Churchill Quotes: Mooing Dolefully; Fight When You Can Win

Churchill Quotes: Mooing Dolefully; Fight When You Can Win

“Mooing dolefully”

Rou­tine­ly since the 1990s, hos­tile tyrants and oth­ers dis­miss over­tures from Amer­i­can admin­is­tra­tions, say­ing they see no change in pol­i­cy under the lat­est U.S. admin­is­tra­tion. “They chant the slo­gan of change but no change is seen in prac­tice,” was a typ­i­cal line.

The last thing we want is a fight, the U.S. often replies. Often we add that we want to engage and improve decades of strained relations.

This remind­ed me of Harold Nicolson’s let­ter to his wife, Vita Sackville-West, 1 March 1938 (Nicol­son Diaries, I, 328). Nicol­son was not yet a backer of Churchill in the debate over pol­i­cy toward Ger­many. He hoped rea­son and com­pro­mise would prevail:

I went to such an odd lun­cheon yes­ter­day. It is called “The Focus Group,” and is one of Winston’s things. It con­sists of Win­ston, Nor­man Angell, Wick­ham Steed, Wal­ter Lay­ton, Robert Cecil, Vio­let Bon­ham-Carter, Clynes and some oth­er of the Labour people.

I was made to make a speech with­out any notice and was a tri­fle embar­rassed. But one gets a thick skin and an easy habit about these things and my speech was rather a hit.

Win­ston was enor­mous­ly wit­ty. He spoke of “this great coun­try nos­ing from door to door like a cow that has lost its calf, moo­ing dole­ful­ly, now in Berlin and now in Rome—when all the time the tiger and the alli­ga­tor wait for its undoing.”

Don’t be wor­ried, my dar­ling. I am not going to become one of the Win­ston brigade. My lead­ers are Antho­ny [Eden] and Mal­colm [Mac­Don­ald].

Harold Nicol­son came round soon enough. After Churchill’s broad­cast, “The War of the Unknown War­riors,” on 14 July 1940, he wrote Vita:

I clapped when it was over. But real­ly he has got guts, that man. Imag­ine the effect of his speech in the Empire and the USA.

I felt a great army of men and women of res­o­lu­tion watch­ing for the fight. And I felt that all the sil­ly peo­ple were but black-bee­tles scur­ry­ing into holes.

When to fight?

Along those lines a read­er writes: “I remem­ber a quip: ‘When will we fight? When we have no hope.’ Can you help me iden­ti­fy the source?”

That line doesn’t track among Churchill’s 20 mil­lion  pub­lished words. He did voice sim­i­lar thooughts. You may be think­ing of this one:

[If] you will not fight for the right when you can eas­i­ly win with­out blood­shed; if you will not fight when your vic­to­ry will be sure and not too cost­ly; you may come to the moment when you will have to fight with all the odds against you and only a pre­car­i­ous chance of survival.

There may even be a worse case. You may have to fight when there is no hope of vic­to­ry, because it is bet­ter to per­ish than to live as slaves. (The Gath­er­ing Storm, Lon­don, 1948, 272.)

Churchill was writ­ing about the belat­ed British guar­an­tee to Poland in ear­ly 1939. He held this far too late: “deci­sion at last, tak­en at the worst pos­si­ble moment….”

The time to act had been a year ear­li­er,  when Hitler at Munich had demand­ed the Czech Sude­ten­land. Poland was guar­an­teed only after Hitler had invad­ed the rump of Czecho­slo­va­kia in March 1939, which he had promised to respect.

Further reading

“Croc­o­diles: Churchill’s Ani­mal Analo­gies,” 2022.

Review of “Munich: The Edge of War,” with Jere­my Irons as Cham­ber­lain, 2023.

“Munich Reflec­tions: Peace for ‘A’ Time and the Case for Resis­tance,” 2022.

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