Reprinted with revisions from Finest Hour 133, Winter 2006-07
“I confess myself to be a great admirer of tradition. The longer you can look back, the farther you can look forward….The wider the span, the longer the continuity, the greater is the sense of duty in individual men and women, each contributing their brief life’s work to the preservation and progress of the land in which they live, the society of which they are members, and the world of which they are the servants.” —Winston S. Churchill, Royal College of Physicians, 2 March 1944
“The Cardinals’ bus from their hotel in midtown Manhattan was delayed by more than an hour as it made its way to Shea Stadium on Wednesday. A combination of bad weather, typical New York traffic and the plane crash all led to major issues for the bus.”
Major issues for the bus?
It is subtle, and it creeps into our discourse in the most innocent ways. But the campaign to replace the values and mores of Western Civilization is ceaseless.
An example is the substitution of “politically correct” words for long-understood words in our everyday language. My pet favorite is the word “issues” now substituted for the word “problems.” The idea is that we must not be “judgmental” (another popular favorite) about our troubles, because our troubles may be right. After all, a mugger with a knife is only expressing his own predilections. This extends even to inanimate objects. In the sports report above, not only people but now even buses have “issues.”
No. “Issues” are subjects on which there is disagreement. What the bus (or, more correctly, its driver) had were “problems.” This word-substitution is subconsciously catching, because we all want to use hip forms of speech. If editors don’t watch out, even we fall for it. I recently had to stop myself from saying that I had “issues” with the fanatics who are trying to kill us. What I have, of course, are “problems,” if not “violent objections.”
One might expect anyone dedicated to the life and times of Winston Churchill to tilt toward traditional language, and one would be right. I don’t care what you think about the war in Afghanistan, economic policy, immigration, religion, global warming, or Messrs. Obama, Harper and Brown. All those are legitimate, er, “issues,” over which reasonable people may disagree.
An “issue” (in the legitimate meaning of the word) came up at a Churchill Centre scholarly panel when it was argued that the “percentages” agreement (proposing spheres of influences in eastern Europe) between Churchill and Stalin at Moscow—the “Tolstoy” conference in October 1944—proved that Churchill and Britain were no different than Stalin and Russia—that both sides had identical objectives, i.e., their own national interests.
This is a common argument of those who would have us believe that the Western democracies are no better than Nazis, Soviets, or Islamofascists. We heard the line quite recently at Cairo, from an unexpected source, the President of the United States, who suggested that the Holocaust was morally equivalent to the displacement of Palestinians after the 1948 Arab-Israeli war. Say what?
Leave aside that Churchill saw the Moscow agreement as a temporary expedient which might end up saving Greece from communization (as indeed it did). Did Churchill’s behavior prove that “we” were the same as “them”?
No. The “national interests” of Britain in Greece included objectives like getting the ouzo concession for Harrods and Greek support (optional) of British policies after the war; whereas the “national interests” of Russia in Poland, for example, was quite simply everything that Poland had. Everything Poland produced, everything it aspired to do and be, was subject to Soviet preference. To my knowledge, nothing Greece did after the war was done at the behest of London, while everything Poland did after the war was directed by Moscow. That was the difference between “us” and “them.” Small wonder that the western democracies today find their most enthusiastic friends among the former Warsaw Pact.
When Churchill in war speeches referred to “Christian civilisation” (a phrase I have actually seen edited out of some transcripts) he did not mean to exclude Jews or Buddhists or Muslims. He meant those words in a much broader sense. Just as, to Churchill, the word “man” meant “mankind,” his allusions to Christianity referred to its universal ethics: the Ten Commandments (a “judgmental” set of rules now expunged from certain public places), the Sermon on the Mount, charity, forgiveness, courage. As he put it in January 1941:
It is no exaggeration to say that the future of the whole world and the hopes of a broadening civilization founded upon Christian ethics depend upon the relation between the British Empire or Commonwealth of Nations and the United States. The identity of purpose and persistence of resolve prevailing throughout the English-speaking world will, more than any other single fact, determine the way of life which will be open to the generations and perhaps to the centuries which follow our own.
So let me reiterate what one should think need not be reiterated. The Western democracies who fought and won World War II and the Cold War—Britain, Canada, America, Australia, New Zealand—have produced the most prosperity and liberated the largest number of people in the history of the world. More recently the United States committed itself militarily six times on behalf of Muslim populations in Somalia, the Balkans and the Middle East. These efforts allowed unprecedented masses to say what they think without fear of being stuck up against a wall by brownshirts carrying rifles. I include the Russians among the allies who won the war, but exclude them from the aforementioned group, because they enslaved at least as many people before and after the war as they helped liberate during it.
Serious writers should try to avoid substituting “issues” for “problems.” We should avoid PC filters in describing Churchillian thoughts and deeds, however antique they may sound today. We should not accept the notion that when democracies fight, however ineptly, it’s equivalent to what the fanatics did to us in New York or Washington or London or Madrid. We should not believe that “we” are the same as “them.” We should not believe that Churchill’s failures and faults, however notable, even begin to compare with the level of his successes and qualities. No “issues” on that one!
Just wanted to get that off my chest.