Finest Hour 115, Summer 2002
John Updike’s “Remember the Lusitania” in the July 1st New Yorker reminded us of what Churchill said during the 1897 Malakand expedition: Everybody was shot at without result:
“To what extent was Winston Churchill, First Lord of the Admiralty, distracted from his duties in the U-boat war by his cherished, though ill-advised, campaign to seize the Dardanelles? He was off in Paris concluding an agreement on the use of the Italian Navy in the Mediterranean when the Lusitania sank.… Churchill’s commitment to the safety of noncombatant shipping was less than keen: three months before the sinking he wrote to the President of the Board of Trade that it was ‘most important to attract neutral shipping to our shores in the hope especially of embroiling the USA with Germany…For our part, we want the traffic—the more the better; if some of it gets into trouble, better still.’”
Numerous historians have recorded that the Dardanelles campaign was not so much ill-advised as ill-managed; and it does not seem to have occurred to Mr. Updike that RMS Lusitania was not “noncombatant shipping.” We are left with an indiscreet remark in a private letter—testifying mainly to Churchill’s curious determination to win wars—which letter Mr. Updike wouldn’t even know about, had the Churchill family kept the papers locked up. We could do with more of Churchill’s indiscretion and determination at the moment. —EDITOR
The Atlantic Monthly for July/August published a few weak criticisms of Christopher Hitchens’s April article (FH 114:12-13), then allowed Hitchens a half page to respond. As Churchill said, “Just K.B.O.” So we responded again:
Mr. Hitchens continues to insist that Norman Shelley delivered Churchill’s 4 June 1940 “Fight on the Beaches” speech over the BBC. Now he bases his claim on a 1990 sound analysis by a Cambridge, Massachusetts firm, Sensimetrics. But what they were analyzing could not be Churchill’s speech!
Why not? Because Churchill—contrary to James Humes in this same letters column—never delivered his “Beaches” speech on the radio. Countless witnesses and memoirists have stated that a BBC announcer read only excerpts. Churchill did broadcast later speeches—personally. Private Secretary John Colville, who was present at each, said: “If anyone else had delivered them, I would have known it.”
What then was Sensimetrics analyzing? According to scholar Stephen Bungay, writing in FH 112, the British Council asked Churchill to record the “Beaches” speech after the war: “Churchill suggested they use an actor instead. Shelley did the recording, Churchill heard it, was much amused, and gave his approval….It is not known for sure when, if at all, his recording was used.”
Mr. Hitchens’s reply to our point that Germany, not Britain, first bombed civilians in World War II is that he meant “between London and Berlin.” (So Britain should have tolerated the flattening of Rotterdam and Warsaw as long as the Nazis didn’t bomb London?) He adds that the Germans bombed Madrid in 1936, at a time “when Churchill was still on their side in Spain.” (Churchill had taken no side, believing the Spanish Civil War a distraction from the real danger, Germany.) Instead of admitting he had Norman Shelley’s “Children’s Hour” role wrong, Hitchens says that Shelley played another role in another program.
To Professor Paul Kennedy of Yale, who wrote in to cite the Royal Navy’s heroic pursuit and sinking of the Graf Spee under Churchill as First Lord of the Admiralty, Hitchens replied that this was not a “premeditated fleet action” like the attack on the French fleet in Oran in July 1941. (If not, what was it?)
The Atlantic continues to publish falsehoods about Winston Churchill. Why? It is clear to one and all that Mr. Hitchens hasn’t done his homework, and tries to cover himself by dissembling. But here we deal with facts‚—and facts are stubborn things.
—THE EXECUTIVE COMMITTEE OF THE CHURCHILL CENTER