D-Day +79: “Rough Men Stand Ready,” a Shared Sentiment

D-Day +79: “Rough Men Stand Ready,” a Shared Sentiment

Excerpt­ed from “’Rough Men Stand Ready’: Nei­ther Churchill nor Orwell, writ­ten for the Hills­dale Col­lege Churchill Project. For the orig­i­nal arti­cle with end­notes, click here. To sub­scribe to week­ly arti­cles from Hills­dale-Churchill, click here, scroll to bot­tom, and fill in your email in the box enti­tled “Stay in touch with us.” Your email address is nev­er giv­en out and remains a rid­dle wrapped in a mys­tery inside an enigma.

Q: D-Day remembrance: Rough men stood ready….

“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. Anoth­er ver­sion reads: “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

A: Not Churchill, not Orwell

Churchill would have approved of the sen­ti­ment, but it is not pos­si­ble to attribute this phrase to him through our dig­i­tal scans of 80 mil­lion words by and about WSC. It is also often assigned to George Orwell, but hasn’t been reli­ably tracked to him, either. He did, how­ev­er, write some­thing similar.

Read­er Steve Brant­ley referred us to Orwell’s 1945 arti­cle, “Notes on Nation­al­ism.” Here Orwell writes that paci­fists can­not accept the state­ment, “Those who ‘abjure’ vio­lence can do so only because oth­ers are com­mit­ting vio­lence on their behalf.” Nev­er­the­less, Orwell added, the truth of the thing was “gross­ly obvious.”

Read­er Tom Kovatch fur­thered the search by advis­ing us that the “rough men” quote might be “Orwellian Drift.” As with “Churchillian Drift,” these are words placed in a famous person’s mouth to make them more inter­est­ing. That led us to Quote Inves­ti­ga­tor, an out­stand­ing web­site which tracks quo­ta­tions and expos­es fake attributions.

Churchill to Orwell to Kipling

Quote Inves­ti­ga­tor offers a page of expla­na­tion track­ing the Rough Men quote to a 1993 Wash­ing­ton Times col­umn by film crit­ic and essay­ist Richard Gre­nier: “As George Orwell point­ed out, peo­ple sleep peace­ful­ly in their beds at night only because rough men stand ready to do vio­lence on their behalf.” Of course, Orwell no more than Churchill ever said pre­cise­ly that.

But Quote Inves­ti­ga­tor digs deep­er, com­ing up with a par­al­lel sen­ti­ment by Rud­yard Kipling, in his 1890 poem “Tom­my”:
O makin’ mock o’ uni­forms that guard you while you sleep
Is cheap­er than them uni­forms, an’ they’re star­va­tion cheap…

Orwell, Quote Inves­ti­ga­tor tells us, referred to that poem in 1943: 

A human­i­tar­i­an is always a hyp­ocrite, and Kipling’s under­stand­ing of this is per­haps the cen­tral secret of his pow­er to cre­ate telling phras­es. It would be dif­fi­cult to hit off the one-eyed paci­fism of the Eng­lish in few­er words than in the phrase, “mak­ing mock of uni­forms that guard you while you sleep.”

Johnson Trump
“Very Well, Alone”: David Low’s Churchil­lesque car­toon from June 1940. (Wiki­me­dia Commons)

Quote Inves­ti­ga­tor pro­vides a vast sub­text to the var­i­ous appear­ances and cred­its of “Rough men stand ready” over the years, to which we refer read­ers. Their con­clu­sion is that no one specif­i­cal­ly said the words, but Kipling may have inspired them. They are cer­tain­ly in the Churchill spirit.

Shared Sentiments

While nei­ther Churchill nor Orwell uttered the words, they held the same atti­tude toward the defense of lib­er­ty.  As Andrew Roberts notes in his review of Thomas Ricks’s Churchill and Orwell: The Fight for Freedom:

Churchill and Orwell were both war cor­re­spon­dents, their prose styles part­ly con­di­tioned by the urgent need to tele­graph sto­ries back from bat­tle­fields before being scooped by rivals. But it is very much in the polit­i­cal sphere that Ricks con­nects the two strangers—Churchill gen­er­al­ly from the cen­ter-Right, Orwell from the Left—to make them what Simon Schama has called “the most unlike­ly of allies.”

One thought on “D-Day +79: “Rough Men Stand Ready,” a Shared Sentiment

  1. Nice piece. Good to see June 6th hon­oured at a time when it some­times seems to be fad­ing into the back­ground of his­to­ry. I was struck by the remarks from Quote Inves­ti­ga­tor regard­ing the hypocrisy of human­i­tar­i­ans and Kipling’s under­stand­ing of it. It’s not just the con­tempt paid to the “Uni­ver­sal Sol­dier” in time of peace—“making mock of uni­forms that guard you while you sleep.” The mir­ror image is pre­sent­ed when Kipling shows us one of the mocked acknowl­edg­ing that human­i­tar­i­ans have their place. “You’re a bet­ter man than I am, Gun­ga Din.” Some of Kipling’s ear­ly sol­dier work—both poet­ry and prose—can be hard going at first, as one adapts to the brogue, but the effort is repaid a hundredfold.

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