Roosevelt and Churchill: Don Quixote and Sancho Panza?

Roosevelt and Churchill: Don Quixote and Sancho Panza?

A col­league asks whether Win­ston and Clemen­tine Churchill’s pri­vate name for  Pres­i­dent Roo­sevelt was “Don Quixote.” Also, who com­pared Roo­sevelt and Churchill to Don Quixote and San­cho Pan­za? This offers an inter­est­ing trawl through the sources.

So far as I can learn, the Quixote – Pan­za anal­o­gy for Roo­sevelt and Churchill (also FDR and his devot­ed advis­er Har­ry Hop­kins) occurred only dur­ing the 1943 Casablan­ca Con­fer­ence (SYMBOL). Roo­sevelt pro­posed those code names, and I rather think Churchill had dif­fer­ent image of them than FDR. (Oxford Eng­lish Dic­tio­nary: “Quixote: Enthu­si­as­tic vision­ary, pur­suer of lofty but imprac­ti­ca­ble ideals.”) Of course we can’t be sure. We must put this on our list of ques­tions when we get to meet Sir Win­ston in the Afterlife.

Quixote and Sancho

The deriso­ry term was rife in Par­lia­ment between the World Wars. It was applied to Bonar Law and Beaver­brook, Allen­by and Wavell, Win­ter­ton and Shin­well, Churchill and Brack­en, Cham­ber­lain and Kings­ley Wood. When Ger­many invad­ed the Low Coun­tries in May 1940, Gen­er­al Alan Brooke pre­scient­ly called French Gen­er­al Hen­ri Giraud a Don Quixote who “would have rid­den gal­lant­ly at any wind­mill regard­less of con­se­quences.” (Bryant, Turn of the Tide, 61)

In 1905 young Win­ston acquired an elab­o­rate four-vol­ume edi­tion of Miguel Cer­vantes’ clas­sic nov­el. Three decades lat­er, Don Quixote was his twelfth and final install­ment in “The World’s Great Sto­ries.” (News of the World, 26 March 1933; Col­lect­ed Essays of Sir Win­ston Churchill, IV, 246-56.)

The tale lodged in Churchill’s pho­to­graph­ic mem­o­ry. He used the anal­o­gy with rapi­er effec­tive­ness when Prime Min­is­ter Ram­say Mac­Don­ald returned with his for­eign sec­re­tary, John Simon, after seek­ing war debt relief: “We have got our mod­ern Don Quixote home again, with San­cho Pan­za at his tail, bear­ing with them these some­what dubi­ous tro­phies which they have col­lect­ed amid the ner­vous tit­ter­ings of Europe.” (23 March 1933, in Churchill, Arms and the Covenant, 73.)

Roosevelt’s idea

Nigel Hamil­ton in his Roo­sevelt book, Com­man­der in Chief, is wrong when he writes… “[FDR] had cho­sen as his nom de plume Admi­ral Q, in pri­or secret com­mu­ni­ca­tions with Churchill—a humor­ous ref­er­ence to his Span­ish lit­er­ary hero, Don Quixote. (Hop­kins was ‘Mr. P.’ for San­cho Pan­za.)”  John Grigg explains that

Roo­sevelt was giv­en the code name ‘Admi­ral Q,’ pro­posed by Churchill in a cable in which he also sug­gest­ed that he him­self should go by the name of ‘Mr P.’ (This enabled him to add: ‘We must mind our P’s and Q’s.’) But in fact the name giv­en to him was ‘Air Com­modore Fran­k­land’ and he arrived at the con­fer­ence wear­ing an air commodore’s uni­form. (Grigg, 1943: The Vic­to­ry That Nev­er Was, 60)

It was Roo­sevelt who had sug­gest­ed the Cer­vantes char­ac­ters for Casablan­ca code names, rather point­ed­ly empha­siz­ing Britain’s dimin­ished impor­tance: “The alias­es from this end will be a) Don Quixote and b) San­cho Pan­za.” (R-252, in Kim­ball, Churchill & Roo­sevelt, The Com­plete Cor­re­spon­dence II, 2 Jan­u­ary 1943.)

“Admiral Q and Mr. P”

Churchill’s counter-pro­pos­al can be inter­pret­ed to read that he well under­stood the inflex­ion Roo­sevelt had intend­ed. “How­ev­er did you think of such an impen­e­tra­ble disguise?”

Churchill quick­ly added: “In order to make it even hard­er for the ene­my and to dis­cour­age irrev­er­ent guess­work, pro­pose Admi­ral Q and Mr. P.” (3Jan43, in Churchill, Hinge of Fate, 601.) His­to­ri­an War­ren Kim­ball sug­gests Churchill said this believ­ing that FDR’s code names might make the meet­ing seem “quixot­ic” to peo­ple. (Forged in War, 183.) But the pub­lic would not gen­er­al­ly be aware of code names. I sus­pect Churchill’s idea was as Grigg wrote, allow­ing him to use the “P’s and Q’s” quip—and because he was uncom­fort­able think­ing of him­self as FDR’s San­cho Panza.

That the Pri­vate Office used the term “Don Q” before Casablan­ca sug­gests that for Churchill’s inner cir­cle, FDR real­ly was a Don Quixote, tilt­ing at wind­mills in quest of impos­si­ble dreams.Who knows how often he referred to FDR as DQ in pri­vate asides?

In any case, Cer­vantes’ tale was cer­tain­ly on Churchill’s mind at Casablan­ca. There he told Roo­sevelt they couldn’t tell British from Amer­i­can troops in the North Africa land­ings… “In the night all cats are grey.” (Don Quixote, Part 2, Ch. 33; Lang­worth, Churchill by Him­self, 62).

Sancho’s burro…

Ten months lat­er at Teheran, Britain’s dwin­dling influ­ence was more read­i­ly appar­ent to Churchill. His thoughts might well have traced back to Cer­vantes and, if not to San­cho Pan­za, to Sancho’s burro:

There I sat with the great Russ­ian bear on one side of me, with paws out­stretched, and on the oth­er side the great Amer­i­can buf­fa­lo, and between the two sat the poor lit­tle Eng­lish don­key who was the only one, the only one of the three, who knew the right way home.

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