Thoughts on National Churchill Day 2017:

Thoughts on National Churchill Day 2017:

“When Britain stood alone…he mobi­lized the Eng­lish lan­guage, and sent it into bat­tle.” John Kennedy, para­phras­ing Edward R. Murrow

Q: The­Ques­tion tries to pro­vide our read­ers with the most reli­able knowl­edge from experts in var­i­ous fields. As we cel­e­brate Nation­al Churchill Day, April 9th, we would appre­ci­ate your thoughts on three ques­tions. These are cur­rent­ly post­ed with­out respons­es on our web­site: Was Win­ston Churchill real­ly that good an artist? What made him a great leader? What was his great­est achievement?


TheQuestion: Churchill as Artist

​Please take a vir­tu­al tour of Hills­dale College’s recent exhi­bi­tion of Churchill paint­ings and arti­facts. Here your read­ers can decide for them­selves. The con­sen­sus among experts, how­ev­er, is that Churchill was a gift­ed ama­teur. He had gen­uine tal­ent, but he also had good tutors: Sir John and Lady Lav­ery, Paul Maze, Wal­ter Sick­ert. Sev­er­al pro­fes­sion­als—Picas­so was one—said that if paint­ing had been his pro­fes­sion, he would have done very well. (Picas­so rarely shared his pol­i­tics, and is reput­ed to have wished that happened…)

Churchill him­self nev­er pre­tend­ed to be more than an ama­teur, refer­ring to his 600 oils as “my daubs.” Until very late he resist­ed exhibit­ing, and was sen­si­tive to his works being patron­ized because of his fame. In 1944, Gen­er­al Eisen­how­er’s chauf­feur, an ama­teur painter, asked if he might show one of his oils to the Prime Min­is­ter. “Very good,” Churchill said, “but you, unlike myself, will be judged on tal­ent alone”


TheQuestion: Leadership

To answer TheQuestion’s sec­ond query would require many words. ​Whole books have been writ­ten on the sub­ject, notably Churchill on Lead­er­ship by Steven Hay­ward. Churchill’s Tri­al, by Dr. Lar­ry Arnn, Col­lege, con­sid­ers how Churchill resolved the nature and needs of the cit­i­zen­ry with con­sti­tu­tion­al democ­ra­cy and ordered liberty.

In my opin­ion two qual­i­ties of his lead­er­ship stand out: his abil­i­ty to pur­sue the para­mount goal to the exclu­sion of all rivals, how­ev­er wor­thy; and his abil­i­ty to com­mu­ni­cate that goal to a baf­fled or fright­ened world. In May and June 1940, he was the only pos­si­ble choice for pre­mier, because for almost a decade he had warned of Nazi Ger­many as the pri­ma­ry threat. “I thought I knew a good deal about it all,” he wrote in his mem­oirs, “and was sure I should not fail.” A year lat­er, when Hitler invad­ed Rus­sia, he pledged imme­di­ate aid to the Sovi­et Union, which he had long exco­ri­at­ed: “If Hitler invad­ed Hell, I would at least make a favourable ref­er­ence to the Dev­il in the House of Commons.”

As a com­mu­ni­ca­tor he was unique in his time, and per­haps any time. I remem­ber a Bel­gian lady at a Churchill con­fer­ence, grip­ping Lady Soames’s arm to tell her what her father’s wartime speech­es had meant to Bel­gians gath­ered around sur­rep­ti­tious radios, lis­ten­ing to crack­ling broad­casts over the for­bid­den BBC. Ronald Gold­ing, a for­mer RAF pilot who was briefly Churchill’s detec­tive after the war, said: “After one of those speech­es, we want­ed the Ger­mans to come.”


TheQuestion: Achievement

Churchill him­self said “noth­ing sur­pass­es 1940,” and we must look there for his great­est accomplishment—there, and not the glo­ri­ous vic­to­ry years lat­er. Churchill didn’t win the Sec­ond World War. Win­ning took the com­bined resources of the Empire/Commonwealth, Rus­sia and Amer­i­ca. His biggest achieve­ment was not los­ing it.

And it was, as the old Duke of Welling­ton said of Water­loo, “a damn close-run thing.” By June 1940, many thought the wis­est course was com­ing to terms with Ger­many. Churchill resist­ed, and won them over. “If this long island sto­ry of ours is to end at last, let it end only when each of us lies chok­ing in his own blood upon the ground.” His col­leagues rose and cheered, thump­ing him on the back. All pos­si­bil­i­ty of mak­ing peace with Ger­many van­ished. Pro­mo­tion for the upcom­ing film “Dark­est Hour” says the movie will for the first time dis­close why Churchill fought on. The rea­sons have been plain since 1940.

A 19th Century Man…

The jour­nal­ist Charles Krautham­mer con­tem­plat­ed events had Churchill not been there,. Hitler, he said, “would have achieved what no oth­er tyrant, not even Napoleon, had ever achieved: mas­tery of Europe. Civ­i­liza­tion would have descend­ed into a dark­ness the likes of which it had nev­er known.” And Krautham­mer elo­quent­ly describes the sin­gu­lar­i­ty of Churchill’s achievement:

The great move­ments that under­lie history—the devel­op­ment of sci­ence, indus­try, cul­ture, social and polit­i­cal structures—are unde­ni­ably pow­er­ful, almost deter­mi­nant. Yet every once in a while, a sin­gle per­son aris­es with­out whom every­thing would be different….Churchill was, of course, not suf­fi­cient in bring­ing vic­to­ry, but he was unique­ly necessary—he then imme­di­ate­ly rose to warn prophet­i­cal­ly against Nazism’s sis­ter bar­barism, Sovi­et communism.

Churchill is now dis­par­aged for not shar­ing our mul­ti­cul­tur­al sen­si­bil­i­ties. His dis­re­spect for the suf­frage move­ment, his dis­dain for Gand­hi, his resis­tance to decol­o­niza­tion are unde­ni­able. But that kind of crit­i­cism is akin to dethron­ing Lin­coln as the great­est of 19th cen­tu­ry Amer­i­cans because he shared many of his era’s appalling prej­u­dices. In essence, the rap on Churchill is that he was a 19th cen­tu­ry man para­chut­ed into the 20th. But is that not pre­cise­ly to the point? It took a 19th cen­tu­ry man—traditional in habit, ratio­nal in thought, con­ser­v­a­tive in temper—to save the 20th cen­tu­ry from itself.

…in a Thoroughly Modern Century

The sto­ry of the 20th cen­tu­ry is a sto­ry of rev­o­lu­tion wrought by thor­ough­ly mod­ern men: Hitler, Stal­in, Mao and above all Lenin, who invent­ed total­i­tar­i­an­ism out of Marx’s cryp­tic and inchoate com­mu­nism. And it is the sto­ry of the mod­ern intel­lec­tu­al, from Ezra Pound to Jean-Paul Sartre, seduced by these mod­ern men of pol­i­tics and, grotesque­ly, serv­ing them.

The unique­ness of the 20th cen­tu­ry lies not in its sci­ence but in its pol­i­tics. The 20th cen­tu­ry was no more sci­en­tif­i­cal­ly gift­ed than the 19th, with its Gauss, Dar­win, Pas­teur, Maxwell and Mendel—all plow­ing, by the way, less-bro­ken sci­en­tif­ic ground than the 20th. No. The orig­i­nal­i­ty of the 20th sure­ly lay in its pol­i­tics. It invent­ed the police state and the com­mand econ­o­my, mass mobi­liza­tion and mass pro­pa­gan­da, mech­a­nized mur­der and rou­tinized terror—a breath­tak­ing cat­a­log of polit­i­cal cre­ativ­i­ty. And the 20th is a sin­gle sto­ry because his­to­ry saw fit to lodge the entire episode in a sin­gle century.

Total­i­tar­i­an­ism turned out to be a cul-de-sac. It came and went. It has a begin­ning and an end, 1917 and 1991, a run of 75 years. That is our sto­ry. And who is the hero of that sto­ry? Who slew the drag­on? Yes, it was the ordi­nary man, the tax­pay­er, the grunt who fought and won the wars. It was Amer­i­ca and its allies. And it was the great lead­ers: Roo­sevelt, de Gaulle, Ade­nauer, Tru­man, John Paul II, Mar­garet Thatch­er, Ronald Rea­gan. But above all, vic­to­ry required one man with­out whom the fight would have been lost at the begin­ning. It required Win­ston Churchill.

See also 

Nation­al Win­ston Churchill Day 2016




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