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National Winston Churchill Day 2016

National Winston Churchill Day 2016

Nation­al Day of Cel­e­bra­tion: April 9th?

Pub­lished 9 April 2016 by the Hills­dale Col­lege Churchill Project

national churchill day
The White House, 9 April 1963. L-R: act­ing Sec­re­tary of State George Ball, Lady and Ambas­sador Sir David Orms­by Gore, Win­ston Churchill (grand­son), the President’s Naval Aide Tazewell Shep­ard, Pres­i­dent Kennedy, Ran­dolph S. Churchill. Pho­to by Cecil Stoughton.

Why does the Unit­ed States des­ig­nate April 9th as Nation­al Churchill Day? Why not, for exam­ple, May 10th? That was the day in 1940 when, with lib­er­ty in retreat, he became Britain’s prime min­is­ter, sure that he knew a good deal about it all, cer­tain he would not fail, impa­tient for the morn­ing….

But April 9th has a cer­tain nation­al sig­nif­i­cance for Amer­i­cans. That was the day, in 1963, when Pres­i­dent Kennedy pro­claimed Sir Win­ston an hon­orary cit­i­zen of the Unit­ed States.

He was too infirm to attend in per­son. But it is always worth recall­ing what he thought about it all, in a let­ter to the Pres­i­dent, read by his son Ran­dolph:

In this cen­tu­ry of storm and tragedy, I con­tem­plate with high sat­is­fac­tion the con­stant fac­tor of the inter­wo­ven and upward progress of our peo­ples. Our com­rade­ship and our broth­er­hood in war were unex­am­pled. We stood togeth­er, and because of that fact the free world now stands.

Nor has our part­ner­ship any exclu­sive nature: the Atlantic com­mu­ni­ty is a dream that can well be ful­filled to the detri­ment of none and to the endur­ing ben­e­fit and hon­our of the great democ­ra­cies.

Of course Churchill believed that “noth­ing sur­pass­es 1940.” Few would gain­say him.

In 1940 he gave a coun­try, out­num­bered and out­gunned, alone except for its Empire-Com­mon­wealth, the courage to stand the “faith­ful guardians of truth and justice”—until “those who were hith­er­to half blind were half ready.”

That year proved like­wise that one per­son can make a dif­fer­ence. As Charles Krautham­mer observed: “Only Churchill car­ries that absolute­ly required cri­te­ri­on: indis­pens­abil­i­ty. With­out Churchill the world today would be unrecognizable—dark, impov­er­ished, tor­tured.”

And so we won. West­ern civ­i­liza­tion was saved. Yet it was not, William F. Buck­ley Jr. argued, “the sig­nif­i­cance of that vic­to­ry, mighty and glo­ri­ous though it was, that caus­es the name of Churchill to make the blood run a lit­tle faster….It is the roar that we hear, when we pro­nounce his name….

It is sim­ply mis­tak­en that bat­tles are nec­es­sar­i­ly more impor­tant than the words that sum­mon men to arms, or who remem­ber the call to arms. The bat­tle of Agin­court was long for­got­ten as a geopo­lit­i­cal event, but the words of Hen­ry V, with Shake­speare to recall them, are imper­ish­able in the mind, even as which side won the bat­tle of Get­tys­burg will dim from the mem­o­ry of those who will nev­er for­get the words spo­ken about that bat­tle by Abra­ham Lin­coln….The genius of Churchill was his union of affini­ties of the heart and of the mind, the total fusion of ani­mal and spir­i­tu­al ener­gy.

A National Resource

Hills­dale Col­lege seeks to refract that ener­gy with two unique teach­ing tools: Win­ston S. Churchill and The Churchill Doc­u­ments, com­pris­ing the offi­cial biog­ra­phy and the Churchill Papers of Sir Mar­tin Gilbert, his biog­ra­ph­er for forty years.

As we pro­duce each new doc­u­ment volume—this year reach­ing the eve of D-Day—we are struck by the sheer vol­ume and vari­ety of the sub­jects Churchill grap­pled with: ene­mies and allies; allo­ca­tion of per­son­nel and equip­ment between com­pet­ing the­aters of war; urgent plead­ing from states­men and gen­er­als, often demand­ing the impos­si­ble; cab­i­net dia­logue and argu­ment; sum­mit meet­ings; Par­lia­men­tary busi­ness; pub­lic com­mu­ni­ca­tions; appoint­ments; post­war planning—on and on for 2500 pages.

Nowhere is there so thor­ough a record of one statesman’s deci­sion­mak­ing; nowhere were the deci­sions so con­se­quen­tial. Even now, in the dig­i­tal age, Churchill’s work­load would tax sev­er­al capa­ble peo­ple. His out­put was extra­or­di­nary, his rea­son­ing under­stand­able, com­mu­ni­ca­tions thought­ful, his scope glob­al. And there was this rare qual­i­ty: It was sim­ply impos­si­ble for Win­ston Churchill to write a bor­ing sen­tence.

Today, as in 1963, we study Churchill because he stood for something—the prin­ci­ple that “the peo­ple own the gov­ern­ment, and not the gov­ern­ment the peo­ple.” He exem­pli­fied cer­tain crit­i­cal human pos­si­bil­i­ties that are always worth bring­ing to the atten­tion of thought­ful peo­ple. In 1943 he spoke at Har­vard of our her­itage:

Law, lan­guage, literature—these are con­sid­er­able fac­tors. Com­mon con­cep­tions of what is right and decent, a marked regard for fair play, espe­cial­ly to the weak and poor, a stern sen­ti­ment of impar­tial jus­tice, and above all the love of per­son­al free­dom, or as Kipling put it: “Leave to live by no man’s leave under­neath the law”—these are com­mon con­cep­tions on both sides of the ocean among the Eng­lish-speak­ing peo­ples.

 

 

 

 

“Democracy is the worst form of Government…”

“Democracy is the worst form of Government…”

democracy
The young ora­tor, 1907.

Democ­ra­cy is the worst form of gov­ern­ment, except for all the oth­ers. “It is fre­quent­ly claimed that Churchill said this (or words to that effect). I have tried to locate the source of that quote, but I have not been able to trace it. Is it gen­uine, and if so, where and when?” —D.C., Bogotá, Colom­bia

He said it (House of Com­mons, 11 Novem­ber 1947)—but he was quot­ing an unknown pre­de­ces­sor. From Churchill by Him­self, 574:

Many forms of Gov­ern­ment have been tried, and will be tried in this world of sin and woe. No one pre­tends that democ­ra­cy is per­fect or all-wise. Indeed it has been said that democ­ra­cy is the worst form of Gov­ern­ment except for all those oth­er forms that have been tried from time to time.…

So, although these are Churchill’s words, he clear­ly did not orig­i­nate the famous remark about democ­ra­cy. William F. Buck­ley, Jr., com­ment­ing on trick­ery in pres­i­den­tial debates, remind­ed us of Churchill’s reflec­tion when he wrote in June 2007: “We are made to ask what it is that polit­i­cal democ­ra­cy gives us. The sys­tem is util­i­tar­i­an. But is it a fit object of faith and hope?” Cred­it Churchill as pub­li­cist for an unsourced apho­rism.

Democracy: Churchillisms

But here are some orig­i­nal things (includ­ed in Churchill by Him­self) that Churchill did say about democ­ra­cy:

If I had to sum up the imme­di­ate future of demo­c­ra­t­ic pol­i­tics in a sin­gle word I should say “insur­ance.” That is the future—insurance against dan­gers from abroad, insur­ance against dan­gers scarce­ly less grave and much more near and con­stant which threat­en us here at home in our own island. —Free Trade Hall, Man­ches­ter, 23 May 1909

At the bot­tom of all the trib­utes paid to democ­ra­cy is the lit­tle man, walk­ing into the lit­tle booth, with a lit­tle pen­cil, mak­ing a lit­tle cross on a lit­tle bit of paper—no amount of rhetoric or volu­mi­nous dis­cus­sion can pos­si­bly dimin­ish the over­whelm­ing impor­tance of that point. —House of Com­mons, 31 Octo­ber 1944

How is that word “democ­ra­cy” to be inter­pret­ed? My idea of it is that the plain, hum­ble, com­mon man, just the ordi­nary man who keeps a wife and fam­i­ly, who goes off to fight for his coun­try when it is in trou­ble, goes to the poll at the appro­pri­ate time, and puts his cross on the bal­lot paper show­ing the can­di­date he wish­es to be elect­ed to Parliament—that he is the foun­da­tion of democ­ra­cy. And it is also essen­tial to this foun­da­tion that this man or woman should do this with­out fear, and with­out any form of intim­i­da­tion or vic­tim­iza­tion. He marks his bal­lot paper in strict secre­cy, and then elect­ed rep­re­sen­ta­tives and togeth­er decide what gov­ern­ment, or even in times of stress, what form of gov­ern­ment they wish to have in their coun­try. If that is democ­ra­cy, I salute it. I espouse it. I would work for it.” —House of Com­mons, 8 Decem­ber 1944

Bill Buckley, Churchillian

Bill Buckley, Churchillian

William F. Buckley, Jr. recalling her father's speeches with Churchill Centre Patron Lady Soames, International Churchill Conference, Copley Plaza, Boston, November 1995.
William F. Buck­ley, Jr. recall­ing her father’s speech­es with Churchill Cen­tre Patron Lady Soames, Inter­na­tion­al Churchill Con­fer­ence, Boston, Novem­ber 1995.

In Right Time, Right Place, his new book about his life work­ing with Wil­i­iam F. Buck­ley, Jr. at Nation­al Review, Richard Brookhis­er aserts that WFB dis­liked Sir Win­ston. I queried Brookhis­er who replied: “WFB’s obit for Churchill in NR was notably grudg­ing, and reflect­ed I think his youth­ful Amer­i­ca First con­vic­tions.” As these two men are my only heroes liv­ing or dead, I was dis­ap­point­ed to see such an asser­tion from some­one who appar­ent­ly knew Buck­ley very well. Based on host­ing him at the 1995 Inter­na­tion­al Churchill Con­fer­ence, do you think this is true? —C.C.

Mr. Brookhiser’s book is by many accounts out­stand­ing, but I think his com­ment is not dis­pos­i­tive. Bill Buckley’s atti­tude to Churchill mel­lowed over time—and The Churchill Cen­tre had a minor role in this.

We want­ed Buck­ley (and Arthur Schlesinger) as con­fer­ence speak­ers a long time before we got them, at our 1995 Boston con­fer­ence. WFB had resist­ed our invi­ta­tion, say­ing he was unqual­i­fied to speak on the sub­ject. I argued that there was no sub­ject on which he was unqual­i­fied(!) and approached Bill Rush­er, for­mer pub­lish­er of Nation­al Review, who had spo­ken to us ear­li­er. Mr. Rush­er said, “You have to remem­ber that the Buck­leys were all Amer­i­ca Firsters before the war, not to men­tion Irish—not nat­ur­al allies of Churchill.” He added that he often had debates with WFB on the sub­ject. (Rusher’s col­lege room­mate was Hen­ry Ana­tole Grun­wald, who pro­duced the superb Amer­i­can Her­itage doc­u­men­tary, Churchill: The Life Tri­umphant, in 1965. If you don’t have this, you should get a copy.)

But I sus­pect Bill Buckley’s antipa­thy pre­ced­ed even the Amer­i­ca First move­ment. As a boy, his father sent him away from his beloved Sharon to board­ing school in Eng­land, which he hat­ed, espe­cial­ly the upper class mas­ters who looked down their noses at Yanks. He got even, so to speak, in his first nov­el, Sav­ing the Queen, through his fic­tion­al hero, Brad­ford Oakes, who, like Bill, was whipped by his Eng­lish Headmaster—”Courtesy of Great Britain, Sir.” Thus “Sav­ing the Queen” includes Oakes get­ting to know the fic­tion­al Queen Car­o­line in the bib­li­cal sense— “Cour­tesy of the Unit­ed States, Ma’am.” On his book tour in Lon­don a cheeky reporter asked, “Mr. Buck­ley, do you want to sleep with our Queen?” Very droll… 

When Churchill died in 1965, Buckley’s obit­u­ary called him a “peace­time cat­a­stro­phe,” which, from Bill’s stand­point (not rolling back Labour social­ism, cam­paign­ing for sum­mits with the Sovi­ets) he was. When he spoke at our 1995 Boston con­fer­ence, we end­ed with a Nation­al Press Club-style Q&A ses­sion. My ques­tion (unsigned!) was to quote his “peace­time cat­a­stro­phe” line and ask whether he ever recon­sid­ered that judg­ment. WFB amus­ing­ly replied: “I have often been asked to recon­sid­er my judg­ments, but try as I might I have nev­er found any rea­son to cause me to do so.”

(Nobody could ever put him on the spot that night. Anoth­er ques­tion­er asked, “If you could have Win­ston Churchill to your­self for an entire evening, what would you say to him?” Bill quick­ly replied: “I would say: ‘Please talk non-stop.'”)

But his great speech on that occa­sion caused me to think that he had by then tak­en a longer view, con­sid­er­ing Churchill indis­pens­able in the bat­tle with Hitler, if inef­fec­tive in lat­er bat­tles against Social­ism and the Sovi­ets:

Mr. Churchill had strug­gled to dimin­ish total­i­tar­i­an rule in Europe which, how­ev­er, increased. He fought to save the Empire, which dis­solved. He fought social­ism, which pre­vailed. He strug­gled to defeat Hitler, and he won. It is not, I think, the sig­nif­i­cance of that vic­to­ry, mighty and glo­ri­ous though it was, that caus­es the name of Churchill to make the blood run a lit­tle faster….it is the roar that we hear, when we pro­nounce his name. It is sim­ply mis­tak­en that bat­tles are nec­es­sar­i­ly more impor­tant than the words that sum­mon men to arms, or who remem­ber the call to arms. The Bat­tle of Agin­court was long for­got­ten as a geopo­lit­i­cal event, but the words of Hen­ry V, with Shake­speare to recall them, are imper­ish­able in the mind, even as which side won the Bat­tle of Get­tys­burg will dim from the mem­o­ry of those who will nev­er for­get the words spo­ken about that bat­tle by Abra­ham Lin­coln. The genius of Churchill was his union of affini­ties of the heart and of the mind, the total fusion of ani­mal and spir­i­tu­al energy….It is my pro­pos­al that Churchill’s words were indis­pens­able to the bene­dic­tion of that hour, which we hail here tonight, as we hail the mem­o­ry of the man who spoke them; as we come togeth­er, to praise a famous man.

The entire speech can be found in Churchill Pro­ceed­ings 1995-1996, and in the Buck­ley vol­ume of col­lect­ed speech­es, Let Us Talk of Many Things.

In fair­ness it should also be said that Buck­ley con­sid­ered Stal­in a more vir­u­lent dis­ease than Hitler. In our cor­re­spon­dence pub­lished in Finest Hour 138 he makes this telling remark: “My thought has always been that Nazism had absolute­ly no escha­tol­ogy, and would with­er on the vine. Only the life of Hitler kept it going, and I can’t imag­ine he’d have last­ed very long. The Com­mu­nists hung in there [after the war] for forty-six years.”

Of course, in the con­text of the 1930s, I dis­agree….