Churchill’s words: Choosing between War and Shame—and getting both.

Churchill’s words: Choosing between War and Shame—and getting both.

It is fre­quent­ly asked: What did Churchill say about those who trade hon­or for peace hav­ing in nei­ther in the end?

“War and Shame”

There are two quo­ta­tions. The first was Churchill in a let­ter to Lloyd George on 13 August 1938, just before the Munich Con­fer­ence, which led to World War II a year later.

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., The Churchill Doc­u­ments, vol. 13, The Com­ing of War 1936-1939 (Hills­dale Col­lege Press, 2009), page 1117.

“We shall choose Shame, and then have War thrown in”

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.

Coin­ci­den­tal­ly, 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. The venue usu­al­ly cit­ed is the House of Com­mons. But Churchill nev­er so addressed any­one, in or out of Par­lia­ment.  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 before the Amer­i­can Rev­o­lu­tion, made as ear­ly as 1755. If Churchill ever used it (I can­not track that he did), he was quot­ing Franklin.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

RML Books

Richard Langworth’s Most Popular Books & eBooks

Links on this page may earn commissions.