Senator Cruz: Minor Misquote, Major Misinterpretation

Senator Cruz: Minor Misquote, Major Misinterpretation

Ted Cruz, speak­ing on 5 April, “sparked an out­cry” by mis­quot­ing Churchill: “If we open a quar­rel between the past and the present, Cruz intoned, “we risk the future.”

The Lon­don Dai­ly Tele­graph report­ed: The ref­er­ences drew a swift—and fierce—reaction from social media.”  Social media is not a like­ly place to con­tem­plate the fine points of his­to­ry. It wasn’t in this case, as you can read in the news­pa­per article.

What Cruz said was “…risk the future.” For Churchill it was more than risk. In his “Finest Hour” speech, 18 June 1940, Churchill told Par­lia­ment: “If we open a quar­rel between the past and the present we shall find that we have lost the future.”

Loss is worse than risk. Cruz was prob­a­bly fed the line by some hap­haz­ard researcher.

Cruz missed the spirit…

…in which the Churchill remark was made. In 1940 Churchill was defend­ing the all-par­ty coali­tion he had brought togeth­er in defense of the nation. One of those par­ties (Labour) was intent on per­se­cut­ing the Con­ser­v­a­tive and some Lib­er­al politi­cians who had led Britain to its cur­rent state.

There was noth­ing to gain in that, Churchill said, and he had as good a rea­son to blame the Con­ser­v­a­tives as any­one on the Labour side. For exam­ple, Labour had stead­fast­ly sup­port­ed appeas­ing Hitler until 1939, and had vot­ed against con­scrip­tion. Like the Labour crit­ics of 1940, Sen. Cruz seems to spend much of his time open­ing quar­rels between the past and present.

Churchill deployed this famous pas­sage again at the Con­ser­v­a­tive Cen­tral Coun­cil meet­ing on 28 Decem­ber 1945. Of course, by then, much had changed. The war was won. Labour was in pow­er. Churchill and the Con­ser­v­a­tives were in oppo­si­tion. Now Churchill was implor­ing his par­ty to accept a new challenge—a domes­tic one.  So what he said in 1945 is arguably more rel­e­vant at the moment:

​As I said in the House of Com­mons in June, 1940—that breath­less moment in our existence—”If we open a quar­rel between the past and the present we shall find that we have lost the future.” Let us advance then into the future with the same con­fi­dence and dogged deter­mi­na­tion which all the world admired in those days when our nation­al life and, may we not say, the free­dom and glo­ry of the world were at stake. If every mea­sure is tak­en, as it should be tak­en, if every effort is made, as it must be made, if every act of com­rade­ship and audac­i­ty is per­formed, as it will be per­formed, there is no rea­son why we should not lead our coun­try out of its hideous lapse and error in domes­tic affairs, just as we in Britain did in the great world strug­gle, of which for a whole year we bore the brunt alone. Here, hap­pi­ly, we have not got to fight the ter­ri­ble for­eign foe, but only to regain the good­will and revive the morale of our own fel­low-coun­try­men who came such a melan­choly crop­per at a moment when the oppor­tu­ni­ties of Britain were so great and our tasks so hard.

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