In Defense of Churchill (2): Precepts -Surrender Nothing, Honor the Whole
Text of my Zoom address to the Chartwell Society of Portland, Oregon on 10 May 2021, 81st anniversary of Churchill taking office as Prime Minister. “Current Contentions: Precepts” is part of as an iTunes audio file. For a copy, please email email@example.com.
Precepts for defenders (continued from Part 1)
Here are two precepts for us to follow when confronting perversions of the truth surrounding Winston Churchill.
First, “Surrender nothing”
In protecting his good name we cannot dissemble. As Mark Steyn says in another context, “Unless you’re prepared to surrender everything, surrender nothing. When President Macron declared that no statue or street in France would be renamed, miraculously the threats against them dissipated.” That takes courage, and the strength of one’s convictions. Churchill’s example eight decades ago is apposite.
“Surrender nothing” means never using weak precepts like “Churchill was just a man of his time,” or “everybody was a racist back then.” This is not good enough. It doesn’t do him justice. Churchill was not a man of his time—he was far ahead of it. He was demanding human rights for people of color long before it was expedient to do so. He was, in fact, considered a dangerous radical when, early on, he took up the causes of non-whites in the far reaches of the Empire.
“Traitor to his class”
It didn’t take young Winston long to start prodding the establishment. Aged 25, he was imprisoned as an accused British combatant in the Boer War. No sooner was he locked up than he engaged his Boer captors over their treatment of native Africans.
“Is it right,” his jailor demanded, that they “should walk on the pavement [sidewalk]—without a pass too? That’s what they do in your British colonies. Brother! Equal! Ugh! Free! Not a bit. We know how to treat them…. We’ll stand no damned nonsense from them.” Recording this, Churchill asked:
What is the true and original root of Dutch aversion to British rule? It is the abiding fear and hatred of the movement that seeks to place the native on a level with the white man…. The dominant race is to be deprived of their superiority; nor is a tigress robbed of her cubs more furious than is the Boer at this prospect.
Churchill labeled his jail time “In Durance Vile.” Ever afterward he nursed a deep sympathy for convicts. As Home Secretary a decade or so later, he commuted sentences and stopped jailing people for petty offences, causing many a harrumph from the John Bulls of Edwardian Britain.
He was called a “traitor to his class” by the Tory aristocracy—even by his cousin Sunny, 9th Duke of Marlborough. Churchill might have replied quoting his mentor David Lloyd George, whose name the Duke had forbidden at Blenheim Palace. “A fully-equipped Duke costs as much to keep as two dreadnoughts; and Dukes are just as great a terror and they last longer.”
“Mr. Gandhi has gone very high in my esteem…”
Consider India and Gandhi, which today’s experts wish us to believe Churchill despised. In 1906, when young Winston was Undersecretary for the Colonies, Mohandas Gandhi appealed to him over the oppressed Indian minority in South Africa. A quarter century later, Churchill lost his battle against the Act which granted India more self-government. So he invited Gandhi’s friend, Ghanshyam Das Birla, to Chartwell. (Apparently he didn’t hate Indians enough not to invite them to lunch.)
“Mr. Gandhi has gone very high in my esteem since he stood up for the Untouchables,” Churchill told Birla. Indeed the abysmal treatment of Untouchables, or Dalits, had been basic to Churchill’s opposition to self-government. “You have got immense powers,” Churchill continued. “So make it a success.”
Birla asked, “What is your test of success?” Churchill replied—as he often replied when such questions arose: “Improvement in the lot of the masses, morally as well as materially. I do not care whether you are more or less loyal to Great Britain…but give the masses more butter…. Make every tiller of the soil his own landlord….Tell Mr. Gandhi to use the powers that are offered and make the thing a success.” Does that sound like a man who hated Indians?
Birla went home and repeated the conversation to the Mahatma. Gandhi replied: “I have got a good recollection of Mr. Churchill when he was in the Colonial Office and somehow or other since then I have held the opinion that I can always rely on his sympathy and goodwill.”
On Segregation and Africans
Here is another quote which his detractors always ignore. In 1942, Churchill was confronted with an influx of American forces in Britain, accompanied by the segregation of black troops. In cabinet he declared:
We need not, and should not, object. But they must not expect our authorities, civil or military, to assist them…. So far as concerned admission to canteens, public houses, theatres, cinemas, and so forth, there would, and must, be no restriction of the facilities hitherto extended to coloured persons as a result of the arrival of United States troops in this country.
One more example—because we must be armed to the teeth against the charge that he was racist. In 1954, when he was still Prime Minister but nearing retirement, the Apartheid government in Pretoria made one of its periodic demands to annex three black-run British protectorates within its borders. Once again, Churchill’s precepts were consistent, and he minced no words:
There can be no question of Her Majesty’s Government agreeing at the present time to the transfer of Basutoland, Bechuanaland and Swaziland to the Union of South Africa. We are pledged, since the South Africa Act of 1909, not to transfer these Territories until their inhabitants have been consulted [and] wished it. [South Africa should] not needlessly press an issue on which we could not fall in with their views without failing in our trust.
Within a few years, Britain had granted all three protectorates independence. Today, Botswana, the former Basutoland, is one of the most prosperous and democratic countries in Africa.
Second, honor the whole
Among precepts frequently forgotten is Churchill’s broadness and modernity of thought. His notoriety rests on the 18 months that began 81 years ago today. Of course he didn’t win the war. His achievement was that, when Britain and the Commonwealth stood alone, he didn’t lose it.
“Take away Churchill in 1940,” wrote Charles Krauthammer, “and Britain would have settled with Hitler—or worse. Nazism would have prevailed. Hitler would have achieved what no other tyrant, not even Napoleon, had ever achieved: mastery of Europe. Civilization would have descended into a darkness the likes of which it had never known.” And Churchill himself declared: “Nothing surpasses 1940.”
Nevertheless, like the Nobel Prize Committee who insisted on considering not just the war but his life’s work, Churchill cannot be remembered only in terms of his finest hour. This is the mistake almost every casual admirer makes. Unlike us, they don’t know the whole story—one of the key precepts. It is up to us to tell it.
The whole of Churchill’s philosophy concludes in Part 3…
 Mark Steyn, “Surrender Nothing,” Mark Steyn Show, 18 December 2020 accessed May 2021.
 Winston S. Churchill, London to Ladysmith via Pretoria (London: Longmans Green, 1900), 60.
 Winston S. Churchill, My Early Life (London: Thornton Butterworth, 1930), 273.
 R.W. Thompson, The Yankee Marlborough (New York: Doubleday, 1963), 127.
 Non-Churchill quotes in Richard M. Langworth, ed., Churchill by Himself (New York: Rosetta Books 2016) Kindle edition, 273.
 Remarks by Birla, Churchill and Gandhi are in Martin Gilbert, Winston S. Churchill, vol. 5, The Prophet of Truth 1922-1939 (Hillsdale, Mich.: Hillsdale College Press, 2008), 618-19.
 War Cabinet: Conclusions (Cabinet papers, 65/28) October 1942, in Martin Gilbert, ed., The Churchill Documents, vol. 17, Testing Times, 1942 (Hillsdale College Press, 2013), 1278.
 WSC, House of Commons, 13 April 1954, in Martin Gilbert & Larry Arnn, eds., The Churchill Documents, Vol. 23, Never Flinch, Never Weary, October 1951-January 1965 (Hillsdale College Press, 2019), 1538.
 Charles Krauthammer, Things That Matter (New York: Crown Forum, 2013), 23.
 Winston S. Churchill, The Second World War, vol. 2, Their Finest Hour (London: Cassell, 1949), 555.
For Churchill’s lifetime support of native rights in South Africa see “‘The Art of the Possible’: Churchill, South Africa and Apartheid, in two parts starting here.