War and Shame

War and Shame

What did Churchill say about those who trade hon­or for peace hav­ing in nei­ther in the end? —D.B.

There are two like­ly quo­ta­tions. The first was Churchill in a let­ter to Lloyd George on 13 August 1938, just before the Munich Con­fer­ence:

I think we shall have to choose in the next few weeks between war and shame, and I have very lit­tle doubt what the deci­sion will be.

Ref­er­ence is Churchill by Him­self, page 256, quot­ing Mar­tin Gilbert, ed., Win­ston S. Churchill, Com­pan­ion Vol­ume V Part 3, The Com­ing of War 1936-1939 (Lon­don: Heine­mann 1982), page 1117.)

A month lat­er, Churchill wrote to his friend Lord Moyne, explain­ing why a pro­posed vis­it to Moyne in Antigua might be prob­lem­at­ic. From Churchill by Him­self, page 257, Gilbert page 1155:

We seem to be very near the bleak choice between War and Shame. My feel­ing is that we shall choose Shame, and then have War thrown in a lit­tle lat­er on even more adverse terms than at present.

Inci­den­tal­ly, the date on WSC’s let­ter to Lord Moyne was was Sep­tem­ber 11th.

It is often believed that Churchill addressed a sim­i­lar remark to Neville Cham­ber­lain direct­ly after Munich. It appears not so. William Manchester’s The Last Lion, vol. 2, which quotes the Moyne remark on page 334, goes on to state (364):

In almost any gath­er­ing [after Munich] it would have been indis­creet to remark… “Churchill says the gov­ern­ment had to choose between war and shame. They chose shame. They will get war too.”

To end with a red her­ring, Churchill is some­times cred­it­ed in this con­text with: “They that can give up essen­tial lib­er­ty to obtain a lit­tle tem­po­rary safe­ty deserve nei­ther lib­er­ty nor safe­ty.” This is tracked to Ben­jamin Franklin. Accord­ing to Bartlett’s, it was a com­mon state­ment dur­ing the Amer­i­can Rev­o­lu­tion, dat­ing to as ear­ly as 1755. If Churchill ever used it, he was quot­ing Franklin.

6 thoughts on “War and Shame

  1. Dr. Steinack­er, right, those were indeed Churchill’s sen­ti­ments, but expressed pri­vate­ly and not they way they are com­mon­ly rep­re­sent­ed. My book, Win­ston Churchill, Myth and Real­i­ty, has a chap­ter on the Aus­tri­an Anschluss, a dis­play of mil­i­tary incom­pe­tence that had Hitler fum­ing as the Wehrma­cht clanked into Vien­na, com­plete with break­downs, mis­com­mu­ni­ca­tions, late arrivals and poor timing—something every­body in the West, includ­ing Churchill, some­how missed. It point­ed to Churchill’s lat­er con­clu­sion that the time to resist was at Munich with the Czechs, not 1939, when they had to face a much more pow­er­ful and per­fect­ed Ger­man war machine.

  2. Even if the quote is not record­ed ver­ba­tim, it express­es in a nut­shell what hap­pened. I am an Aus­tri­an cit­i­zen from a protes­tant fam­i­ly hav­ing moved to Aus­tria, and in 1940 I was twelve. I remem­ber much of the nego­ti­a­tions that – at the time – were all report­ed by the con­trolled Ger­man radio and press. Munich led to the deci­sive error of Hitler, name­ly, of occu­py­ing the remain­ing Czech ter­ri­to­ry, after hav­ing said “we don’t want any Czechs”. He lost all cred­i­bil­i­ty.

  3. He does not. His use of the phrase is as report­ed in my post. He soft­ened his views on Cham­ber­lain after the lat­ter died in late 1940, and, of course, in his post­war mem­oirs.

  4. As I rec­ol­lect, Churchill quotes him­self in “The Gath­er­ing Storm” as say­ing this in Par­lia­ment just after Munich.

  5. Churchills’s defeat at Gal­lipoli in 1915 was the great­est pes­tige loss in his career. In both World Wars it was his idea to use the dead­ly gas. For­tu­nate­ly not used. But also it was his idea to intro­duce the mil­i­tary aid to Turkey against the Stal­in men­ace. He cer­tain­ly was a leader, who rec­og­nized the nazi and com­mu­nist dan­ger in right time.

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