Not Churchill, re Germany: “We butchered the wrong pig”

Not Churchill, re Germany: “We butchered the wrong pig”

A Ger­man cor­re­spon­dent writes:

Churchill is mis­quot­ed as saying—with ref­er­ence to the Nazis ver­sus the Soviets—‘We butchered [or slaugh­tered] the wrong pig.’ The impli­ca­tion: he should have fought Stal­in, not Hitler. This seems to me revi­sion­ist wish­ful think­ing. He could nev­er have said that, since there is no such idiom in Eng­lish. He would have had to say, “We fought the wrong ene­my.” Can you reveal some authen­tic infor­ma­tion as to the ori­gin of this misquotation?

Sev­er­al queries along these lines fol­lowed pub­li­ca­tion of Her­bert Kuhner’s A Revival of Revi­sion­ism in Aus­tria. Appar­ent­ly Kuh­n­er gave the source as Lord Booth­by. (The web­site says it is cur­rent­ly under revision.)

Wrong pig – wrong quote

If I may digress into amuse­ment, Churchill would have found this phrase offen­sive to pigs. He did use ani­mal analo­gies, and could have invent­ed such an idiom. But he liked pigs. He nev­er com­pared Britain’s ene­mies to pork­ers. His favorite ani­mal vil­lains were tigers, jack­als, hye­nas, croc­o­diles and boa constrictors….

I searched the Hills­dale Col­lege Churchill Project dig­i­tal scans of Churchill’s canon, some 80 mil­lion words by and about him. This includes vir­tu­al­ly every­thing in his books, arti­cles, speech­es and pub­lished papers. I found no instance of this phrase, either with the word “slaugh­tered” or the word “butchered.” Nor the words “wrong pig.” Nei­ther did I find any state­ment of his sug­gest­ing Britain had “fought the wrong ene­my.” This includes the mem­oirs of Lord Boothby.

The primary enemy

One of Churchill’s virtues was to rec­og­nize the main threat to civ­i­liza­tion at each junc­ture in his career. From 1933 to 1945, he was cer­tain that Nazi Ger­many was that threat. He did begin to think, late in the war, that one mor­tal foe had giv­en rise to anoth­er. But he always kept things in perspective.

His change of view as the war wound down was obvi­ous. Here is a key pri­vate remark record­ed by his pri­vate sec­re­tary, John Colville, on 23 Feb­ru­ary 1945. The venue was Che­quers, the Prime Minister’s offi­cial coun­try res­i­dence. The source is Colville’s diaries, The Fringes of Pow­er (1986), 203-04:

[W]e sat in the Great Hall and lis­tened to The Mika­do played, much too slow­ly, on the gramo­phone. The P.M. said it brought back “the Vic­to­ri­an era, eighty years which will rank in our island his­to­ry with the Anto­nine Age.” Now, how­ev­er, “the shad­ows of vic­to­ry” were upon us. In 1940 the issue was clear and he could see dis­tinct­ly what was to be done. But when [Air Mar­shal] Har­ris had fin­ished his destruc­tion of Ger­many, “What will lie between the white snows of Rus­sia and the white cliffs of Dover?”

Per­haps, how­ev­er, the Rus­sians would not want to sweep on to the Atlantic, or some­thing might stop them, as the acci­dent of Genghis Khan’s death had stopped the horsed archers of the Mon­gols, who retired and nev­er came back. Har­ris: “You mean now they will come back?” Churchill: “Who can say? They may not want to. But there is an unspo­ken fear in many people’s hearts.”

1947

Lat­er Churchill wrote of a fan­cied encounter with the ghost of his father, Lord Ran­dolph Churchill. Enti­tled “The Dream,” it recounts their con­ver­sa­tion about the years since his father’s death in 1895. Now it was 1947, and Win­ston says:

Ten cap­i­tals in East­ern Europe are in Russ­ian hands. They are Com­mu­nists now, you know—Karl Marx and all that. It may well be that an even worse war is draw­ing near. A war of the East against the West. A war of lib­er­al civil­i­sa­tion against the Mon­gol hordes. Far gone are the days of Queen Vic­to­ria and a set­tled world order. But, hav­ing gone through so much, we do not despair.

No—never despair, he always said. But the his­tor­i­cal image of Genghis Khan was still on his mind.

1955

In autumn 1955, after Churchill had retired as Prime Min­is­ter, he and his pri­vate sec­re­tary, Antho­ny Mon­tague Browne, dined togeth­er for sev­en­teen evenings. Those encoun­ters were fas­ci­nat­ing, Antho­ny wrote. “All sorts of curi­ous pieces of infor­ma­tion came out….

Con­cern­ing 1940, I played the Devil’s Advo­cate. Leav­ing aside the appalling issue of the exter­mi­na­tion camps, which was then not evi­dent, would it have been bet­ter if we had joined the New Order, as a sub­stan­tial part of France was then inclined to do?… Hitler most cer­tain­ly would have attacked Rus­sia and, unha­rassed in the West, almost cer­tain­ly would have won. Would the equal­ly mon­strous tyran­ny of the Nazi regime have been mit­i­gat­ed or abbre­vi­at­ed by British influ­ence? Hitler had always respect­ed Britain. Would we have kept our Empire and our finan­cial strength?

Churchill’s reply was brief:

You’re only say­ing that to be provoca­tive. You know very well we couldn’t have made peace on the heels of a ter­ri­ble defeat. The coun­try wouldn’t have stood for it. And what makes you think that we could have trust­ed Hitler’s word—particularly as he could have had Russ­ian resources behind him? At best we would have been a Ger­man client state, and there’s not much in that.

This I think sum­ma­rizes Churchill’s con­sis­tent view of the West’s two great antag­o­nists of his era. Sig­nif­i­cant­ly, he always kept open the prospect of what he called “a set­tle­ment” with the Russians—particularly after Stalin’s death. He nev­er enter­tained the notion of set­tle­ment talks with Hitler.

Further reading

“Win­ston Churchill on Peace with Hitler,” 2023.

5 thoughts on “Not Churchill, re Germany: “We butchered the wrong pig”

  1. Hel­lo, thank you for post­ing my reply from 11 March 2023. You are absolute­ly cor­rect in say­ing the text does not quote what Churchill actu­al­ly said. But you must admit that his sen­ti­ments come per­ilous­ly close to “we butchered the wrong pig.” Albeit a brief and regret­table atti­tude, pos­si­bly derived from the great amount of stress of the sit­u­a­tion. Is it pos­si­ble the quote was attrib­uted to Mr. Churchill by a politi­cian or reporter after read­ing this very report?

    None that I can find. I can only attest to what he actu­al­ly said, not his inner­most thoughts. I have append­ed to my arti­cle his words to Antho­ny Mon­tague Browne’s pos­er in 1955: “There’s not much in that.” There is no indi­ca­tion, let alone quo­ta­tion, sug­gest­ing that he ever doubt­ed the wis­dom of fight­ing Hitler to the fin­ish. -RML

  2. “I said that frankly, as I had lis­tened to him inveigh so vio­lent­ly against the threat of Sovi­et dom­i­na­tion and the spread of Com­mu­nism in Europe, and dis­close such a lack of con­fi­dence in the pro­fes­sions of good faith in Sovi­et lead­er­ship, I had won­dered whether he, the Prime Min­is­ter, was now will­ing to declare to the world that he and Britain had made a mis­take in not sup­port­ing Hitler, for as I under­stood him, he was now express­ing the doc­trine which Hitler and Goebbels had been pro­claim­ing and reit­er­at­ing for the past four years in an effort to break up allied uni­ty and “divide and con­quer.” Exact­ly the same con­di­tions which he described and the same deduc­tions were drawn from them as he now appeared to assert.”

    The writer, Joseph E. Davies, for­mer Ambas­sador to the USSR, does not quote Churchill as say­ing “we slaugh­tered the wrong pig,” the sub­ject of this post. For Davies’ full let­ter, to Pres­i­dent Tru­man (12 June 1945) includ­ing Churchill’s alleged response, see For­eign Rela­tions of the Unit­ed States, Pots­dam Con­fer­ence I: 33.(Warn­ing, Davies was not eco­nom­i­cal with words.) Crit­ics of Churchill from both Left and Right often assert­ed that Churchill believed this, which over­sim­pli­fies his true views. Of Davies in par­tic­u­lar, we need to under­stand why he wrote as he did. (Start with a look at his Wikipedia entry. For Churchill's reply when his Pri­vate Sec­re­tary (play­ing Devil’s Advo­cate) voiced a sim­i­lar ques­tion, see "1955" above. -RML

  3. I was a school child in Hove at the end of WW2, but can remem­ber well, that Churchill was said to have spo­ken these words! I was there­fore more than sur­prised and aston­ished recent­ly to hear claims that he had not done so.

    Dili­gent research can­not turn up one attri­bu­tion of the quote. Of course it’s always pos­si­ble, but one would think some­thing that note­wor­thy would at least have a press notice. —RML

  4. Appar­ent­ly it’s in The New States­man and Nation, vol­ume 35, page 373, dat­ed 28th August 1948; it was said, “sup­pos­ed­ly”, on a tour of bombed-out Ger­man cities.

    Thanks, do you have the spe­cif­ic word­ing? He was not in Ger­many in 1948 though he was at the Con­gress of Europe at The Hague, and he did see lots of dam­age in 1945. The thought is not out of line with his think­ing cir­ca 1948, but to sub­stan­ti­ate it as gen­uine, we need a pri­ma­ry source or at least a reli­able sec­ondary attri­bu­tion. -RML

  5. I beg to differ…The quote seem­ing­ly comes from his book The Sec­ond World War, per YouTube.
    =
    Seem­ing­ly? “Should Ger­many mer­chan­dise again”….”We will force this war upon Hitler”….”Germany’s unfor­giv­able crime”….etc. is sim­ply not among his 20 mil­lion pub­lished words, all of which the Churchill Project has scanned. Peo­ple can invent quotes all day long. If one wants to be tak­en seri­ous­ly they need to show us attri­bu­tion, book, edi­tion and pag­i­na­tion. It is not in his war mem­oirs, nor any­where else. RML

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