Nashville (1). Winston Churchill: Current Contentions and Things That Go Bump in the Night

Nashville (1). Winston Churchill: Current Contentions and Things That Go Bump in the Night

NASHVILLE, OCTOBER 14TH— The Churchill Soci­ety of Ten­nessee kind­ly invit­ed me to talk about Win­ston Churchill: Myth and Real­i­ty and the Hills­dale Col­lege Churchill Project. Our hosts, John and Karen Math­er and Dick and Lin­da Knight, could not have been more thought­ful, kinder and more gen­er­ous to Bar­bara and me. If I per­formed any­thing for them or Mr. Churchill,  that’s only a poor con­tri­bu­tion in an attempt at requital.


As a bonus, I was hon­ored by a por­trait by Shane Neal​, a bril­liant Nashville artist and a gent​, as their way of say­ing thanks. In dis­cussing Churchill’s art, Shane was joined by fel­low artist Joseph Dai­ly, ​who paint­ed some forty por­traits of the Churchill fam­i­ly and their friends in Eng­land.  Over 100 turned up at the Brent­wood Coun­try Club​, in black tie or kilt, mine includ­ed. We enjoyed a warm reunion from friends of many years: Randy and Solveig Bar­ber from Ontario and Dou­glas Rus­sell from Iowa (past speak­ers). They made long treks to enjoy con­ver­sa­tion, laughs, cig­ars and Scot­tish stump press­ings. ​The Nashville Soci­ety ​is ​hold­ing a sem­i­nar on Churchill for 240 high school teach­ers Jan­u­ary 6th. Pro­fes­sors James Muller, War­ren Kim­ball and Christo­pher Har­mon and Judge Rus­sell will talk Churchill. A region­al Churchill con­fer­ence occurs on March 23-24. Part 1 of my text follows….

Churchill in Nashville, 1932

Win­ston Churchill was here on his 1932 lec­ture tour. He espe­cial­ly liked Nashville, Atlanta, New Orleans, Cincin­nati, and Ann Arbor—the lat­ter not too far from Hills­dale Col­lege. “And who would miss Chat­tanooga,” he wrote, “lying in its cup between the Blue Ridge and Look­out Mountain?”

East, west, north, and south he rode the rails, “liv­ing all day on my back in a rail­way com­part­ment and address­ing in the evening large audi­ences.” His theme was Anglo-Amer­i­can uni­ty. He con­clud­ed, rather star­tling­ly for some­one with his back­ground: “It is the hard­est work I have had in my life.”

Aside from mak­ing money—something he was always short of in those days—he was keen to vis­it bat­tle­fields of the Civ­il War, which he would describe in his His­to­ry of the Eng­lish-Speak­ing Peo­ples. At Murfrees­boro, he observed “the great­est brav­ery by both sides.” The Fed­er­als lost 9000, Brax­ton Bragg’s Con­fed­er­ates over 10,000. “The Fed­er­al hold on Nashville was unshak­en, and Bragg with­drew to cov­er Chat­tanooga. Murfrees­boro gave the impres­sion of a drawn battle….”

Churchill viewed the Civ­il War as Lin­coln did, “with mal­ice toward none and char­i­ty for all”—as a mile­stone toward what the Con­sti­tu­tion calls “a more per­fect union.” He under­stood and admired the courage and devo­tion of both sides. I doubt he would approve tear­ing down any of their stat­ues. But that’s just my opin­ion.

And because he had stud­ied the Civ­il War, he knew on Decem­ber 7th, 1941 that World War II was won. He didn’t attempt to guess how long it would take. But he knew for cer­tain that  “Amer­i­ca was in the war, up to the neck, and in to the death.”


Current Contentions

Antwerp in “Winston’s Bag,” David Low in “The Star,” 21 Jan­u­ary 1920.

Alas, this noble spir­it is the sub­ject of cur­rent con­tentions, and bad movies from “Dunkirk” to “The Crown.” Not a month pass­es when he is not accused of some­thing dread­ful, from alco­holism and racism to misog­y­ny and war­mon­ger­ing. Con­fronting this busy indus­try is the pur­pose of my book.

Crit­ics often set Churchill up as the sav­ior of 1940, then tear him down with a famil­iar litany: his self-cen­tered­ness; his lik­ing for gas war­fare and car­pet bomb­ing; the rude things he said about Hin­dus or Jews or Mus­lims; his dis­dain for the unciv­i­lized, mean­ing any­one oth­er than card-car­ry­ing Englishmen.

The assault is both per­son­al and polit­i­cal. The per­son­al includes charges that he was a school dunce, a fail­ure in mar­riage, avid for con­flict. There are side-claims about his par­ents. Lord Ran­dolph died of syphilis. Lady Ran­dolph slept with 200 men. His 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.

Where do peo­ple get these notions? The schol­ar Har­ry Jaf­fa said that detrac­tion of the great has become a pas­sion for those who can­not suf­fer greatness—a skewed vision of the egal­i­tar­i­an prin­ci­ple, the the­o­ry that there are no great fig­ures, we are all the same.

We may not claim that Churchill was infal­li­ble. It dimin­ish­es him to treat him as super­hu­man. On some top­ics in the book, accom­plished schol­ars have cat­a­logued his fail­ings. I acknowl­edge these. But I offer cer­tain excul­pa­to­ry, but more obscure facts.

What to Know


The first thing to know about Churchill is that there is more to him than 1940. Sir Mar­tin Gilbert, his great biog­ra­ph­er, 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 to secure Irish inde­pen­dence. In Cairo around the same time, he drew bound­aries of today’s Mid­dle East.

This was an act some say we should not thank him for. Yet he estab­lished a sta­ble Jor­dan, which is there yet. He con­firmed Britain’s com­mit­ment to a Jew­ish nation­al home, which is also there. Churchill also pro­posed a Kur­dish home­land. Let us, he said, “pro­tect the Kurds from some future bul­ly in Iraq.” That’s just Win­ston being sil­ly, the For­eign Office said. We’ll nev­er have any trou­ble from Iraq.

NashvilleIn the 1930s he opposed self-gov­ern­ment for India, and lost. He then sent a mes­sage to Gand­hi… “Use the pow­ers that are offered. Make the thing a suc­cess.” Gand­hi actu­al­ly admired Churchill. Since 1906, in fact. “I have 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.”

Liberal Reformer

As a young states­man, Churchill cam­paigned for a “min­i­mum stan­dard” guar­an­teed by the state. But he called social­ism “the phi­los­o­phy of fail­ure, the creed of igno­rance, the gospel of envy.” He strove to help the needy while not dis­lo­cat­ing the sys­tem that gen­er­at­ed that 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.”

In the first part of the book, cov­er­ing Churchill’s ear­ly youth, I con­sid­er his mother’s sup­posed indis­cre­tions, the parent­age of his broth­er Jack, his ear­ly trou­bles with edu­ca­tion, and what real­ly killed Lord Ran­dolph Churchill. But I think you’ll most enjoy Chap­ter 1—the light­heart­ed myth that Churchill was part Native Amer­i­can. Like Eliz­a­beth War­ren. He him­self believed this, and was proud of it.

* * *

Con­tin­ued in Nashville (2):The Myth of Churchill’s Amer­i­can Indi­an Ancestors

Note: Win­ston Churchill, Myth and Real­i­ty is now avail­able in paper­back, with a low­er price for the Kin­dle edi­tion.  Click here.


One thought on “Nashville (1). Winston Churchill: Current Contentions and Things That Go Bump in the Night

  1. Wow, that was very inter­est­ing, I wish I could have been there.

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