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Shall We All Commit Suicide?

Winston Churchill and the Scientific Imagination

Churchill is an equal-opportunity prophet: “Under sufficient stress—starvation, terror, warlike passion, or even cold intellectual frenzy—the modern man we know so well will do the most terrible deeds, and his modern woman will back him up”

Finest Hour 94
by Paul K. Alkon

Much has been written about the administrative side of Churchill’s long and important involvement with science. As First Lord of the Admiralty in 1911, Churchill presided over great advances in warship armament, speed, and endurance that he himself describes in a very technical chapter of The World Crisis ironically entitled “The Romance of Design.” (1) Historians have noted other influential activities ranging from his encouragement of military aviation, tank development, and chemical warfare during the First World War through his concern as Prime Minister with radar, rockets, proximity fuses, asdic, atomic research, and other facets of what in his memoirs of World War II he fancifully calls “The Wizard War.” Well known are Churchill’s singular friendship with his scientific mentor, Professor Lindemann, and his role in the establishment of Churchill College at Cambridge University as a center for the study of science—upon continuing mastery of which, Churchill insisted in one of his last speeches, depended England’s future.

Far less remarked is the imaginative core of Churchill’s relationship with scientific ideas and their technological consequences. But even such phrases as “Wizard War” and “The Romance of Design” are telling clues to the fact that the possibilities of modern science stirred his vivid imagination no less than his powerful intellect. Imaginative engagement with science was one of Churchill’s fundamental traits. It is perhaps the feature of his mind and writing that best allows us to understand his remarkable flexibility in dealing with the staggering changes that he confronted in moving to the Atomic age from his origins as a Victorian cavalry officer whose entire curriculum at Sandhurst, as he ruefully noted long afterwards, consisted of “Tactics, Fortification…Mapmaking, Military Law…Military Administration…Drill, Gymnastics and Riding.” (2) Had Churchill not on his own gone far beyond this education for Colonel Blimphood to grasp imaginatively the social and military implications of twentieth-century science, it is likely that the Battle of Britain, the Second World War, and with it human history, would have taken a very different and disastrous course. And that (as he warned in his most famous speech) could have plunged our planet into “the abyss of a new Dark Age made more sinister, and perhaps more protracted, by the lights of perverted science.” Far from clinging (as some charge that he did) to Victorian dreams of progress brought about by the march of science, Churchill was quicker than most to discard the underlying Enlightenment equation of reason, science, and Utopia. A key text is “Shall We All Commit Suicide?” first published in the September, 1924 number of Nash’s Pall Mall magazine, issued also that year as a separate pamphlet (omitting “All” from the title) by the Eilert Printing Company in New York, adapted within the conclusion of The Aftermath in 1929, reprinted in Churchill’s 1932 collection of essays Thoughts and Adventures I Amid These Storms, and in 1948 quoted early in The Gathering Storm, volume one of The Second World War. Reprinted from the Eilert version in 1994 by ICS, this essay is available from Churchill Stores. Churchill begins “Shall We All Commit Suicide?” with an irritating truth not universally acknowledged: “The Story of the human race is War. Except for brief and precarious interludes, there has never been peace in the world; and before history began, murderous strife was universal and unending.”^ He meliorates this Hobbesian vision of human relationships only to the extent of remarking that “up to the present time the means of destruction at the disposal of man have not kept pace with his ferocity” (3). Churchill devotes the rest of the essay to explaining why, thanks mostly to “Science on the Side of War,” humanity confronts for the first time the possibility of annihilation: “It was not until the dawn of the twentieth century of the Christian era that War really began to enter into its kingdom as the potential destroyer of the human race” (4). After glancing at the new machinery of death employed in World War I, and also providing a miniature alternate history by explaining how much more devastating the campaigns of 1919 would have been had not the Armistice intervened to prevent deployment of improved weapons—a topic on which there is in The World Crisis an entire chapter entitled “The Unfought Campaign”—Churchill then speculates about the future of explosives: Have we reached the end? Has Science turned its last page on them? May there not be methods of using explosive energy incomparably more intense than anything heretofore discovered? Might not a bomb no bigger than an orange be found to possess a secret power to destroy a whole block of buildings—nay to concentrate the force of a thousand tons of cordite and blast a township at a stroke? Could not explosives even of the existing type be guided automatically in flying machines by wireless or other rays, without a human pilot, in ceaseless procession on a hostile city, arsenal, camp, or dockyard? (8-9). After dwelling with equal prescience on future possibilities of chemical and bacteriological weapons, and on social conditions likely to foster such warfare, Churchill winds up by suggesting, not very hopefully, that “disasters compared to which those we have suffered will be but a pale preliminary” can only be averted by strengthening the League of Nations, which “raises feebly but faithfully its standards of sanity and hope”. (11) What stands out in “Shall We All Commit Suicide?” is Churchill’s inclination to imagine—and invite readers to imagine—future science and alternate pasts. Both are staples of science fiction. Both recur in Churchill’s writing frequently enough to be characteristic features of his style, though not in every text. (His only free-standing alternate history is “If Lee Had Not Won the Battle of Gettysburg.” This, however, is a classic of its genre.) (8) Most of Churchill’s alternate histories are embedded in other texts, sometimes over several pages, sometimes in compressed form as in the sentence about a “new Dark age” in his “Finest Hour” speech, and a paragraph in The Aftermath outlining how Britain would have fared had she, not Germany, been defeated in World War I. (9) In The World Crisis there is much speculation on how World War I might have ended more quickly with far fewer casualties had the Gallipoli campaign been fought more aggressively by admirals and generals on the spot, and had tanks been initially deployed en masse rather than dribbled onto the battlefield in quantities too small to be decisive. In Churchill’s hands, as in much science fiction, alternate pasts are sometimes used not only to identify what he calls in The Aftermath “turning points” or “hinges of Fate” (390, 466) and to suggest what depended on them, but also as invitations to think about Utopian or dystopian futures. Churchill’s chapter on “The Unfought Campaign” of 1919 is in a decidedly dystopian mode, culminating in a horrific Wellsian vision of an offensive that never was but might yet be, as Churchill once imagined it and now invites his readers to imagine it: ‘My mind amid a vivid life of movement and activity always rested on one picture of the future: 10,000 fighting tanks, large and small, specially adapted to the ground they had to travers, moving forward simultaneously behind the artillery barrage on fronts of assault aggregating 300 or 400 kilometres; behind them, working with them, British, French and American infantry; and behind these again, 10,000 caterpillar vehicles unarmed and unarmoured, but each carrying forward across country, over fields and trenches, all the food, ammunition, kit and supplies of every kind which one platoon would require, while the roads remained clear and free for the advance of artillery and reserves. If the Armistice dream is Churchill’s Utopia lost, his and our impending dystopia is outlined with passages of Orwellian power in “Fifty Years Hence,” an essay first artillery and reserves.” (The World Crisis 1916-18, II: 217). published in the December 1931 Strand and included in 1932 along with “Shall We All Commit Suicide?” in this “picture of the future” that Churchill says obsessed him while serving as Munitions Minister in 1918 stands as a prophetic warning that everything in it and more might yet take place in the reader’s future if peace cannot somehow be established by political settlements better than the Versailles treaty. Before turning in The Aftermath to his blistering critique of Woodrow Wilson and other leaders at the Versailles conference who succeeded only in aggravating rather than removing conflicts that could lead to another world war, Churchill indulges in a Utopian alternate history presented in the venerable form of a dream- vision: “one of the many Armistice Dreams” (The Aftermath, 7). In it Wilson, Clemenceau, and Lloyd George, instead of delaying as they did in the real world, meet promptly after 11 November 1918—and with better political preparation at home by Wilson. They decide that “the new instrument of world-order should be armed with the new weapons of science.” They establish for that purpose a new “International Air Force” whose pilots— mostly World War I aces—will be (Wilson says enthusiastically) “the new nobility.” This, Clemenceau suggests, will be in effect to revive ‘”the old Orders of chivalry like the Knights Templars and the Knights of Malta to guard civilization against barbarism'” (The Aftermath, 11-12). Shortly after this exchange, Churchill ends his vision of a past that never was and a future that never will be with a conventional account of the dreamer—here himself—awakening again to dismal reality: “the spell broke. The illusion of power vanished. I awoke from my Armistice dream, and we all found ourselves in the rough, dark, sour and chilly waters in which we are swimming still” (The Aftermath, 12).

Churchill’s vision of a nobility of the air as enforcer of a new world order is if anything more Wellsian than H.G. Wells, though one thinks of The War in the Air (1908), and especially of The World Set Free (1914) with its air- craft, atomic bombs, and reconstitution of society after nuclear Armageddon. To review Churchill’s Armistice dream is to understand better the Utopian impulse under- lying his eloquent tributes in 1940 to The Few—”these young airmen…going forth every morn to guard their native land and all that we stand for…of whom it may be said that ‘Every morn brought forth a noble chance / And every chance brought forth a noble knight.'” (10)

Thoughts and Adventures I Amid These Storms. This essay has rightly been identified as “a kind of acid test of Churchill’s relevance,” offering, in addition to predictions, “a diagnosis of the predicament of modern man.” (11) Again Churchill’s premise is that “this power called Science” has now accelerated the pace of change and come to dominate humanity in unprecedented ways: “None of the generations of men before the last two or three were ever gripped for good or ill and handled like this.” (12) Accordingly the remote past is no guide to the future. Would-be prophets must discard methods employed by historians in favor of scientific extrapolation: There are two processes which we adopt consciously or unconsciously when we try to prophesy. We can seek a period in the past whose conditions resemble as closely as possible those of our day, and presume that the sequel to that period will, save for some minor alterations, be repeated. Secondly, we can survey the general course of development in our immediate past, and endeavour to prolong it into the near future. The first is the method of the historian; the second that of the scientist. Only the second is open to us now, and this only in a partial sphere. By observing all that Science has achieved in modern times, and the knowledge and power now in her possession, we can predict with some assurance the inventions and discoveries which will govern our future. We can but guess, peer- ing through a glass darkly, what reactions these discoveries and their application will produce upon the habits, the outlook and the spirit of men.” (Thoughts and Adventures, 273). his remarkable passage deserves wider currency. It shows that Churchill, for all his immense industry and well-deserved reputation as a conventional historian, was acutely aware that the modern period—thanks largely to science—was in crucial respects an unprecedented break in the continuity of human history and accordingly demanded new modes of historiography, including the occasional practice of future history: accounts (as best they can be constructed) of what has not yet happened. (13) Here Churchill applies to the task of writing future history a scientific (and science fictional) mode of imagination via extrapolation rather than a conventional historian’s method of looking to the past for archetypes.

What results is portrayal in “Fifty Years Hence” of Utopian, the other dystopian. Churchill’s Utopia is an amusing pastoral vision of teeming cities transformed into uncrowded countrysides whose inhabitants enjoy gardens and glades, “Wireless telephones and television,” vat- grown chicken breasts, and other “synthetic food.” Because this is, after all, a Churchillian Utopia, readers are assured that the “the pleasures of the table” will remain available: “That gloomy Utopia of tabloid meals need never be invaded. The new foods will from the outset be practically indistinguishable from the natural products, and any changes will be so gradual as to escape observation” (Thoughts and Adventures, 276). But this gardener’s and gourmet’s paradise is less persuasively elaborated than Churchill’s Orwellian nightmare, introduced by allusions to Olaf Stapledon’s Last and First Men (1931) and Karel Capek’s Rossum’s Universal Robots (1920), of humanity first falling into spiritually empty materialism and ultimately displaced altogether by a post-human race of bio-engineered android slaves serving a power-hungry despotism. (14) “The production of such beings may well be possible within fifty years.They will not be made, but grown under glass. There seems little doubt that it will be possible to carry out in artificial surroundings the entire cycle which now leads to the birth of a child. Interference with the mental development of such beings, expert suggestion and treatment in the earlier years, would produce beings specialized to thought or toil….A being might be produced capable of tending a machine but without other ambitions” (Thoughts and Adventures, 277). To Churchill, unusually alert as he was to the possibilities of real science, even if a little off in his estimate of when artificial gestation might be fully realized, Capek’s science fiction classic was no mere political parable or fanciful prophecy unrelated to reality, but rather a stimulus to an even more sobering exercise of future history with an important moral for the present.. The key to all futures, Churchill suggests, will be atomic energy: “Nuclear energy is incomparably greater than the molecular energy which we use today…There is no question among scientists that this gigantic source of energy exists. What is lacking is the match to set the bonfire alight, or it may be the detonator to cause the dynamite to explode. The Scientists are look- ing for this” (Thoughts and Adventures, 274). Given such prospects, the social outcome—Utopian or dystopian— will depend on humanity’s psychological and moral qualities.

On this issue Churchill is an equal-opportunity prophet: “The nature of man has remained hitherto practically unchanged. Under sufficient stress—starvation, terror, warlike passion, or even cold intellectual frenzy—the modern man we know so well will do the most terrible deeds, and his modern woman will back him up” (Thoughts and Adventures, 279). As in “Shall We All Commit Suicide?” Churchill urges his readers to consider the consequences of clinging to old attitudes. He argues eloquently that human survival depends on setting aside selfish materialism in favor of developing our capacities for “Mercy, Pity, Peace and Love” (Thoughts and Adventures, 279).

That was Churchill’s policy. It is neither his fault nor his preference that he was destined to be famous, not as an advocate of mercy, pity, peace, and love, but as the Prime Minister who could only offer blood, toil, tears, and sweat. In “Fifty Years Hence” his all too well justified fore- boding culminates in an apocalyptic vision of science misapplied by tyrannies for dehumanizing purposes: In a future which our children may live to see, powers will be in the hands of men altogether different from any by which human nature has been moulded. Explosive forces, energy, materials, machinery will be available upon a scale which can annihilate whole nations. Despotisms and tyrannies will be able to prescribe the lives and even the wishes of their subjects in a manner never known since.

In the end a race of beings was evolved which had mastered nature. A state was created whose citizens lived as long as they chose, enjoyed pleasures and sympathies incomparably wider than our own, navigated the inter-planetary spaces, could recall the panorama of the past and foresee the future. But what was the good of all that to them?….No material progress, even though it takes shapes we cannot now conceive, or however it may expand the faculties of man, can bring comfort to his soul” {Thoughts and Adventures, 280). Stapledon’s panoramic future history stimulated Churchill’s literary as well as moral imagination.

“If to these tremendous and awful powers is added the pitiless subhuman wickedness which we now see embodied in one of the most powerful reigning governments, who shall say that the world itself will not be wrecked, or indeed that it ought not to be wrecked? There are nightmares of the future from which a fortunate collision with some wandering star, reducing the earth to incandescent gas, might be a merciful deliverance. ” -Churchill: Thoughts and Adventures, 1932 time began. If to these tremendous and awful powers is added the pitiless subhuman wickedness which we now see embodied in one of the most powerful reigning governments, who shall say that the world itself will not be wrecked, or indeed that it ought not to be wrecked? There are nightmares of the future from which a fortunate collision with some wandering star, reducing the earth to incandescent gas, might be a merciful deliverance (Thoughts and Adventures, 278). Here Churchill is sublime. Readers are taken in imagination beyond our planet’s problems to its end. This fearful vision is placed within a moral framework that invites us against all our instincts and vanity to consider that end as a possible blessing. This variety of what I would call the science fictional sublime is rare in Churchill’s writing but nevertheless altogether characteristic.

It is no late development. A similar invitation to con- sider future catastrophes on an astronomical scale appeared before 1900 in Churchill’s novel Savrola, which he began writing in 1897 and published first in serial form in Macmillan’s Magazine in 1899 before its appearance as a book. In one episode its protagonist, an idealized self-portrait of the young author, gazes at Jupiter through a telescope. Then, as that “beautiful…world of boundless possibilities enthralled his imagination,” he thinks of “the incomprehensible periods of time that would elapse before the cooling process would render life possible on its surface, of the slow, steady march of evolution, merciless, inexorable,” and arrives at a “mournful conclusion”: even if biological evolution there leads to some kind of extraterrestrial Utopia, eventually and inexorably “the cooling pro- cess would continue; the perfect development of life would end in death; the whole solar system, the whole universe itself, would one day be cold and lifeless as a burned-out firework.”15 This sublime meditation might almost be a précis of the far future scenes of a dying planet in an expiring solar system at the end of H. G. Wells’s The Time Machine (1895).

In Savrola Churchill provides in concise form an elegant variation on one apocalyptic theme of that great scientific romance: the prospect that—thanks to the iron determinism of thermodynamics—human history, and thus all individual achievements, will ultimately be rendered meaningless by the oblivion into which they will be plunged by the final extinction of life everywhere. If that is to be the case, both works invite their readers to won- der, what then (sub specieaeternitatis) is the point of ambition or achievement? Why should a politician—or for that matter anyone—live strenuously?

Elsewhere too, as I hope the passages of Utopian and dystopian speculation that I have singled out here sufficiently demonstrate, there are many striking imaginative affinities linking Winston S. Churchill with science fiction. His quarrels with H. G. Wells have often been remarked, especially their acrimonious disagreements over the British Empire, which Wells despised and Churchill defended, and their discord over what Churchill rightly saw as Wells’s naive approval of the Soviet Union. ” Far less familiar is Churchill’s lavish praise of Wells as an “unquestionably great English writer.” This magnanimous phrase is from Churchill’s essay on H. G. Wells in the Sunday Pictorial of 23 August 1931 where, after castigating again (and as usual) Wells’s political views, Churchill turns to invite appreciation of “the gifted being to whose gay and daring fancy and to whose penetrating vision so many of us owe so much”: I am a great reader of Wells. It must be more than thirty years ago that I first discovered his Select Conversations with an Uncle….I responded at once to his intellectual stimulus and literary dexterity; and when I came upon The Time Machine, that marvellous philosphical romance, not unworthy to follow at some distance, but nevertheless in the train of, Gulliver’s Travels, I shouted with joy. Then I read all his books. I have read them all over since. I could pass an examination in them. One whole long shelf in my small library is filled with a complete edition….Here is entertainment and frolic. Here are shrewd ideas of peace and war. Here are prophecies of the future, not a few of which we have lived to verify and endure. (17) “I am a great reader of Wells….I responded at once to his intellectual stimulus and literary dexterity; and when I came upon The Time Machine, that marvellous philosophical romance… I shouted with joy. Then I read all his books. I have read them all over since. I could pass an examination in them. “-Churchill: “H. G. Wells,” 1931 Churchill’s enthusiasm in this panegyric, which continues for several paragraphs, reveals mental and stylistic affinities, shared tastes and concerns, even more than direct personal influences. These are the tones of someone who has discovered a kindred spirit, but not the reaction of someone whose life or writing was greatly changed as a result of the encounter.

A similar though more subdued appreciation of affinities appears apropos the history of tank development in The World Crisis, where Churchill discusses the advent of the tank. He notes that although the idea of an armored land vehicle had a long history, and could not be credited to any one individual including himself, it was nevertheless undeniable that H. G. Wells, “in an article written in 1903, had practically exhausted the possibilities of imagination in this sphere.”18 Clearly Churchill had been much taken with Wells’s story “The Land Ironclads.” This piece, like Wells’s other science fiction, may have in some measure influenced Churchill’s writing and thinking, but it is more likely to have provided a kind of ratification of directions in which Churchill was being independently led by his own powerful imagination to envision more clearly than most of his contemporaries the military and social implications of science.

The Sunday Pictorial essay also goes on to express preference for Wells over Jules Verne on grounds that Wells belongs mentally to the twentieth century even though he (like Churchill) got started as a writer late in the Victorian fin de siècle milieu:

Jules Verne delighted the Victorians….He showed them the possibilities of science applied to the nineteenth century. Wells took up his work in the twentieth, carried it much further in a far more complex scene; and Wells saw the bloody.accomplished fact, illustrating his pages while their ink was wet.”1^ In this matter of Wells versus Verne, as on so many other more weighty issues, Churchill shows himself at home if not altogether happy in the post-Victorian world. His sympathies are for writers, whatever their chronological roots, who remain a vital part of the twentieth century. The subtleties of elite avant-garde modernists like T. S. Eliot, Henry James, and Jarries Joyce had notoriously little appeal for Churchill. But he was much more responsive to—and familiar with—those science fiction masters like H.G. Wells, Karel Capek, and Olaf Stapledon who, arguably in a century so dominated by the applications of science, dealt with themes of more pressing urgency and greater philosophical moment.

Churchill’s ability and willingness to adopt the forms of science fiction as he did, though in smaller and more scattered doses, is an insufficiently appreciated sign of his literary versatility, skill, and power. Not least, Churchill’s imaginative affinity with so many techniques, themes and writers of science fiction is a significant measure of his openness to the future, of his capacity to imagine the social consequences of science, and thus of his remarkable ability not only to survive in but to shape for the better the twentieth century.


  1. Winston S. Churchill, The World Crisis 1911-1914 (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1924), pp. 125-48.
  2. Winston S. Churchill, The Second World War, Vol. II: Their Finest Hour (Boston, Houghton Mifflin, 1949; reprinted 1985), pp. 337-52.
  3. See R. F. Harrod, The Prof: A Personal Memoir of Lord Cherwell (London: Macmillan, 1959); Frederick, second Earl of Birkenhead, The Professor and the Prime Minister: the Official Life of Professor F. A. Lindemann, Viscount Cherwell (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1962); Thomas Wilson, Churchill and the Prof (London: Cassell, 1995); and on Churchill’s speech at Churchill College see Martin Gilbert, Winston S. Churchill: Vol. VIII Never Despair 1945-1965 (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1988), p. 1302-3.
  4. Winston S. Churchill, My Early Life: A Roving Commission (1930; reprinted: New York: Macmillan/Scribner’s, 1987), p. 43.
  5. Winston S. Churchill, “Their Finest Hour” (Speech delivered first to the House of Commons and then broadcast, June 18, 1940), published in Blood, Sweat, and Tears (New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1941), p. 314.
  6. Winston S. Churchill, Shall We Commit Suicide? (1924; reprinted by the International Churchill Societies, 1994), p. 3. Subsequent page citations to this edition will appear parenthetically in my text. The 1924 Eilert Printing Company pamphlet, of which the 1994 ICS edition is a photographic facsimile, dropped the word “All” from the title, which in other printings of the entire essay during Churchill’s lifetime appears as Shall We All Commit Suicide? He evidently preferred the slightly longer and much more arresting title.
  7. Winston S. Churchill, The World Crisis 1916-1918, Part 2 (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1927), pp. 193-217. Subsequent page citations to this edition will appear parenthetically in my text.
  8. See Paul Alkon, “Alternate History and Postmodern Temporality,” in Time, Literature and the Arts: Essays in Honor of Samuel L. Macey, ed. Thomas R. Cleary, English Literary Studies Monograph Series, no. 61 (Victoria: University of Victoria, 1994), pp. 65-85.
  9. Winston S. Churchill, The World Crisis: The Aftermath 1918-1928 (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1929), pp. 221-22. Subsequent page citations to this edition will appear parenthetically in my text identified as The Aftermath.
  10. Winston S. Churchill, “Dunkirk” (Speech in the House of Commons, June 4, 1940), Blood, Sweat, and Tears, p. 293.
  11. James W. Muller, ‘”A Kind of Dignity and Even Nobility’: Winston Churchill’s ‘Thoughts and Adventures,'” The Political Science Reviewer, 16 (Fall, 1986): 297.
  12. Winston S. Churchill, Thoughts and Adventures (1932; reprinted London: Thornton Butterworth, Ltd., Keystone Library ed., 1934), p.270. Subsequent page citations to this edition will appear parenthetically in my text, identified as Thoughts and Adventures.
  13. For the backgrounds of future history as a form of imaginative literature, see Paul K. Alkon, Origins of Futuristic Fiction (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1987).
  14. Churchill mentions the surprise that Karel Capek’s play about robots (in which that term was first used) elicited in London. Olaf Stapledon’s Last and First Men, published in 1931, is not mentioned by name although it is doubtless the work alluded to when Churchill remarks that he “read a book the other day which traced the history of mankind from the birth of the solar system to its extinction. There were fifteen or sixteen races of men which in succession rose and fell over periods measured by tens of millions of years.
  15. Winston S. Churchill, Savrola: A Tale of the Revolution in Laurania (1900; reprinted New York: Random House, 1956), pp. 34-35.
  16. For an excellent survey of relationships between Wells and Churchill that does not, however, dwell on the Wellsian affinities in Churchill’s own writing, see Manfred Weidhorn, A Harmony of Interests: Explorations in the Mind of Sir Winston Churchill (Rutherford, Madison, Teaneck, N.J.: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press; London & Toronto: Associated University Presses, 1992), pp. 25-30, 40-44.
  17. Winston S. Churchill, “H. G. Wells,” in The Collected Essays of Sir Winston Churchill, Centenary Edition, ed. Michael Wolff (London: Library of Imperial History, n.d. [1975]), Vol. 3, Churchill and People, pp. 52-53. The lasting impression made by The Time Machine on Churchill’s imagination is also attested by a conversational remark recorded in 1947 when he was over seventy years old: “Wells is a seer. His Time Machine is a wonderful book, in the same class as Gulliver’s Travels. It is one of the books I would like to take with me to Purgatory.” (Lord Moran [Charles Wilson], Churchill: Taken from the Diaries of Lord Moran, Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1966, p. 352). It is pleasant to know that in Churchill’s view even the burdens of Purgatory may be lightened by a choice library including at least one science fiction classic.
  18. Winston S. Churchill, The World Crisis, 1915 (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1923), p. 69-70.
  19. Churchill, “H. G. Wells,” p. 53.


Dr. Alkon, a Professor of English at the University of Southern California, participated in the Manard E. Pont Seminar, sponsored at Stanford University by the Churchill Center.

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