Memo to Peggy Noonan and the WSJ: Churchill was NOT a drunk
On 15 June in the Wall Street Journal opinion columnist Peggy Noonan wrote a perceptive piece about the prospects and challenges for Boris Johnson as Britain’s new Prime Minister: “England Needs a Slap, and So Does China” (sorry, that link carries a paywall).
It was a good column, saying essentially what Britons of all stripes were saying to me on a recent visit.
“Talk to me about anything, except Brexit.” “Right, we voted, so let’s get on with it.” “We’re tired of platitudes and useless debates.” “Keep diddling and we end up with Corbyn.” “Just do it.” (Or as Henry Joy, a famous President of the Packard Motor Car Company liked to say: “Let’s do something, even if it’s wrong!”)
Crikey, it’s not the end of the world. Leave the European Union by 31 October, one way or the other, and trade pacts beckon for the world’s #5 economy. America, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, India, China the Pacific Rim—they’re all ready to deal. And in the end, the Europeans will be too. Can’t afford not to. They sell the UK far more stuff than the UK sells them. (See “Britannia Waives the Rules,” June, 2016.)
Noonan on Churchill
Sofari so goody, as Churchill once remarked from East Africa. But then Ms. Noonan thought to engage in a potshot at the greatest Briton—part-compliment, part drive-by shooting:
Mr. Johnson’s admirers have the grating habit of comparing him to Winston Churchill, a flawed outsider with imperfect judgment but the right man for 1939. But Churchill was an authentic genius who wrote a masterpiece of the English language while drunk and went to war hung over. He was a gigantic character. Boris Johnson is merely a big one, and a showman. No one knows what he will achieve, but he surely knows he must deliver. My friend the historian believes Mr. Johnson can reinvigorate Britain, “which has lost confidence in itself after spending the last three years on bended knee.”
Hold on there!
To the Editor, Wall Street Journal:
A fine writer like Peggy Noonan should not blithely repeat such empty canards about Winston Churchill as she offered on June 15th (“England Needs a Slap, and So Does China.”)
Churchill had flaws, but he did not write “a masterpiece of the English language while drunk.” Nor is it true that he “went to war hung over.”
His alcohol capacity was considerable, and he himself fanned the image. But his legendary highball was a tumbler of water with an ounce of whisky, “Scotch-flavored mouthwash.” His champagne was diluted by stretching his habitual pint over a three hour dinner.
One doesn’t conduct 900 meetings of the War Cabinet and Defense Committee drunk. In forty years of research I found just one instance where anyone found him the worse for drink. That was at Teheran in 1943, when a bodyguard helped him back to the British Embassy after a late night of toasts with the Russians. Even then, he said, “the PM was still walking, and upright.”
Ms. Noonan is right to say that Boris Johnson is not Churchill. (Perhaps there should be an article, “Stop Comparing Churchill to Everybody.” No one else served in four wars and wrote five books by age 25, held all but one major office of state, was twice prime minister, wrote fifty books and won a Nobel Prize.)
That makes him quite incomparable, despite the ignorant plaints of muckraking authors and social media. Ms. Noonan is not among those.
- See also “The Alcohol Question (Again).”