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 Robert, Lord Boothby. (The website says it is currently under revision.)
Wrong pig – wrong quote
My first reaction was that Sir Winston Churchill would have found this phrase offensive to pigs! He did use animal analogies, and could have invented such an idiom. But he was very favorably disposed to pigs. (He famously said, “Dogs look up to you, cats look down on you. Give me a pig! He looks you in the eye and treats you as an equal.”) So he would not likely have compared Britain’s enemies to porkers.
I searched the Hillsdale College Churchill Project digital scans of Churchill/s canon, some 75 million words by and about him. This includes virtually everything in his books, articles, speeches and published papers. I found no sign of the phrase, either with the word “slaughtered” or the word “butchered.” Neither did I find any statement of his suggesting Britain had “fought the wrong enemy.” This includes the memoirs of Lord Boothby, who I do not regard as very reliable.
The primary enemy
One of Churchill’s virtues was to recognize the main threat to peace at each juncture in his career. From 1933 to 1945, he was certain that Nazi Germany was not the “wrong pig.” 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 by 1945 was, however, obvious. Here is a key private remark recorded by his private secretary, John Colville, on 23 February that year. The venue was Chequers, the Prime Minister’s official country residence. The source is Colville’s diaries, The Fringes of Power (1986), 203-04:
…we 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.”
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.