In Defense of Churchilliana

To prove that I do not run the risk of running into senility before reaching old age, I think some explanation for precisely why I take such an avid interest in Winston Churchill is needed. It is first and foremost because he was a statesman and not a politician. More to the point, it is because he was a statesman the likes of which we will never see again. To elaborate:

In early 1915, the Western Front having become a charnel house in which a few hundred yards were ordinarily exchanged for tens of thousands of lives, Churchill (then First Lord of the Admiralty) suggested that the Royal Navy force a small waterway separating Asia Minor from Europe, taking Constantinople and knocking the Ottoman Empire out of the conflict. Clement Attlee, a latter day political foe, identified this as the only brilliant strategical idea of the Great War. The proposal was sanctioned by the entire British cabinet and the military chiefs of staff. Yet the British admirals in charge of the Gallipoli campaign (as it came to be known) became hesitant after they bombarded Turkish forts into submission, refusing to carry out the operation when a few of their ships were sunk by mines. Instead, they landed thousands of Australians and New Zealanders on a nearby beach to die at the hands of Ottoman troops, recently reinforced by German officers. All blame for the stalemate was thrown upon Churchill. When a new coalition government was formed later that year, the Conservatives insisted upon his removal from the cabinet. Before voluntarily taking command of a regiment on the front lines of France, Churchill, abandoned by careerist politicians for a failure which was not his own, delivered the following speech in Dundee, his parliamentary constituency:

“All that is past. I did my best. What we must do as a people is unite. The ordinary worker, working for the war effort, the women and children at home, the soldiers in the field. For beyond all this carnage, I see the liberty of Britain, illuminated by the freedom and grandeur of a peaceful Europe. That must be our goal.”

After fighting a lonesome and prolonged parliamentary battle against Neville Chamberlain and his policy of appeasement throughout the 1930s, Churchill eulogized his former nemesis, who had himself fought a prolonged and uncomplaining battle with cancer, with the following words on the floor of the House of Commons in 1941:

“The only guide to a man is his conscience. The only shield to his memory is the rectitude and sincerity of his actions. It fell to Neville Chamberlain in one of the supreme crises of the world to be contradicted by events, to be disappointed in his hopes, and to be deceived and cheated by a wicked man. But what were these hopes in which he was disappointed? What were these wishes in which he was frustrated? What was that faith that was abused? They were surely among the most noble and benevolent instincts of the human heart: the love of peace, the toil for peace, the strife for peace, the pursuit of peace, even at great peril, and certainly to the utter disdain of popularity or clamor.”

As President of the Board of Trade during the 1900’s, he was responsible for erecting the scaffolding of the British social safety net, relying upon the insight into the hardships of ordinary life in major English cities which he had gained from his devoted childhood nurse, Mrs. Everest. As Home Secretary, he traveled to a district of London overrun by armed anarchists, declaring when he was subsequently attacked for supervising the police department’s suppression of the malcontents: “How easy it would be for me to put someone between myself and these problems and let them take the blows. But I will never take that cowardly route. Let them come again and again. For I know what I do is right.”

In short, you show me a contemporary politician who is capable of such courage, self-sacrifice, eloquence, and largeness of heart, and I will shut up about Winston Churchill.

“Moral of the life: In War, Resolution. In Defeat, Defiance. In Victory, Magnanimity. In Peace, Good Will.”

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