In the Wall Street Journal letters column, 2 August 2011, under the heading, “Once again, Churchill sets a high standard,” we read that Churchill “had a rule of never criticizing a policy after the event unless he had given his opinion before.” Did he really have such a rule? —M.M., Cleveland
The Journal’s correspondent can say that on good authority.
In the third paragraph of his preface to The World Crisis, vol. 1 (1923), Churchill writes: “I have made or implied no criticism of any decision of action taken or neglected by others, unless I can prove that I had expressed the same opinion in writing before the event.” (Italics his.)
In the third paragraph of his preface toThe Gathering Storm (1948), Churchill writes: “I have adhered to my rule of never criticising any measure of war or policy after the event unless I had before expressed publicly or formally my opinion or warning about it. Indeed in the after-light I have softened many of the severities of contemporary controversy. It has given me pain to record these disagreements with so many men whom I liked or respected; but it would be wrong not to lay the lessons of the past before the future.”
Since these two six-volume works constitute his formal view of the two great cataclysms of the past century, yet were written 25 years apart, it seems reasonable to view this as his “rule of criticism.”
I provide the second quote in full context because it incidentally shows Churchill’s characteristic collegiality, so lacking in today’s political discourse.