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:
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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