Get Ready for Churchill’s Anti-Sesquicentennial

Get Ready for Churchill’s Anti-Sesquicentennial

“Very often the eagles have been squalled down by the parrots.”  —WSC, 1945

* * * * *

(Updat­ed from 2022.) Sea­soned Churchillians had mixed reac­tions to the last cel­e­bra­tion: the 50th anniver­sary of Win­ston Churchill’s death. While grat­i­fied that press and pub­lic still remem­bered, we were shocked at some of the ill-con­sid­ered, long-dis­proven asser­tions. That was in 2015. This year marks the Sesqui­cen­ten­ni­al of his birth—and if you think 2015 was shock­ing, load up on Prozac.

For­tu­nate­ly, Sesqui­cen­ten­ni­al attacks will be blunt­ed by vast recent push­back from seri­ous his­to­ri­ans who’ve rebutted the worst slan­ders. So hope­ful­ly, the par­rots will not squall down the eagles.

Call this a pre­emp­tive strike: with links to places where you can find the truth….

Sesquicentennial chestnuts

“The Ten Great­est Con­tro­ver­sies of Win­ston Churchill’s Career,” (BBC) 

This has always been a pop­u­lar per­for­mance. The tac­tic is well-worn. First, you tee-up Churchill as the sav­ior of 1940. Then you tear him down with the famil­iar litany of charges. I do wish they’d come up with some new ones; the old chest­nuts are get­ting shopworn.

One doesn’t mind the Britain Bash­ing Cor­po­ra­tion float­ing harm­less urban leg­ends (“poi­son” gas, strike­bust­ing, pay­ola). But to offer Churchill’s sup­posed racist views, the rude things he said about Gand­hi (but not the nice things–or what Gand­hi said about him), or the Sid­ney Street episode as exam­ples of the “top ten” is intel­lec­tu­al­ly vacant.

“Winston’s Bag: He hunts lions and brings back cats.” The dead cats include Sid­ney Street, Antwerp, Gal­lipoli and Rus­sia. David Low in The Star, Lon­don, 21 Jan­u­ary 1920. (Pub­lic domain)

The real con­tro­ver­sies of Churchill’s career include the Dar­d­anelles (but not Gal­lipoli), inter­ven­tion in Rus­sia, reor­ga­niz­ing the Mid­dle East, the Gold Stan­dard, Dis­ar­ma­ment, the Rhineland, Munich. Sin­ga­pore, strate­gic bomb­ing, the atom­ic bomb, and post­war sum­mits with the Rus­sians, among others.

On these there is much legit­i­mate­ly to say in crit­i­cism as well as in praise. (Click on the links above for reli­able information.)

Per­haps the BBC was cater­ing to its per­ceived audi­ence, which dotes on pop­u­lar canards. They’ll prob­a­bly try some of these again on his Sesquicentennial.

Eagles reply

“We shall fight them on the BBC”  

This mock inter­view of Churchill aimed to answer some of the detrac­tors. It is more amus­ing than the usu­al defens­es. Sad­ly, though, author Richard Lit­tle­john was care­less with his quotations.

Churchill nev­er said he could only deal with one s*** at a time. And “Jaw-jaw is bet­ter than war-war” was said by Harold Macmil­lan, not WSC.

Still, it was enter­tain­ing to read that his words, “an Iron Cur­tain has descend­ed across the continent”—applied to the Euro­pean Union. Whoops!

True words of wisdom

One miss­es the com­pa­ny of eagles. Sir Mar­tin Gilbert and Lady Soames reg­u­lar­ly con­front­ed these sto­ries. But no one has the ener­gy to tack­le them all.

I was always encour­aged by a wise and bal­anced his­to­ri­an, the late and much missed Pro­fes­sor Paul Addi­son, whose books on Churchill remain stan­dard works:

Don’t wor­ry about attacks on Churchill.  He is alive and kick­ing and haunts the British imag­i­na­tion like no oth­er 20th cen­tu­ry politician.

He will always be car­i­ca­tured, as he was in his life­time. But free­dom of speech and expres­sion was one of the things he fought for, and in his time he gave as good as he got.

The more provoca­tive com­ments about him are a back­hand­ed trib­ute, as they work on the assump­tion that most peo­ple admire him.

My own per­son­al view is that he was even greater as a human being than he was as a politician—a role in which he did make mis­takes, as we all do.

Further reading

“Cur­rent Con­tentions: Sur­ren­der Noth­ing, Defend the Whole,” 2021. Part 1 and Part 2.

“Hearsay Doesn’t Count: Churchill’s Racist Epi­thets are Remark­ably Rare,” 2020.

“The Myth of Dres­den and ‘Revenge Fire­bomb­ing,'” 2023.

“Buck­nell University’s Pan­el on ‘Churchill: Hero or Colo­nial­ist,'” 2022.

“Bri­an Cox as Churchill: An Inter­view on Char­lie Rose,” 2017.

Paul Rahe, “Review of Win­ston Churchill, Myth and Real­i­ty,” 2017.

One thought on “Get Ready for Churchill’s Anti-Sesquicentennial

  1. I very much enjoyed your “pre­emp­tive strike” in well war­rant­ed antic­i­pa­tion of the calum­nies that will be told about Churchill on his Sesqui­cen­ten­ni­al. One com­ment in par­tic­u­lar by pro­fes­sor Addi­son struck a chord with me as I would say that it sums up my own view of Churchill about as well as can any sin­gle sentence.
    “My own per­son­al view is that he was even greater as a human being than he was as a politician—a role in which he did make mis­takes, as we all do.”

    Or as you wrote in regard to Addison’s remarks in “Churchill by Him­self”, p. 506;
    What strikes me about these quo­ta­tions as a group is what one of his sec­re­taries said about Churchill: “He was so human, so funny—that always saved the day.” Inter­est­ing­ly, Sir Fitzroy Maclean had the same view: “I once asked a wartime ally. Mar­shal Tito, a most per­cep­tive man, what most struck him about Churchill. ‘His human­i­ty,’ Tito said imme­di­ate­ly. ‘He is so human.'”

    I have per­son­al­ly been a great fan of Win­ston Churchill since I began learn­ing about his life and accom­plish­ments some forty years ago. I’ve rec­om­mend­ed the study of his life to many peo­ple since then and always describe it as a way to learn what real great­ness is. And by great­ness I was always refer­ring not to his spe­cif­ic accom­plish­ments, legion as the are, but rather to the superla­tive exam­ple of how well a life can be lived. His courage, for­ti­tude, hon­esty, hard work and devo­tion to not only the peo­ple of Britain but to the free­dom of peo­ple every­where are well known. Yet his per­se­ver­ance when the going was tough even in the depths of real human despair, showed the depth and great­ness of his char­ac­ter and can serve as an inspi­ra­tion to any­one strug­gling with the chal­lenges we all face in life. In all his actions we can rec­og­nize that a real human being is at work. I think this is sim­i­lar to what Pro­fes­sor Addi­son meant.

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