin Gilbert said a thing about Churchill we should nev­er for­get: “I nev­er felt that he was going to spring an unpleas­ant sur­prise on me. I might find that he was adopt­ing views with which I dis­agreed. But I always knew that there would be noth­ing to cause me to think: ‘How shock­ing, how appalling.’”

No. Not once.

Brian Cox as Churchill: An Interview on Charlie Rose

Brian Cox as Churchill: An Interview on Charlie Rose

Bri­an Cox’s film “Churchill” con­tin­ues to receive a dai­ly gush of cred­u­lous reviews by the inno­cent that demon­strate the onward march of invin­ci­ble igno­rance. One batch of Google Alerts includ­ed a ringer: a Bal­ti­more Sun cor­re­spon­dent who cites some­thing Churchill didn’t do (fire-bomb­ing Dres­den) to explain how Sir Win­ston would han­dle today’s ter­ror­ists.

Andrew Roberts, a reli­able his­to­ri­an who always cuts through bunk, wrote the best review one can read of this film. On that basis I res­olute­ly declined to watch it. Why raise my blood pres­sure to relive the “per­verse fan­ta­sy” Mr. Roberts had to sit through?

Alas I can’t avoid receiv­ing emails ask­ing “what do you think” of the lat­est out­burst of pub­lic­i­ty. This includes inter­views with Mr. Cox him­self, which run far and wide, even in a mag­a­zine Churchill would have enjoyed, Cig­ar Afi­ciona­do

Cox on Rose

Take for exam­ple Mr. Cox’s appear­ance with Char­lie Rose, an inter­view­er I respect. And still do, despite his uncrit­i­cal accep­tance of a string of absur­di­ties. Mr. Cox man­aged to utter all of these in just twen­ty min­utes:

Winston’s grand­fa­ther was the “Earl of Marl­bor­ough.”

Lord Ran­dolph Churchill had syphilis and was “out of it” most of the time.

Jan Smuts cap­tured young Win­ston in South Africa.

Churchill knew King Edward VIII was a “no-hop­er” and there­fore want­ed “Bertie” (George VI).

WSC put Collins and Car­son in a room togeth­er and the result was Collins’ assas­si­na­tion.

Churchill was always ill.

He drank amaz­ing­ly: cham­pagne for break­fast, brandy for lunch, whisky and wine all day.

He slept only four hours in twen­ty-four.

Clemen­tine didn’t like the 1954 Suther­land paint­ing; WSC didn’t see it until the unveil­ing.

Mr. Cox cites oth­ers who have played Churchill. There was “Lar­ry” Olivi­er (best buds?). Also, “there’s an actor named Robert Hardy.” Nice. Robert Hardy‘s mul­ti­ple per­for­mances as Churchill set a stan­dard which has nev­er been equalled.


World War II Farrago

Off the cuff on World War II, Mr. Cox dis­plays the min­i­mal research he did before tak­ing on the role. He assert­ed that:

Churchill made the 1940 sug­ges­tion of com­mon Anglo-French cit­i­zen­ship.

He did not want D-Day (Oper­a­tion Over­lord) to hap­pen.

He pre­dict­ed trench war­fare after the inva­sion of France.

His demur­ring on D-Day is in the Eisen­how­er and Brooke diaries.

Churchill had an alter­na­tive plan to D-Day…

…which was to come through the under­bel­ly of France via Bor­deaux…

…to “ratch­et up” in Italy and come into Ger­many through the Alps…

…while com­ing down from “the Baltics, from Nor­way”…

…because Churchill was “real­ly afraid of amphibi­ous land­ings.”

The barest dab­bling in mul­ti­ple sources would inform Mr. Cox and his pro­duc­ers (and Mr. Rose) that Churchill’s alter­na­tives to D-Day were expressed in 1942 and 1943… That by the time of the actu­al inva­sion he had spent months help­ing to plan it… That his own plan­ning dat­ed back to 1941… To the “Mul­ber­ry Har­bor” scheme, which he first con­ceived of in 1917…  That the “under­bel­ly” he envi­sioned was Italy, not France… That the post-D-Day inva­sion of the South of France was a super­flu­ous sideshow which he opposed (and it accom­plished noth­ing)… That Churchill nev­er pro­posed invad­ing Ger­many through the Alps… That Churchill nev­er pro­posed an “inva­sion from Nor­way.” Wouldn’t that have involved the amphibi­ous land­ings he was “real­ly afraid of”? How afraid was he of the land­ings in North Africa, Sici­ly, Saler­no and Anzio?

Arn­hem and the Bat­tle of the Bulge stopped the war from “pro­pelling like it could have done,” added Mr. Cox. The impli­ca­tion is that Arn­hem and the Bulge might not have occurred had the Allies launched D-Day ear­li­er.

Fake History, Fake Detail

Mr. Rose presents five excerpts from the film, which, as Mr. Roberts not­ed, are as bad in detail as in broad his­to­ry: “Cox – Churchill wears white tie and tail­coat in the after­noon; Mont­gomery is giv­en a field-marshal’s uni­form when he was at the time a gen­er­al; Churchill wears workmen’s over­alls rather than his vel­vet siren-suits; Com­bined Chiefs of Staff top-secret plan­ning meet­ings are held in the open air on the lawns of coun­try hous­es.” Mr. Cox, although British, pro­nounces Clemen­tine like they do in Ari­zona.

To all this Mr. Rose con­tributes sev­er­al banal­i­ties and errors. It was cold at the Bat­tle of the Bulge. (Yes.) Roo­sevelt caught Churchill walk­ing naked in the halls of the White House. (No.) A two-front war could not begin until the Allies invad­ed France. (A two-front war had begun when they invad­ed North Africa in 1942.)

* * *

It is depress­ing and dis­heart­en­ing for any­one who knows the barest facts to hear his­to­ry told by actors, with real­i­ty turned on its head under guise of enter­tain­ment.

Invent­ed dia­logue and sce­nar­ios are of course nec­es­sary for dra­mat­ic effect. Robert Hardy’s scrupu­lous­ly accu­rate por­tray­al of Churchill’s “Wilder­ness Years” doesn’t devi­ate an iota from fact or believ­abil­i­ty. Yet it is at least as dra­mat­ic as this lat­est dose of Fake His­to­ry. The Churchill saga is high dra­ma on its own. Why embell­ish it with non­sense?

The film “Churchill” joins such recent lash-ups as “The Crown” and “Viceroy’s House,” which also had gush­ing reviews all over the media and inter­net. Like it or not, the web is where most peo­ple now get their news and views. They are get­ting a dread­ful dose of dis­tor­tion from enter­tain­ment cloaked as real­i­ty, and actors as his­to­ry teach­ers.