“Churchill’s Unmerited Nobel Prize”

“Churchill’s Unmerited Nobel Prize”

A let­ter to The Guardian presents a new Churchill Trans­gres­sion. His 1953 Nobel Prize in Lit­er­a­ture (for “mas­tery of his­tor­i­cal and bio­graph­i­cal descrip­tion [and] ora­to­ry defend­ing exalt­ed human val­ues”) is unde­served! The writer says:

As his­to­ri­an David Reynolds has detailed, the six vol­umes of Churchill’s his­to­ry [sic; it was mem­oir not his­to­ry] of the Sec­ond World War were built upon selec­tive mem­o­ry forged out of ego, not least the “great man’s” fleet­ing mem­o­ry of the 1943 Ben­gal famine, in which more than 3.5 mil­lion peo­ple per­ished, to a large extent as a direct con­se­quence of Churchill’s poli­cies and actions. His hatred of the peo­ples of the Indi­an sub­con­ti­nent is a mat­ter of record.

It is always intrigu­ing to read a new chap­ter in the unfold­ing cat­a­logue of Churchill’s Per­fidy. Even if the evi­dence to sup­port it con­sists of mis­un­der­stand­ing Pro­fes­sor Reynolds, swal­low­ing an emp­ty canard, and seiz­ing on an unto­ward com­ment in a moment of frus­tra­tion (“I hate Indi­ans”).

This let­ter deserves a Nobel Prize of its own. To quote Churchill’s famous 1944 rasp­ber­ry: ​ “I should think it was hard­ly pos­si­ble to state the oppo­site of the truth with more pre­ci­sion.”

What the Nobel was for…​

 1) It is a fun­da­men­tal error to believe that Churchill’s Nobel Prize for Lit­er­a­ture was for The Sec­ond World War. It was award­ed in 1953, when the war vol­umes were still incom­plete. The Nobel Com­mit­tee not­ed instead his auto­bi­og­ra­phy, My Ear­ly Lifeand his biog­ra­phy, Marl­bor­ough. The schol­ar Leo Strauss called Marl­bor­ough  “the great­est his­tor­i­cal work writ­ten in our cen­tu­ry, an inex­haustible mine of polit­i­cal wis­dom and under­stand­ing.” Churchill’s war vol­umes may have influ­enced the Com­mit­tee, so wide­ly were they praised. But none of the Committee’s review­ers men­tion The Sec­ond World War in their cri­tiques.
Kjell Ström­berg of the Swedish Acad­e­my said the first report on Churchill’s Lit­er­a­ture nom­i­na­tion was in 1946, two years before the first WW2 vol­ume appeared. The Academy’s aged Per Hall­ström found “no lit­er­ary mer­it” in Churchill’s nov­el Savro­la, and dis­missed My Ear­ly Life and  The World Cri­sisOnly Marl­bor­ough, Hall­ström wrote, was a qual­i­fy­ing work. He made no men­tion of The Sec­ond World War. (See “Fred Glueckstein’s essay on the Prizes, 1946-1954.”)

* * *

In award­ing the prize, Sigfrid Siw­ertz of the Swedish Acad­e­my called Churchill “a Cae­sar who also has the gift of Cicero’s pen. Nev­er before has one of history’s lead­ing fig­ures been so close to us by virtue of such an out­stand­ing com­bi­na­tion. In his great work about his ances­tor, John Churchill, First Duke of Marl­bor­ough, Churchill writes, ‘Words are easy and many, while great deeds are dif­fi­cult and rare.’ Yes, but great, liv­ing, and per­sua­sive words are also dif­fi­cult and rare. And Churchill has shown that they too can take on the char­ac­ter of great deeds.”*
The Nobel com­mit­tee also cit­ed Churchill’s “bril­liant ora­to­ry defend­ing exalt­ed human val­ues.” Siw­ertz writes of “the resilience and pun­gency of his phras­es.” He quotes Lord Birkenhead’s descrip­tion : a “glow of con­vic­tion and appeal, instinc­tive and price­less, which con­sti­tutes true elo­quence.” Churchill’s ora­to­ry, Siw­ertz con­tin­ues, “is swift, unerr­ing in its aim, and mov­ing in its grandeur.”

Who Wrote What

2) David Reynolds’ In Com­mand of His­to­ry is an excel­lent study of the war mem­oirs. Reynolds explains how Churchill employed teams of experts to help com­pile its six lengthy vol­umes. But Reynolds con­cludes that it was a clas­sic mem­oir. It was Churchill’s case, to be sure, but elo­quent­ly pre­sent­ed. Churchill him­self signed off on every word. Giv­en such a tal­ent­ed team as Reynolds describes, how did they man­age to offer only “selec­tive mem­o­ry forged out of ego​”?​ ​And whom does the writer ​think wrote Churchill’s war speech­es?

Bengal Famine: Again

3) Slan­der about the Ben­gal Famine is get­ting to be a very old chest­nut. It was refut­ed begin­ning 2008, with Arthur Herman’s Pulitzer-nom­i­nat­ed Gand­hi & Churchill. Hills­dale College’s Fate­ful Ques­tions, lat­est vol­ume #19 of Churchill Doc­u­ments shows the sus­tained effort Churchill and his Cab­i­net made to get grain to India. The doc­u­ments show they scoured the stock­piles from Iraq to Aus­tralia, tried to come up with sub­sti­tute grains, even implored Roo­sevelt (who refused).  The doc­u­ments sup­port Arthur Herman’s con­clu­sion: ​”With­out Churchill, the Ben­gal Famine would have been worse.”

Priorities for India

4) In 1942, the Indi­an Con­gress Par­ty demand­ed only pas­sive resis­tance if Japan invad­ed. This affront­ed Churchill. “I hate Indi­ans,” he exclaimed. Affront­ed he might be, giv­en what the Axis Pow­ers had in mind for India. William F. Buck­ley, Jr. said of this remark: “I don’t doubt that the famous gleam came to his eyes when he said this, with mis­chie­vous glee—an offense, in mod­ern con­ven­tion, of geno­ci­dal mag­ni­tude.”
Yet this was the same Churchill who set out these pri­or­i­ties for the new Viceroy of India, Gen­er­al Wavell: a) “Defense of India from Japan­ese men­ace.” b) “The mate­r­i­al and cul­tur­al con­di­tions of the many peo­ples of India.” c) “Assuage the strife between the Hin­dus and Moslems and to induce them to work togeth­er for the com­mon good.” Some hater.


Where do peo­ple get these false, sad notions? The ​late Har­ry Jaf­fa said it stems from a pub­lic appetite for arti­cles which den­i­grate nobil­i­ty or idealism​:
Young peo­ple are led to believe that to suc­ceed in pol­i­tics is to prove one­self a clever or lucky scoundrel. The detrac­tion of the great has become a pas­sion for those who can­not suf­fer great­ness.
Pro­fes­sor Jaf­fa said that thir­ty years ago. He hadn’t seen any­thing yet.
*An inex­pen­sive book from the Nobel Library, con­tain­ing Siwertz’s pre­sen­ta­tion speech, Churchill’s response, with excerpts from My Ear­ly Life and an appre­ci­a­tion by Hugh Trevor-Rop­er, is Albert Camus – Win­ston Churchill (1971). The book also excerpts The Island Race. This was a con­den­sa­tion of Churchill’s His­to­ry of the Eng­lish-Speak­ing Peo­ples. HESP, unpub­lished at the time of the prize-giv­ing.

3 thoughts on ““Churchill’s Unmerited Nobel Prize”

  1. Thanks to the late Bill Rush­er for this qua­train by the 19th cen­tu­ry poet Coven­try Pat­more:

    ”For want of me the world’s course will not fail.
    When all its work is done the lie shall rot.
    The Truth is great and shall pre­vail,
    When none cares whether it pre­vail or not.”

  2. It sad­dens me to see gen­er­a­tions that seek to tear down the great to fit their own beliefs, espe­cial­ly when the great are no longer around to defend them­selves. We are for­tu­nate to have peo­ple like the writer of this arti­cle. He uses the his­tor­i­cal record to defend Churchill, who deserves to be defend­ed, espe­cial­ly in this case.

  3. As one who has read Churchill’s canon almost in entire­ty I find it incred­i­ble that any­one who has read his works could doubt the wor­thi­ness of his Nobel Prize for Lit­er­a­ture. In ora­to­ry he is a Per­i­cles or Cicero; in his­to­ry and biog­ra­phy he is a Thucy­dides or Plutarch; in quan­ti­ty and qual­i­ty of prose he is a Dick­ens. In essay he is a Mon­taigne or Orwell. In fact, Churchill is one of the few indis­pens­able authors of the mod­ern age. His great­ness as an author endures as ephemer­al authors fade away. I have said noth­ing of his human­i­ty or states­man­ship, two of his most impor­tant and endur­ing qual­i­ties. The real omis­sion for Churchill was that he did not receive the Nobel Peace Prize. But as far Lit­er­a­ture is con­cerned all I can say is “what took them so long?”

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