Defcon 1: The Urgent Defense of Churchill’s Name and Legacy

Defcon 1: The Urgent Defense of Churchill’s Name and Legacy

Case for  the defense: “If we allow our mon­u­ments and stat­ues and place-names to be torn down because of our present-day views, and claims of peo­ple being offend­ed by our built envi­ron­ment that has been around for decades and some­times cen­turies, it speaks to a pathet­ic lack of con­fi­dence in our­selves as a nation. We are on the way to a soci­ety of com­pet­ing vic­tim­hoods, atom­ized and balka­nized into small­er and small­er com­mu­ni­ties, which iron­i­cal­ly enough is some­thing racists want too.” —Andrew Roberts

Defense of the good

The Hills­dale Col­lege Churchill Project has joined many oth­er groups and indi­vid­u­als in defense of the good. The good in this case is the name and lega­cy of Sir Win­ston Churchill.

Who would have thought, a few weeks ago, that any­one would sug­gest mov­ing his stat­ue from Par­lia­ment Square? Because it was defaced? Stat­ues of Lin­coln and Gand­hi also suf­fered. Even the stat­ue of Nel­son Man­dela is board­ed up—a defense in his case from neo-Nazi demon­stra­tors. What a world we live in.

Some advise we beat a retreat before these expres­sions of unlearned igno­rance. Let’s fence off Par­lia­ment Square, they say. Or move the stat­ues to muse­ums. NO.

Please read Andrew Roberts’ “Stop this Trash­ing of our Monuments—and our Past”. It is one of the finest pieces he has ever written:

Churchill’s atti­tude to the native peo­ples of the British Empire, for exam­ple, is a nuanced one that can­not be summed up by three words spray-paint­ed on his stat­ue. He undoubt­ed­ly make remarks and the occa­sion­al joke about non-white peo­ple that today we would find com­plete­ly unac­cept­able…. he also made equal­ly or more dis­parag­ing remarks about Euro­peans too. Unlike Karl Marx, Churchill nev­er used the N-word, which dyed-in-the-wool racists tend­ed to in those days…. through­out his life, Churchill fought to pro­tect the non-white peo­ples of the Empire.

Churchill’s life matters

We have assist­ed oth­ers in defense of Churchill’s good name, respond­ing to igno­rant arti­cles full of fac­tu­al dis­tor­tions. One of these refut­ed a par­tic­u­lar­ly egre­gious arti­cle in the June 15th Sun­day Times. The Churchill Project has been in the fore­front of cor­rect­ing myths, dis­tor­tions and lies. For example:

Racist epithets:

Were they part of Churchill’s rou­tine vocab­u­lary? You read this every­where, some­times from respect­ed his­to­ri­ans. Is it true? We decid­ed to find out. Are there mul­ti­ple occur­rences of the worst pejo­ra­tives in Churchill’s words? No. In fact they are rare. Some of the worst are entire­ly absent—untraceable to Churchill.  The vast major­i­ty that do occur are not in his writ­ings or speech­es, but in mem­oirs or diaries by colleagues—which makes them hearsay. One col­league in par­tic­u­lar sprin­kled racist terms through­out his diary, and then ascribed them to Churchill. Click here for the link when published.

Not “a man of his time”

His defend­ers some­times excuse Churchill by say­ing he was “only a man of his time.” That is not good enough. From age 25, when he argued with a Boer cap­tor about native rights, to age 80, when he denied South Africa’s claim to Basu­toland, Bechua­na­land and Swazi­land, he was viewed as a naive pro­gres­sive by the forces of repres­sion. True, he was some­times pater­nal­is­tic. And, says Hillsdale’s Pres­i­dent Lar­ry Arnn, “you can quote Abra­ham Lin­coln in pre­cise­ly the same sense….

The remark­able thing is that Lin­coln, for the slaves, and Churchill, for the Empire, believed that peo­ple of all col­ors should enjoy the same rights, and that it was the mis­sion of their coun­try to pro­tect those rights. There­fore to say that Churchill was “a man of his time,” or that “every­one back then was a racist,” is to miss the sin­gu­lar feature.

We spend a lot of time argu­ing that Churchill was remark­able. Then when some­thing comes along that we do not like, we excuse it or explain it as typ­i­cal of the age. I do not think Churchill was typ­i­cal of the age on this ques­tion, if the age was racist.

Anoth­er thing to remem­ber was that Lin­coln and Churchill were polit­i­cal men. Also they were demo­c­ra­t­ic men. They need­ed, and thought it was right that they need­ed, the votes of a major­i­ty. If they lived in an age of prej­u­dice (and every age is that) then of course they would be care­ful how they offend­ed those prejudices.

Nothing can save us if we will not save ourselves

The time for cour­tesy and niceties, for back­ing off to avoid con­fronta­tion, for hop­ing things will die down, is over. The truth must refute exces­sive, unlearned, biased asser­tions. Win­ston Churchill was aware of this long ago, when he spoke fol­low­ing St. George’s Day, 1933:

“The worst dif­fi­cul­ties from which we suf­fer do not come from with­out. They come from with­in… from a pecu­liar type of brainy peo­ple always found in our coun­try, who, if they add some­thing to its cul­ture, take much from its strength…. from the mood of unwar­rantable self-abase­ment into which we have been cast by a pow­er­ful sec­tion of our own intel­lec­tu­als…. from accep­tance of defeatist doc­trines by a large pro­por­tion of our politi­cians.… Noth­ing can save Eng­land if she will not save her­self. If we lose faith in our­selves, in our capac­i­ty to guide and gov­ern, if we lose our will to live, then indeed our sto­ry is told.”

Let’s hope we have not learned noth­ing since then.



Addendum: Subscribe to the Hillsdale College Churchill Project

“The study of states­man­ship is cen­tral to the teach­ing mis­sion of Hills­dale Col­lege, which includes cul­ti­vat­ing the moral and intel­lec­tu­al virtues. Win­ston Churchill’s career presents an unsur­passed oppor­tu­ni­ty for such study. because it was so long, because the facts of it are so well record­ed, and because its qual­i­ty was so very high. His career spanned the most trau­mat­ic events in his­to­ry. As he faced these crises, Churchill wrote with pro­fuse detail and with great abil­i­ty, leav­ing one of the rich­est records of human undertaking.

“Hills­dale Col­lege launched the Churchill Project to prop­a­gate a right under­stand­ing of Churchill’s record. It has com­plet­ed the remain­ing vol­umes of The Churchill Doc­u­ments, a series in his offi­cial biog­ra­phy. Archived at Hills­dale are the papers of his offi­cial biog­ra­ph­er, Mar­tin Gilbert, and the Ronald Cohen col­lec­tion of his pub­lished con­tri­bu­tions. The project pro­motes Churchill schol­ar­ship through con­fer­ences, schol­ar­ships, online cours­es, and an endowed fac­ul­ty chair. Through these endeav­ors, Hills­dale Col­lege is at the fore­front of Churchill research, schol­ar­ship, and analy­sis.” —From the HCCP mis­sion statement

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