The Place to Find All Things Churchill

Wit and Wisdom




Churchill famously remarked, “I do not hold that we should rearm in order to fight. I hold that we should rearm in order to parley.” Martin Gilbert, said he first heard it in a speech made by Edward Kennedy in the early 1960s, in which Senator Kennedy referred back to Churchill’s phrase of “ten years earlier.” Former Assistant Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz recently referred to Churchill’s using the phrase in 1949.

Sen. Kennedy and Sec. Wolfowitz are close (more than they usually are!). Churchill used the phrase in a broadcast, “Our Political Future,” on 8 October 1951, just before the general election which returned him to power. (Rhodes James, Winston S. Churchill: His Complete Speeches, 8 vols., New York: Bowker, 1974, VI11:8267.


Carlos Rivera is the author of an interesting new book, Leadership: Past, Present & Future (Longwood, Fla.: Power Publications, 2005), which includes several examples of Churchill’s wit and wisdom. Mr. Rivera asked us to provide attribution to several quotations, reminding us of how good they were:

• The most important ability of a politician “…is to foretell what is going to happen tomorrow, next week, next month, and next year—and to have the ability afterwards to explain why it didn’t happen.” Reply to a reporter who asked, in 1902, “What are the desirable qualifications for any young man who wishes to become a politician?” (Halle, Irrepressible Churchill, Cleveland: World, 1966, 30).

• On words and writing: “Broadly speaking, the short words are the best, and the old words best of all.” —London, 2 Nov ’49. “Personally I like short words and vulgar fractions.” —Margate, 10 Oct ’53. (Czamomski, The Wisdom of Winston Churchill, London: Allen & Unwin, 1956.)

• The 1898 cavalry charge at Omdurman: “I never felt the slightest nervousness and felt as cool as I do now.” —4 September 1898, to his mother, Lady Randolph Churchill. (Randolph Churchill, Winston S. Churchill: Youth, London: Heinemann, 1966, 416.)

• “Courage is rightly esteemed the first of human qualities…because it is the quality which guarantees all others.” (On King Alfonso of Spain, Churchill’s book of essays, Great Contemporaries, London: Thornton Butterworth, 1937, ch. 13.)


Vardan Astrid from Bulgaria asked us when Churchill said (of Sir Alfred Bossom): “Neither one thing nor the other!”

According to Kay Halle’s excellent and well-attributed quotations book, Irrepressible Churchill (page 118), Churchill made this remark in 1932, as an aside to a colleague in the House of Commons when Sir Alfred Bossom was speaking. He thought the word “Bossom” was odd because it was neither “bottom” nor “bosom.” Halle notes that Alfred Bossom, a successful modern architect as well as a Member of Parliament, was known for the lavish parties at his house at Carlton House Gardens, London. 


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