Memo to Peggy Noonan and the WSJ: Churchill was NOT a drunk

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.

Respect­ful­ly,

RML

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