“This truth is incontrovertible. Panic may resent it, ignorance may deride it, malice may distort it, but there it is.” —Winston S. Churchill, House of Commons, 17 May 1916
Q: His legacy today?
Peter Baker of The New York Times recently reviewed a new book which delivers some sharp arrows toward Winston Churchill and his legacy. Baker writes that the text labels Churchill “not just a racist but a hypocrite, a dissembler, a narcissist, an opportunist, an imperialist, a drunk, a strategic bungler, a tax dodger, a neglectful father, a credit-hogging author, a terrible judge of character and, most of all, a masterful myth-maker.” [They forgot white supremacist and Cossack-killer—see comment below. RML]
In addition, during a protest over the killing of George Floyd last year, demonstrators in London targeted the iconic statue of Winston Churchill in Parliament Square. Underneath his name someone had spray-painted the words “was a racist.”
This seems to be an ongoing theme: to demolish a great figure in history looking through a 21st century progressive lens. Despite this harsh treatment, does Churchill’s legacy today remain intact? —B.L., via email
A: Hardly dented
Thanks for your message. I think there is scarcely a dent in Churchill’s legacy today: First because most of the charges are false. Second because they ignore what really matters. Only a small fraction of people believe this stuff. For example, a 2020 Facebook page simply entitled “Winston Churchill” acquired over 20,000 followers in nine months, and almost all the posts are supportive.
I thought Mr. Baker’s review in The New York Times was rather good. Though not terribly learned, it perceptively grasps the essential point:
None of our historical idols were as unvarnished as the memorials we build to them. The question is: What are they being honored for? Which contributions to history do we celebrate?…. Churchill has been venerated despite his manifest flaws, not because of them. Statues in Parliament Square and elsewhere are meant to remind us of his finest hour, not his darkest ones.In other words, the statues do not honor the Churchill of the Dardanelles, the Black and Tans, the Gold Standard, the India Bill or the Abdication. (See “Fatal Flaws: Churchill Wasn’t Perfect.”) They honor something more important.
Another reviewer, Richard Aldous in the Wall Street Journal, is more comprehensive than Baker. (Transcript available.)
But to deal with this barrage of distortion really takes a specialist, like Andrew Roberts, for the Hillsdale College Churchill Project. (The accompanying cartoon, incidentally, was first published by the Third Reich. It is amusing that the Cancel Culture now views Churchill more or less as the Nazis did.)
Cases for the defense
“There is an implicit conflict of interest between that which is highly viewable, and that which is highly illuminating.” —William F. Buckley, Jr.
The Hillsdale College Churchill Project has been making “the case for the defense” against the fanciful deconstruction of Winston Churchill for years. For over fifty refutations of common charges by highly qualified scholars, explore our “Truths and Heresies” department: https://bit.ly/30xfjWq
Specifically you may find these articles of interest: