Churchill’s Rule of Criticism

Churchill’s Rule of Criticism

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.

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