Galloping Lies, Bodyguards of Lies, and Lies for the Sake of Your Country
About lies. Can you please advise whether or not Sir Winston Churchill said: “A lie gets halfway around the world before the truth has a chance to get its pants on.” Many thanks. —A.S., Bermuda
That one lies with Cordell Hull
It was Franklin Roosevelt‘s Secretary of State, Cordell Hull, not Churchill. I have a slight variation of it in the “Red Herrings” appendix of Churchill by Himself, page 576: “A lie will gallop halfway round the world before the truth has time to pull its breeches on.” Although commonly ascribed to Churchill (who would have said “trousers,” not “breeches”), this is definitely down to Hull. See Memoirs of Cordell Hull. 2 vols. (New York: Macmillan, 1948), I, 220.
From Wikipedia: Cordell Hull (1871-1955) was an American politician from Tennessee. He is best known as the longest-serving Secretary of State, holding the position for eleven years (1933–1944) in the administration of President Roosevelt during much of World War II. Hull received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1945 for his role in establishing the United Nations, and was referred to by Roosevelt as the “Father of the UN.”
Hull resigned as Secretary of State in November 1944 because of failing health. Roosevelt described Hull, upon his departure, as “the one person in all the world who has done his most to make this great plan for peace (the United Nations) an effective fact.” He died on 23 July 1955 at age 83, at his home in Washington, D.C., and is buried in Chapel of St. Joseph of Arimathea in the Washington National Cathedral.
Winston Churchill on Lies and Lying
As a practicing politician Winston Churchill had a passing acquaintance with lies. It seems he had more affection for them than Cordell Hull. “In wartime,” he famously told Stalin at Teheran in 1943, “Truth is so precious that she should always be attended by a bodyguard of lies.” Stalin, who relied on lies regularly, found this uproariously funny.
Less known but more along Hull’s line is a 1906 Churchill crack—but he didn’t originate it. “There are a terrible lot of lies going about the world. And the worst of it is that half of them are true.” (Sounds like Yogi Berra!) That also made my “Red Herrings” appendix. While Churchill used the words, he quickly credited them to a “witty Irishman.”
One original we safely ascribe to Churchill ran in the Daily Telegraph in 1994, from Vice-Admiral Sir William Crawford (1907-2003). It is a line all politicians should subscribe to, but few ever admit they do. On a visit to the Home Fleet at Scapa Flow in 1941, Churchill boarded HMS Rodney. Its officers lined up on the deck to receive him. One asked: “Prime Minister, is everything you tell us true?”
“Young man,” said Churchill, “I have told many lies for the good of my country. I will tell many more.”
3 thoughts on “Galloping Lies, Bodyguards of Lies, and Lies for the Sake of Your Country”
A good question but out of my depth. I asked Prof. Warren Kimball, author of the Churchill-Roosevelt Correspondence and other books on their wartime relationship, who replies as follows:
I am intrigued by the fact that he figures so little in the literature on Churchill and the Second World War, notably in the Official Biography. It seems that he was never there when Churchill met the President, never participated in their dinners and other leisure activities. He never served as a trusted intermediary between the two leaders, unlike Harry Hopkins and Averell Harriman. Also, whereas Churchill often took Anthony Eden with him to international conferences, Roosevelt left Cordell Hull at home, or so it seems.
Loving the truth was surely one of Churchill’s virtues. Telling the truth is a virtue in the right time, right place, right circumstances, and in the right manner. That is called political prudence. Thank you for this. K.B.O