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Media Matters

MEDIA MATTERS: FINEST HOUR 136, AUTUMN 2007

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Get it Right! Max’s Dad is Not WSC; WSC is Misquoted Again

ATLANTA, AUGUST 29TH— In a recent column, we attributed a quote about winning and losing to Max Cleland’s father. We withdraw the attribution. The former U.S. Senator left us a voice mail message informing us that the quote we heard him utter during a short speech in Norcross roughly twenty years ago actually belonged to Winston Churchill. Here’s the quote: “Defeat is never fatal. Victory is never final. It’s courage that counts.”

Oh well, 20 years is a long time. At least we didn’t credit the quote to Chairman Mao.

—BEN SMITH ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION

Unfortunately, Mr. Smith, we regret to advise that this is a double misquote. Not only did Churchill never say those words—he never said the similar words more usually attributed to him, which are: “Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.” We base this on careful research in the canon of fifty million words by and about Churchill, including all of his books, articles, speeches and papers.

Churchill did say: “No one can guarantee success in war, but only deserve it.” (Their Finest Hour, London: Cassell, 1949, 434). And he did say: “Success always demands a greater effort.” (Note to Robert Menzies, same volume, page 541). Max Cleland is a friend of ours…so we are sure he will by happy to learn this!

Iraq’s Dad was WSC; in a Manner of Speaking…

PORTLAND, MAINE, AUGUST 30TH— In an Iraq editorial in the Portland Press Herald, one Bob Harrison wrote: “The political entity of Iraq dates only from the early 20th century decisions by Winston Churchill and colleagues to impose a western solution on the very old problem of Mesopotamia. The ancient Sunni-Shiite enmity, familiar to even casual students of history, is rooted deeply enough to doom vastly more aggressive nation-building projects than Bush’s feeble effort.”

Mr. Harrison, you need to be a less casual student, by immersing yourself briefly in Churchill Proceedings and Finest Hour, for example.

The imposing of King Feisal on Iraq by Churchill in 1922 was not so much a “western solution” as a product of its time. Asked by Chris Matthews at our 2003 Churchill Lecture why Churchill believed a foreign monarch was the solution for Iraq, Professor David Fromkin, author of A Peace to End All Peace: The Fall of the Ottoman Empire and the Creation of the Modern Middle East, replied:

“While Churchill himself was a monarchist, in the world in which he grew up, that is what you did. When it was decided, just before the First World War, to create an independent state of Albania, an intrinsic part of the thing was to find it a king….As for Feisal, there was a general feeling at the time that when you brought in a king for a new country, it ought to be somebody who is not from that country—not involved in its feuds. You look for an outsider and a unifier.” [Churchill Proceedings 2000-2003.)

Attempts to draw lessons for today in Churchill’s Iraq experience are doomed to failure, Professor David Freeman suggested in Finest Hour 132, because the situations are entirely different. “For example, everything about Britain’s Middle Eastern policy [in 1922] was based on one paramount and, as it turned out, erroneous assumption: that Britain would indefinitely control India…Thus the shape of the modern Middle East was largely determined by an assumption that became false almost as soon as the 1922 settlement had been reached.”

While the character of the inhabitants still offers food for thought, Freeman said, the judgments of 1922 are not valid eighty-five years later. 

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