“Rough Men Stand Ready…”

“Rough Men Stand Ready…”

"Very Well, Alone": David Low's Churchillesque cartoon from June 1940.
Rough men stand ready….David Low’s Churchil­lesque car­toon, “Very well, alone,” sym­bol­ized the sen­ti­ment,  June 1940.

“Peo­ple sleep peace­ably in their beds at night because rough men stand ready to do vio­lence on their behalf.” Is this some­thing Churchill said? I see it fre­quent­ly cred­it­ed to him: “We sleep sound­ly in our beds because rough men stand ready in the night to vis­it vio­lence on those who would do us harm.” —L.K., Dallas

​He did not. From Churchill by Him­self, Red Her­rings Appen­dix, 572-73:

Defend­ers of the peace

​”​Peo­ple sleep peace­ably in their beds at night only because rough men stand ready to do vio­lence on their behalf.”​ [Alter­na­tive: ​”​We sleep safe­ly at night because rough men stand ready to vis­it vio­lence on those who would harm us.”]

We may be fair­ly con­fi­dent that Churchill would approve of the sen­ti­ment, hav­ing argued for a life­time that lib­er­ty and peace can best be main­tained by mil­i­tary pre­pared­ness, but I have been unable to track this phrase to him. Though it is attrib­uted to Churchill, it is more often assigned to George Orwell. But Wik­iquotes sug­gests it might not be Orwell either: “There is no evi­dence that Orwell ever wrote or uttered either of these ver­sions of this idea. They do bear some sim­i­lar­i­ty to com­ments made in an essay that Orwell wrote on Rud­yard Kipling.”

4 thoughts on ““Rough Men Stand Ready…”

  1. The “rough men stand ready” quote is a reporter’s para­phrase of some­thing that George Orwell had writ­ten. I do not remem­ber the reporter’s name nor the circumstances.

    Thanks for putting me onto this. Quote Inves­ti­ga­tor, which does yeo­man work track­ing quotes and expos­ing fake attri­bu­tions, has con­clud­ed the reporter was Richard Gre­nier. I will update this post with their find­ings in a few weeks. —RML

  2. Bina­ry. Ones and zeros. They will always be good peo­ple. There will always be bad peo­ple. To insure our species sur­vives, good pro­tec­tors must halt bad people.

  3. In his 1945 “Notes on Nation­al­ism”, Orwell wrote that paci­fists can­not accept the state­ment “Those who ‘abjure’ vio­lence can do so only because oth­ers are com­mit­ting vio­lence on their behalf.”, despite it being “gross­ly obvious.”

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