Announcing “Winston Churchill, Myth and Reality”

Announcing “Winston Churchill, Myth and Reality”

Win­ston Churchill, Myth and Real­i­ty: What He Actu­al­ly Did and Said is now avail­able in paper­back and Kin­dle for­mats from Ama­zon.  Excerpts from my remarks the Hills­dale Col­lege Churchill Con­fer­ence, 20 Feb­ru­ary 2017. Videos are online for all presentations.


Myth and Reality

Not a day pass­es when Win­ston Churchill, who proved indis­pens­able when lib­er­ty hung in the bal­ance, is not accused of some­thing dread­ful. Charges range from alco­holism and racism to misog­y­ny and war­mon­ger­ing. Fre­quent­ly there is no doc­u­men­ta­tion, only par­tial quotes select­ed to advance pre­con­ceived notions and canards. Win­ston Churchill: Myth and Real­i­ty, con­fronts this busy industry.

Fre­quent­ly crit­ics set up Churchill as the sav­ior of 1940, then tear him down with a famil­iar litany of myth. There is his self-cen­tered­ness; a pen­chant for chem­i­cal war­fare or car­pet bomb­ing; the rude things he said about Hin­dus or Jews; his dis­dain for the unciv­i­lized, mean­ing any­one oth­er than card-car­ry­ing Englishmen.

Personal and Political

The myths are both per­son­al and polit­i­cal. The per­son­al includes charges that he was a school dunce, a fail­ure in his mar­riage, avid for con­flict. There are the side-claims about his par­ents: Lord Ran­dolph died of syphilis; Lady Ran­dolph slept with 200 men, broth­er Jack was not Lord Randolph’s son.

Pol­i­cy cri­tiques range from what he did—like defend­ing Antwerp and attack­ing the Dardanelles—to what he didn’t do—not bomb­ing Auschwitz, not feed­ing occu­pied Europe, not stop­ping the Ben­gal famine in 1943.

Where do peo­ple get these notions? The schol­ar Har­ry Jaf­fa said it stems from a pub­lic appetite for books and articles

which den­i­grate the nobil­i­ty or ide­al­ism” of the caus­es for which the Great Democ­ra­cies have fought. Young peo­ple are led to believe that to suc­ceed in pol­i­tics is to prove one­self a clever or lucky scoundrel. The detrac­tion of the great has become a pas­sion for those who can­not suf­fer great­ness, to a skewed vision of the egal­i­tar­i­an prin­ci­ple, the the­o­ry that there are no great fig­ures, we are all the same.


Churchill was not infal­li­ble, and it dimin­ish­es him to treat him as super­hu­man. In fifty years of polit­i­cal promi­nence, mis­takes were inevitable. On some top­ics in my book, accom­plished schol­ars have cat­a­logued Churchill’s fail­ings. I take note of them, along with cer­tain less-well-known excul­pa­to­ry facts. None detract from his greatness.

Churchill pub­lished fif­teen mil­lion words and left an archive of a mil­lion doc­u­ments: easy pick­ings for any­one deter­mined to expose his alleged faults by selec­tive edit­ing. Yet that same archive offers the com­plete con­text. You have only to do your home­work. I have done it. There is no miss­ing context.

Things to Know about Churchill

The first thing to know about Churchill is that there is more to him than 1940. Mar­tin Gilbert, his biog­ra­ph­er from 1968 to 2012, wrote:

As I open file after file of Churchill’s archive, from his entry into Gov­ern­ment in 1905 to his retire­ment in 1955, I am con­tin­u­al­ly sur­prised by the truth of his asser­tions, the moder­ni­ty of his thought, the orig­i­nal­i­ty of his mind, the con­struc­tive­ness of his pro­pos­als, his human­i­ty, and, most remark­able of all, his foresight.

The “macro-Churchill” thought deeply about the nature of human­i­ty and its insti­tu­tions. The “micro-Churchill” helped to solve intractable prob­lems. In 1921, he helped nego­ti­ate Irish inde­pen­dence. Michael Collins, the IRA rev­o­lu­tion­ary with whom he nego­ti­at­ed, said: “Tell Win­ston we could nev­er have done any­thing with­out him.”

In Cairo around the same time, Churchill helped draw the bound­aries of today’s Mid­dle East—an act some say we should not thank him for. Yet he estab­lished a sta­ble Jor­dan, which is there yet, and con­firmed Britain’s com­mit­ment to a Jew­ish nation­al home, which is also there. Churchill even want­ed a Kur­dish home­land, “to pro­tect the Kurds,” as he said, “from some future bul­ly in Iraq.”

Cases for the Defense

In the 1930s Churchill opposed self-gov­ern­ment for India, and lost. Then he told Gand­hi: “Use the pow­ers that are offered, and make the thing a suc­cess.” Gand­hi, who had known Churchill since 1906, replied: “I have got a good rec­ol­lec­tion from when he was in the Colo­nial Office,” Gand­hi said. “I have held the opin­ion that I can always rely on his sym­pa­thy and goodwill.”

As a young reformer, Churchill cam­paigned for a “min­i­mum stan­dard” guar­an­teed by the state. He called social­ism “the phi­los­o­phy of fail­ure, the creed of igno­rance, the gospel of envy.” He strove to help the needy but not to dis­lo­cate the sys­tem pro­vid­ing the help. “Churchill’s writ­ings and speech­es are full of reflec­tions and phi­los­o­phy that offer food for thought,” wrote the his­to­ri­an Paul Addi­son. “It is rare to dis­cover in the archives the reflec­tions of a politi­cian on the nature of man.”

Future posts will con­tain excerpts from the book.

Some peo­ple think of these myths as “set­tled knowledge.”

They mean: all the knowl­edge they think you need, set­tled by every­one who agrees with them.

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