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Category: Red Herrings: False Quotes

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.

Would Winston Churchill Legalize Smoking Pot?

Would Winston Churchill Legalize Smoking Pot?

The first com­mand­ment of Lady Soames, Win­ston Churchill’s renowned daugh­ter (1922-2014), was: “Thou shalt not pro­claim what my father would do in mod­ern sit­u­a­tions.” How­ev­er, since she enjoyed smok­ing a good cig­ar on occa­sion, she might excuse the sug­ges­tion that if he were around, he would prob­a­bly not object to legal­iz­ing mar­i­jua­na.

Smoking
Mary Soames savors a Mon­te­cristo, 1990. We puffed a few of these togeth­er, in hap­pi­er days. (Cig­ar Afi­ciona­do)

Churchill on Smoking

The jour­nal­ist and broad­cast­er Collin Brooks wrote a spright­ly essay, “Churchill the Con­ver­sa­tion­al­ist,” in Charles Eade‘s col­lec­tion of arti­cles, Churchill by His Con­tem­po­raries(This 1953 book is inex­pen­sive and well worth own­ing. It’s an ever­green col­lec­tion of per­cep­tive pieces on aspects of Churchill’s life and char­ac­ter.)

Churchill’s defense of smok­ing is clas­sic, Brooks wrote. And, like much of his con­ver­sa­tion, this too has passed from the spo­ken to the print­ed word. “Some peo­ple say that I have smoked too much,” Churchill once exclaimed. “I don’t know. If I had not smoked so much, I might have been bad-tem­pered at the wrong time.”

“A Second Choice”

smokingThat’s cute, but not as good as Churchill’s remarks in his 1931 arti­cle, “A Sec­ond Choice.” This was reprint­ed as the first essay in his book Thoughts and Adven­tures. Here Churchill con­sid­ers whether he would make the same choic­es were he able to live his life again:

I remem­ber my father in his most sparkling mood, his eye gleam­ing through the haze of his cig­a­rette, say­ing, “Why begin? If you want to have an eye that is true, and a hand that does not quiver, if you want nev­er to ask your­self a ques­tion as you ride at a fence, don’t smoke.”

But con­sid­er! How can I tell that the sooth­ing influ­ence of tobac­co upon my ner­vous sys­tem may not have enabled me to com­port myself with calm and with cour­tesy in some awk­ward per­son­al encounter or nego­ti­a­tion, or car­ried me serene­ly through some crit­i­cal hours of anx­ious wait­ing? How can I tell that my tem­per would have been as sweet or my com­pan­ion­ship as agree­able if I had abjured from my youth the god­dess Nico­tine? Now that I think of it, if I had not turned back to get that match­box which I left behind in my dug-out in Flan­ders, might I not just have walked into the shell which pitched so harm­less­ly a hun­dred yards ahead? [Sta­tioned in the trench­es in 1916, where he had sev­er­al mirac­u­lous escapes, just man­ag­ing to be missed by Ger­man shells, one of which demol­ished said dug-out moments after he’d left.]

Libertarian Preferences

Churchill was a lib­er­tar­i­an on per­son­al pref­er­ences. He abjured veg­e­tar­i­ans, tee­to­talers, dieters and non-smok­ers, but didn’t attempt to inter­fere with them. In Dundee, Edwin Scrym­geour, a Scot­tish pro­hi­bi­tion­ist, tee­to­taler and non-smok­er, ran against Churchill six times. He final­ly beat him in 1922. Churchill is alleged to have said, though I can’t con­firm it, that Scrym­geour had “all the virtues I dis­like and none of the vices I admire.”

In cer­tain respects Churchill quite admired the social­ist Stafford Cripps, a mem­ber of his wartime coali­tion. But he didn’t approve of Cripps’s diet: “…there is a man who habit­u­al­ly takes his meal off a hand­ful of peas, and, when he gets a hand­ful of beans, counts that his Christ­mas feast.”

To his Min­is­ter of Food Lord Woolton in July 1940, con­cerned about too severe­ly impos­ing wartime rationing, Churchill wrote:

Almost all the food fad­dists I have ever known, nut-eaters and the like, have died young after a long peri­od of senile decay.…The way to lose the war is to try to force the British pub­lic into a diet of milk, oat­meal, pota­toes, etc., washed down on gala occa­sions with a lit­tle lime-juice.

So would Churchill legal­ize the grow­ing and smok­ing of pot? Of course we have no idea. But on the whole, giv­en what we know about his atti­tudes toward life, it’s more like­ly than not.