The Pathos of Politics (89-4) Winston Churchill

 Winston Churchill

Words are the only things which last forever. ~ Winston Churchill (“Short words are best, and old words when short are best of all.”)

Winston Churchill (1874–1965) was born into an aristocratic family. Neglected by his parents, Winston became close to his nanny, Elizabeth Ann Everest.

Independent and rebellious by nature, Churchill was a poor student, but he grew to love the English language. In his early years, Winston had some trouble speaking it: he had a lisp and tended to stutter. Churchill overcame these speech impediments to be remembered as a powerful orator, most notably inspiring the public in radio broadcasts to keep a stiff upper lip during the dark days of World War 2.

Winston’s poor academic record convinced his father that a military career was the ticket for his son. On his 3rd attempt, Churchill managed pass the entrance exam to the Royal Military College. Once there, he applied himself, graduating 20th in a class of 130.

During military service, Churchill used family influence to arrange postings to active campaigns. He watched the Spanish fight Cuban guerrillas during the Cuban War.

In India, Churchill was considered one of the best polo players in his regiment. More significantly, Churchill’s courage in combat was unquestionable. He proved it in India, Egypt, and South Africa.

Churchill left military duty in May 1899, and attempted politics upon invitation by the Conservative Party.

On his 1st run for office, Churchill went door to door soliciting votes. An irritable old man answered his door upon Churchill’s knock. Churchill introduced himself. The man said, “Vote for you? Why I’d rather vote for the devil!” “I understand,” Churchill empathetically replied. “But in case your friend is not running, may I count on your support?”

Churchill’s vigorous campaigning did not earn him a seat in the Commons on his 1st try, so he went to cover the 2nd Boer War as a newspaper correspondent. On a scouting expedition with troops, where his gallantry was commendable, Churchill was captured and imprisoned. He escaped, and with a companion traveled 480 km on foot to safety in Portuguese East Africa.

Churchill’s escape made him a minor national hero for a time. Instead of returning home, he rejoined the army in South Africa to fight as part of the cavalry.

In 1900, Churchill retired from the regular army. He gained a seat in the Commons and wrote 2 books on his Boer War experiences. In 1902, he volunteered for the Imperial Yeomanry, a British cavalry regiment.

In Parliament, Churchill looked after the working man. In 1908, Churchill introduced the bill that set up the 1st minimum wages in Britain. The next year he was instrumental in setting up labour exchanges that helped the unemployed find work. Churchill helped draft the 1st unemployment pension legislation in 1911.

The unnatural and increasingly rapid growth of the feeble-minded and insane classes constitutes a national and race danger which it is impossible to exaggerate. ~ Winston Churchill

A supporter of eugenics, Churchill participated in drafting the Mental Deficiency Act of 1913, which institutionalized people deemed “feeble-minded” or “morally defective.” This followed on the 1886 Idiots Act, which made a legal distinction between “idiots” and “imbeciles.”

Churchill favored compulsory labour camps for “mental defectives,” and forced sterilization for the feeble-minded. These measures did not become law.

Churchill resigned from the government and rejoined the British Army in 1915. He did not fight in World War 1 but did expose himself to danger with excursions to the front lines.

The Great War differed from all ancient wars in the immense power of the combatants and their fearful agencies of destruction, and from all modern wars in the utter ruthlessness with which it was fought. ~ Winston Churchill

Churchill saw a sensational rise to prominence in national politics before World War 1; switching from the Conservative to Liberal Party in 1904. But he acquired a reputation for erratic judgment during the war and in the decade that followed. Churchill rejoined the Conservative party in 1924.

In his life, the 2 people to whom Churchill felt the most affection were his nanny and his wife, Clementine; but he regarded women as nothing more than the abettors of men. Churchill had opposed women’s suffrage as “contrary to natural law and the practice of civilized states.” Women were “adequately represented by their husbands.”

In this, and democracy in general, Churchill was reactionary. As late as the 1930s, Churchill wrote newspaper articles advocating the abandonment of “complete democracy,” favoring return to the traditional system that favored “more responsible elements.”

In the House of Commons one day, Churchill observed an elderly MP listening to Stanley Baldwin through an ear trumpet; whereupon Churchill inquired, “Why does that idiot deny himself his natural advantage?” (of being hard of hearing).

As Chancellor of the Exchequer, Churchill oversaw Britain’s disastrous return to the gold standard in 1925, which caused deflation, unemployment, and led to the General Strike of 1926. Though returning to the gold standard was a popular move at the time, several economists, including Keynes, who was consulted before the decision was made, foresaw dire consequences. Churchill later called the gold standard decision the greatest mistake in his life.

Very few men are able to make more than one really bad mistake. ~ Winston Churchill

Politically suspect in consequence, Churchill was a lonely public figure for over a decade.

Of all the talents bestowed upon men, none is so precious as the gift of oratory. Abandoned by his party, betrayed by his friends, stripped of his offices, whoever can command this power is still formidable. ~ Winston Churchill

Tribal to the core, Churchill lacked a general humanitarian streak.

I am strongly in favour of using poisoned gas against uncivilised tribes. ~ Winston Churchill

This from a man who hated communism because of “the bloody and devastating terrorism which they practice in every land into which they have broken.” Needless to say, Churchill’s reading on the rise of imperial Britain may have been a bit biased.

We are for the ladder. Let all try their best to climb. They [socialists] are for the queue. ~ Winston Churchill

Born with a silver spoon in his mouth and using his position of privilege to the hilt as a young man, Churchill had no taste for socialism.

One might as well legalise sodomy as recognise the Bolsheviks. ~ Winston Churchill

From the Russian Revolution on, Churchill was concerned about communists and “the schemes of the International Jews”: a “sinister” worldwide conspiracy by “atheistical Jews” to “overthrow civilisation.”

Tell your boss that anti-Semitism may be a good starter, but it’s a bad sticker. ~ Winston Churchill to Hitler associate Putzi Hanfstaengl in 1932

Churchill favored the Japanese invasion of Manchuria in 1931.

I hope we shall try in England to understand the position of Japan, an ancient state. On the one side they have the dark menace of Soviet Russia. On the other the chaos of China, 4 or 5 provinces of which are being tortured under communist rule. ~ Winston Churchill

Churchill opposed Gandhi’s peaceful resolve to end British rule in India, proclaiming in 1920 that Gandhi “ought to be lain bound hand and foot at the gates of Delhi, and then trampled on by an enormous elephant with the new Viceroy seated on its back.”

I hate Indians. They are a beastly people with a beastly religion. ~ Winston Churchill

Though he spoke often of the danger in letting Germany rearm after the Great War, Churchill’s attitude toward fascism was ambiguous.

If I had been an Italian, I am sure I would have been entirely with you from the beginning to the end of your victorious struggle against the bestial appetites and passions of Leninism. ~ Winston Churchill to Benito Mussolini in 1927

Churchill continued to praise Mussolini until 1937. In contrast, against Hitler’s Nazis, Churchill was adamant.

If I had to choose between communism and Nazism, I would choose communism. ~ Winston Churchill in 1937

English Conservative politician Neville Chamberlin was prime minister from May 1937 to May 1940. His response to the rise of Nazism was appeasement.

An appeaser is one who feeds a crocodile, hoping it will eat him last. ~ Winston Churchill

In September 1938, Chamberlain went to Germany, where he and France’s head of state agreed to Hitler’s many demands, including ceding the Sudetenland, which were areas in Czechoslovakia heavily populated by Germans. In this, appeasement meant leaving Czechoslovakia defenseless.

Chamberlain returned to England a popular hero. He spoke of “peace for our time,” while nonetheless ordering the acceleration of British war preparations.

Chamberlain repudiated his placation policy when Hitler seized all of Czechoslovakia. When Hitler attacked Poland, Britain declared war on Germany (3 September 1939).

Churchill’s political isolation ended that day. Chamberlin appointed Churchill to his previous post in charge of the Admiralty.

Don’t talk to me about naval tradition. It’s nothing but rum, sodomy and the lash. ~ Winston Churchill

Though the navy was essential to the initial wartime missions, Chamberlin got blamed for early military defeats, and resigned 10 May 1940: the day that Germany invaded the Low Countries. Chamberlin wanted his foreign secretary, Lord Halifax to succeed him, but Halifax declined.

From there it was obvious that Churchill was the only one who could unite and lead the nation. A coalition government was formed, leaving out only the elements on the far left and right. Besides prime minister, Churchill also took the post of minister of defence.

A haunted, morbid being, who, to their eternal shame, the German people in their bewilderment have worshipped as a god. ~ Winston Churchill on Adolf Hitler

On 13 May 1940, Churchill addressed the House of Commons for the 1st time as prime minister. He warned of the hard road ahead: “I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears and sweat.”

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. ~ Winston Churchill to his Cabinet in 1940

The situation for Britain was dire. Some wanted to negotiate peace, but Churchill committed himself and the nation to all-out war until victory was achieved.

We shall never surrender. ~ Winston Churchill

Halifax thought Churchill “foolish,” dismissing his adamant resistance to exploring peace as “the most frightful rot.”

Halifax’s virtues have done more harm in the world than the vices of hundreds of other people. ~ Winston Churchill

Churchill’s erratic judgment never left him. In 1938, he criticized the Hurricane and Spitfire fighter planes which would save England in 1940.

Churchill was initially convinced that armored ships were practically invincible against bombers. He persisted in believing, contrary to experience, that resistance movements inside occupied countries could be effective. During the war, Churchill ordered studies of chemical warfare as a reprisal scheme for destroying German towns one by one.

The wielding of power keeps men young. ~ Winston Churchill

That Churchill was an inspiring war leader, working well with Parliament, is doubtless. The war energized Churchill, who was 65 when he became prime minister.

If Hitler invaded Hell, I would make at least a favourable reference to the Devil in the House of Commons. ~ Winston Churchill

France fell like a house of cards, leaving Britain the sole bulwark against Germany until 1942, when Hitler attacked the Soviet Union, and the United States joined World War 2 following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor (7 December 1941).

The coalition government broke up in May 1945, just before the war was won. Churchill lost the election that followed, spending the next 6 years as leader of the opposition.

Churchill became prime minister again in the general election of October 1951. His domestic priorities went toward workers’ well-being and improving housing.

Domestic affairs were overshadowed by a series of foreign policy crises which stemmed from Britain’s decline as a world power. Though Churchill proclaimed that he would “not preside over a dismemberment” of the British Empire, that was exactly what he did, even as he fought against it.

Churchill fostered the “special relationship” that the UK had with the US. He visited America 4 times during his 2nd term as prime minister.

Though his physical and mental health was declining – having suffered a series of strokes from 1949 – Churchill hung on as prime minister until 1955. Sunk into the melancholy of old age, he reluctantly retired from Parliament altogether in 1964.

When Churchill stepped down from office for the last time, he lost focus, becoming slower, deafer. He nostalgically spent hours listening to recordings of his speeches.

Churchill suffered a severe stroke in mid-January 1965 and expired shortly thereafter, dying 70 years to the day after his father’s death. He was 90 years old.

Once asked whether he was flattered by the crowds drawn to his speeches, Churchill reflected, “It is quite flattering, but whenever I feel this way I always remember that, if instead of making a political speech I was being hanged, the crowd would be twice as big.”