In Defense of Churchill (4): Questions and Answers

In Defense of Churchill (4): Questions and Answers

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. “Ques­tions and Answers” are part of an iTunes audio file. For a copy, please email [email protected].


Questions and Answers (continued from Part 3)

From Sen­a­tor Bob Pack­wood (who recalls shelling peas with you on a pleas­ant for­mer occa­sion): Every­body asks what Churchill’s posi­tion would be today on the Mid­dle East. It appears that he want­ed to do right by everybody—guarantee the Jews a home­land but respect the rights of the Arabs. If that view of his is cor­rect. would he be some­thing clos­er to a pro-Zion­ist today or a sup­port­er of the PLO? Did Churchill per­son­al­ly sup­port The Unit­ed Nations par­ti­tion of Pales­tine in the 1940s?

Feb­ru­ary 1956 Map of UN Par­ti­tion Plan for Pales­tine, adopt­ed 29 Nov 1947, with bound­ary of pre­vi­ous par­ti­tion plan added in green. (Unit­ed Nations, Wiki­me­dia Commons)

Palestine and Israel

Churchill knew the Pales­tine Man­date (which in 1921 com­prised Jor­dan as well as Israel) posed dif­fi­cult demo­graph­ic ques­tions. Yet he was an eter­nal opti­mist, less cyn­i­cal than most. He actu­al­ly believed, in 1921, that Jews and Arabs could coex­ist for mutu­al ben­e­fit. That’s why he spoke then of a Jew­ish home­land, but not a Jew­ish state. But he did become resigned to the par­ti­tion, and lat­er the state.

Faced with intran­si­gence, as we have been with the PLO, he always looked for ways to go around the problem—thus the Dar­d­anelles to bypass the stale­mate on the west­ern front. But he tend­ed not  to sup­port thugs. So I think he would try to go round the PLO by spon­sor­ing Arab treaties of peace with Israel. It is iron­ic that two U.S. pres­i­dents who prob­a­bly don’t agree on any­thing else did this suc­cess­ful­ly: Jim­my Carter in 1978, Don­ald Trump in 2020.

Here’s what Churchill said in 1958, long after he’d left office:

The Mid­dle East is one of the hard­est-heart­ed areas in the world. It has always been fought over, and peace has only reigned when a major pow­er has estab­lished firm influ­ence and shown that it would main­tain its will. Your friends must be sup­port­ed with every vigour and if nec­es­sary they must be avenged. Force, or per­haps force and bribery, are the only things that will be respect­ed. It is very sad, but we had all bet­ter recog­nise it. At present our friend­ship is not val­ued, and our enmi­ty is not feared.

100 years on?

From Andrew Roberts (who needs no fur­ther intro­duc­tion): Do you think the stat­ue of Win­ston Churchill will be stand­ing in Par­lia­ment Square in 100 years’ time?

Trust Andrew to toss me a span­ner! I don’t even know if Par­lia­ment will be stand­ing in 100 years’ time. After all, Orwell made Lon­don the cap­i­tal of Ocea­nia in “1984,” remem­ber?

The job of Orwell’s hero, Win­ston Smith (we know where he got that name) was con­stant­ly to rewrite his­to­ry to suit the par­ty line. Every­thing pro­scribed by Big Broth­er was put into some­thing called the Mem­o­ry Hole and nev­er heard of again. Stat­ues too, I sup­pose. The best we can hope for is what Churchill said in 1954:

For myself I am an optimist—it does not seem to be much use being any­thing else—and I can­not believe that the human race will not find its way through the prob­lems that con­front it, although they are sep­a­rat­ed by a mea­sure­less gulf from any they have known before….

If he proves right, Par­lia­ment and the stat­ue will endure.

Churchill vs. the Appeasers

Read­ing Britain At Bay, by Alan All­port, I was struck by just how much hung in the bal­ance ear­ly in the war. What per­son­al­i­ty traits did Churchill pos­sess that made him able to ral­ly a nation and lead so effec­tive­ly? How were they shaped dur­ing his life and how did he draw on them? How do those traits con­trast with those of Mr. Cham­ber­lain, whom All­port char­ac­ter­izes as vain, bor­ing, spite­ful, friend­less, and lack­ing intel­lec­tu­al curiosity?

There’s a good review of All­port by Pro­fes­sor Ray­mond Calla­han on our web­site. We also offer an anno­tat­ed bib­li­og­ra­phy of works about Churchill. There are now over 1150….18 in 2020 alone.

You have to remem­ber that Cham­ber­lain and many of the appeasers, like Stan­ley Bald­win, start­ed as busi­ness­men. They had no expe­ri­ence of war, except that it inter­fered with busi­ness. Andrew Roberts makes this point. Hard­ly any lead­ing appeasers—Chamberlain, Bald­win, Sam Hoare, Horace Wil­son, fought in the First World War. (Hal­i­fax, who fought with dis­tinc­tion, was the chief excep­tion.) Yet all the lead­ing advo­cates for defy­ing Hitler were veterans—Churchill, Eden, Macmil­lan, Louis Spears, Roger Keyes, Alfred Duff Cooper.

Ask your­self why that was. I think those who had fought knew what war would be like. So they want­ed to stop Hitler before it came to that. The appeasers thought they could make deals with him, like any oth­er businessman.

When war did come, it required some­one with will to see it through. Churchill had that qual­i­ty. Even Bald­win knew it. I’ll pre­vent war by accom­mo­dat­ing Hitler, he thought, or pit him against the Rus­sians. Bald­win had no place for Churchill in his cab­i­net. But he also said—and this is a direct quote: “Any­thing [Win­ston] under­takes he puts his heart and soul into. If there is going to be war—and no one can say that there is not —we must keep him fresh to be our war Prime Min­is­ter.”* That was the dif­fer­ence between them.

*Bald­win to J.C.C. David­son, quot­ed in Mar­tin Gilbert, Win­ston S. Churchill, vol. 5, Prophet of Truth 1922-1939 (Hills­dale, Mich.: Hills­dale Col­lege Press, 2009), 687.

“Love me, love my dog”

“Love me, love my dog.” Vic­tor Weisz (“Vicky”) in the News Chron­i­cle, 23 May 1945. The bea­gle has gnawed the Bev­eridge Report, the Tory plan for post­war social reform. (Wiki­me­dia)

Why did Churchill and his Con­ser­v­a­tive Par­ty lose the gen­er­al elec­tion and, thus, con­trol of the gov­ern­ment, in 1945?

This is among the most fre­quent ques­tions. Churchill him­self didn’t lose. He was reelect­ed by a wider mar­gin than in 1935. His par­ty lost because their his­to­ry was the war, and the depres­sion before that—and because the Labour Par­ty seemed to promise a brave new world. But after ten years the Con­ser­v­a­tives were deeply unpopular.

There’s a fun­ny car­toon show­ing Churchill before the elec­tion, hold­ing the leash to an enor­mous bea­gle wear­ing a top hat, with his tongue hang­ing out, labeled “Tory Par­ty.” The cap­tion says, “Love me, love my dog.” The vot­ers didn’t love the dog.

Best books

What three books by and about Churchill would you rec­om­mend to a new Churchill stu­dent? What three books about (not by) Churchill must you take to the Gulag?

That pre­sumes the mas­ters of the Gulag will per­mit any Churchill books!

This has as many answers as ques­tions, but here’s a try. Among his own books, first read My Ear­ly Life. Sure it’s full of inac­cu­ra­cies and spe­cial plead­ing. But it’s a won­der­ful read, full of insight into his development.

Then read Marl­bor­ough, his great­est biog­ra­phy. In the 1960s it was abridged by Hen­ry Steele Com­mager, who ruined it. He took out the pol­i­tics and left only the mil­i­tary. Who cares who won the Bat­tle of Ramil­lies? In the orig­i­nal you can read all of Churchill’s polit­i­cal phi­los­o­phy, and see the great war speech­es aborn­ing. The schol­ar Leo Strauss called it “the great­est his­tor­i­cal work writ­ten in our cen­tu­ry, an inex­haustible mine of polit­i­cal wis­dom and under­stand­ing, which should be required read­ing for every stu­dent of polit­i­cal science.”

Third, The Sec­ond World War. Again, it’s biased and one sided, but as he said, “this not his­to­ry, this is my case.” More impor­tant, Churchill describes the war that made us what we are today. So it’s more impor­tant than The World Cri­sis, although The World Cri­sis is bet­ter writ­ten. (See “Churchill’s War Accounts: His­to­ry or Mem­oirs?“)

About Churchill: I men­tioned Andrew Roberts’ Walk­ing with Des­tiny. Next the Offi­cial Biog­ra­phy, because you get to take 31 volumes—you’ll nev­er run out. Third, Mary Soames’s Speak­ing for Them­selves: The Per­son­al Let­ters of Win­ston and Clemen­tine Churchill. Because this tells us what they were real­ly thinking—a true rev­e­la­tion of their persona.

“Thou shalt not say…”

What would Churchill do/have done about North Korea’s esca­lat­ing devel­op­ment of nuclear bombs and mis­siles, which con­tin­ues as unabat­ed under the present U.S. admin­is­tra­tion as it did under the pre­vi­ous one?

This rais­es the Mary Soames Com­mand­ment: “Thou shalt not say what Papa would do about any mod­ern sit­u­a­tion. After all, how do you know?” His­to­ry doesn’t repeat, Mark Twain said, but it some­times rhymes. I think we can get an idea from Churchill, but not the answer. After all, in 1940 the French fleet posed an exis­ten­tial threat, and he didn’t hes­i­tate to take it out. But the French fleet was not a nuclear arse­nal, and France was already defeat­ed. It was not the same situation.

Cancel Culture and Free Speech

What would Churchill’s speech be to the Com­mons on Can­cel Cul­ture and Big Tech Censorship?

I don’t know, but what I’ve said about Can­cel Cul­ture is based on his thought. We can learn from it. For instance, in 1933, he spoke about much the same impuls­es in British life:

The worst dif­fi­cul­ties from which we suf­fer do not come from with­out. They come from with­in…. They come 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. Our dif­fi­cul­ties come from the mood of unwar­rantable self-abase­ment into which we have been cast by a pow­er­ful sec­tion of our own intel­lec­tu­als. They come from the 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.

As to cen­sor­ship, he would say what he said in 1952: “Free speech car­ries with it the evil of all fool­ish, unpleas­ant and ven­omous things that are said; but on the whole we would rather lump them than do away with it.”

Of course he nev­er met up with social media. That presents a real prob­lem. Umber­to Eco said: “Social media gives legions of idiots the right to speak when they once only spoke at a bar after a glass of wine, with­out harm­ing the com­mu­ni­ty … but now they have the same right to speak as a Nobel Prize win­ner. It’s the inva­sion of the idiots.” I don’t know what Churchill would say about that. But he would not cen­sor anybody.

Russia and Ukraine

What do you believe Sir Winston’s view would be today respect­ing Russia’s mil­i­tary pres­ence on its bor­der with Ukraine? Do you believe he would have per­ceived par­al­lels with 1937-39 con­ti­nen­tal Europe?

I take refuge in the Mary Soames Com­mand­ment. We can­not say what Papa would do today. We can guess—keeping his prin­ci­ples in mind. He was a great pro­po­nent of coali­tions, domes­tic and inter­na­tion­al. He would want to bring the forces of lib­er­ty togeth­er on such threats. That sug­gests what he preached in the 1930s: col­lec­tive secu­ri­ty. Today we have NATO, which he praised. (Do we still have NATO? I think so.) But Ukraine is not part of NATO. So this is the place for inspired diplo­ma­cy with nations, NATO or not, whose inter­ests are involved.

Another Churchill?

Is there a Churchill avail­able today? Per­haps in view of your admi­ra­tion for Pres­i­dent Macron?

It’s an inci­den­tal admi­ra­tion, because I don’t admire many of his polit­i­cal ideas. I admire his courage and prin­ci­ple over the stat­ues issue. He was adopt­ing Mark Steyn’s pre­cept: Unless you are pre­pared to sur­ren­der every­thing, sur­ren­der nothing.

I don’t think he’s anoth­er Churchill. I don’t see any­one out there who is, real­ly. Do you? Remem­ber too that Churchills only come along when the chips are down. The chips are not quite down, although they seem to be get­ting there.

2 thoughts on “In Defense of Churchill (4): Questions and Answers

  1. The Churchill quote you bring nice­ly address­es the com­plex­i­ties of the Mid­dle East. Per­haps the fol­low­ing state­ment, to Pres­i­dent Eisen­how­er, reflects Churchill’s per­son­al bias: “I am, of course, a Zion­ist, and have been ever since the Bal­four Dec­la­ra­tion.” 295, Churchill and the Jews: A Life­long Friend­ship, Mar­tin Gilbert, 2007. Would be delight­ed to hear your thoughts.
    I believe he was a Zion­ist much ear­li­er, but there are prob­a­bly as many gra­di­ents to the mean­ing of the term as there are polit­i­cal par­ties in Israel. To Churchill it meant favor­ing a Jew­ish Nation­al Home, as he called it, as opposed to not favor­ing one. He was also biased in favor of peace­ful solutions—condemning, for exam­ple, the Stern Gang assas­si­na­tion of Lord Moyne in Cairo. It is hard to think of him as biased against Arabs, since he parceled off 6/7ths of the Pales­tine Man­date to what became Jor­dan. See “Churchill Not a Zion­ist?” RML

  2. J.M. writes: “You point­ed out that the peo­ple who advo­cat­ed stop­ping Hitler had all fought and seen the hor­rors of war first hand. On the oth­er side, the appeasers advo­cat­ed doing every­thing possible—even giv­ing in to Hitler—to pre­vent war. This seems a lit­tle odd to me. I would have thought it would be the oth­er way around. That is, the peo­ple who had seen first hand what war was real­ly like would have been the appeasers while the oth­er fac­tion would have looked upon war as a chance to make money.”
    That’s a good ques­tion. I asked Andrew Roberts, who first made this point in The Holy Fox, his biog­ra­phy of Hal­i­fax. Dr. Roberts writes: “The expla­na­tion is that hav­ing seen the hor­rors up close snd los­ing so many friends, they weren’t going to let the Ger­mans win the fruits of a vic­to­ry they had done so much to deny them last time, with­out a struggle.” 

    Alfred Duff Coop­er resigned from the Admi­ral­ty over Munich, say­ing it marked the “end of all decen­cy in pub­lic affairs.” In his res­ig­na­tion speech he said: “The Prime Min­is­ter has believed in address­ing Herr Hitler through the lan­guage of sweet rea­son­able­ness. I have believed that he was more open to the lan­guage of the mailed fist.” 

    Churchill and the anti-Appeasers took this view. Also, hav­ing fought them, they weren’t as over­awed by the Ger­man mil­i­tary as the ex-busi­ness­men. Some may have noticed the way the Wehrma­cht clanked into Aus­tria six months before Munich. In the end, Duff and the rest just weren’t con­tent to let the bar­bar­ian have what­ev­er he want­ed. A les­son we seem to have to learn over and over. RML

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