May 22, 2013

Finest Hour 147, Summer 2010

Page 5


Quotation of the Season

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“No view of society can possibly be complete which does not comprise within its scope both collective organisation and individual incentive. The whole tendency of civilization is, however, towards the multiplication of the collective functions of society. The ever-growing complications of a civilization create for us new services which have to be undertaken by the State, and create for us an expansion of the existing services.

Churchill’s French

Pofessor Warren Kimball offers this insight into Churchill’s own view of his French skills (see James Lancaster, “Churchill’s French,” FH 138:30), which he found in Kuter’s Airman at Yalta (Boston: Little Brown, 1955):

Roosevelt teased Churchill about WSC’s speech in Paris on 11 November 1944, when he told the French the British would equip twenty-five more French divisions with American equipment. Churchill at first denied the charge, then responded:

“Whatever I said in Paris, I said in French, and I never know what I’m saying when I talk in French, so pay no attention to it.”

Coining History

LONDON, MAY 13TH— By 2090 future generations will no longer recognise Winston Churchill, according to a survey marking the 70th anniversary of Churchill taking over as prime minister. The survey was commissioned by the Royal Mint, which is issuing a £5 Churchill coin.

Over 1100 people were asked to identify black and white head photos of three prominent 20th century prime ministers: WSC, Margaret Thatcher and Tony Blair. Nineteen percent failed to name Churchill, the figure rising to 32 percent aged 25-34 and 44 percent aged 16-24.

Researchers then extrapolated the rough date when the leaders would no longer be recognised, with Churchill’s demise predicted in eighty years.

Almost all could identify both Blair and Thatcher, but recognition dropped significantly for ages 16-24: 16 percent did not recognize the latter and more than a quarter the former. If this downward trend were to continue, Tony Blair will vanish from public consciousness by 2075, followed by the Iron Lady in 2115.

The survey saw Churchill mistaken for Stephen Fry, Robert Hardy, Michael Gambon, Charlie Chaplin, Oliver Hardy, John Betjeman and Roy Hattersley. One person identified Tony Blair as David Cameron.

George Jones, Emeritus Professor of British Government at the London School of Economics, said: “There’s a complex combination of factors at play when it comes to maintaining prime ministerial longevity and being remembered as a great British leader. For long-lasting impact and to cement your position in the public consciousness, certain character and personality traits such as potency and decisiveness must be apparent and proven crisis-handling demonstrated.”

Kevin Clancy, head of Historical Services at the Royal Mint, added: “It’s shocking that one of our greatest statesmen runs the risk of potentially being forgotten. Churchill remains an historical colossus and is arguably one of the nation’s greatest Britons. It’s fundamentally important that we commemorate our heritage for future generations to celebrate, and to mark the seventy years that have passed since he was first named Prime Minister we’re immensely proud to have designed a new £5 coin featuring an iconic Churchillian image, to help his memory live on.”

FH‘s opinion: I tend not to worry too much about recognizing photos, which is what this article was about. I am more concerned about recognizing the person for who they were and what they did. I could not pick out a photo of William Pitt, but I know what he did.

It is a bit different for the U.S. because many of its past leaders are on money. Everyone knows what Lincoln, Washington, Jefferson, Franklin or Jackson looked like. I could probably pick out John Adams, but if someone showed me a picture of James Madison (who wrote the Constitution) I probably could not.

Plus Ca Change

LONDON, MAY 12TH— Readers of Finest Hour may like to be reminded that Prime Minister David Cameron’s action in forming a coalition with the Liberal Democrats has a Churchillian precedent.

On returning to office in 1951 Churchill invited the leader of the Liberals, Clement Davies, to join the government as Minister of Education. Davies’s Liberal colleagues were opposed to this and the plan fell through. The main difference between 1951 and 2010 is that in 1951 Churchill and the Tories had an overall majority of seventeen without the Liberal MPs, of whom there were only six. It can of course be argued that having been a prominent figure in both parties at different stages of his career, Churchill was nevertheless a kind of coalition in himself of Liberal and Tory elements.

McChrystal Reading

WASHINGTON, DECEMBER 2ND— President Obama’s decision to send 30,000 more U.S. troops to Afghanistan signifies a dramatic turning point for the U.S. and coalition mission there, Army Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal told his staff in Kabul today.

McChrystal, commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, cited British Prime Minister Winston Churchill’s November 1942 speech following the allied forces’ victory over Axis troops at the Second Battle of El Alamein. “I think we are at an inflection point” in Afghanistan, McChrystal said. Paraphrasing Churchill, he added: “I don’t think this is the end. I don’t even think it’s the beginning of the end. But I do believe it’s the end of the beginning.”

Coalition forces, McChrystal said, are providing the Afghan government and its citizens the “time, space, and capability to defend their sovereignty.” Allies and enemies, he said, will watch avidly as the surge of forces into Afghanistan gets under way. And, as the surge builds, McChrystal vowed to confront Taliban and al-Qaeda insurgents “with even greater vigor.”

Yet, U.S. and coalition assistance in the training and development of more Afghan soldiers and police “is the most important thing we do in the future” in Afghanistan, McChrystal said. To achieve true victory over the insurgents, he said, Afghanistan must eventually be defended by the Afghans themselves. Meanwhile, “a tremendous amount of things are going to happen, and they are good things that are going to happen.”

In a statement released today, McChrystal acknowledged that many challenges confront U.S. and coalition forces in Afghanistan. However, “neither the Afghan people nor the international community want Afghanistan to remain a sanctuary for terror and violence,” he said in the statement.

“The coalition is encouraged by President Obama’s commitment, and we remain resolute to empowering the Afghan people to reject the insurgency and build their own future,”
McChrystal stated.

Note: McChrystal has since resigned, but see also page 22.

Never Return

LONDON, MARCH 2ND— A reader wrote the Telegraph that “Churchill spoke three languages of the Afghans…. Churchill’s final words in 1897 were, ‘Never return to fight in Afghanistan again. If we do, the whole Muslim world will turn against the British.'”

Churchill spoke no “languages of the Afghans,” and we could not find this quotation, or fragments of it, or similar sentiments (he would have used the word “Mohammedan,” not “Muslim”). In any case, it’s quite a jump, even if he said something like this. Pakistan has been more with us than against us over Afghanistan and aside from the usual suspects, Iran etc., most of the Muslim world doesn’t seem to care. Afghanistan is not really in the Middle East, but our favourite quote of WSC on that area (FH 137) speaks to McChrystal’s formulation:

“The Middle East is one of the hardest-hearted areas in the world. It has always been fought over, and peace has only reigned when a major power has established firm influence and shown that it would maintain its will. Your friends must be supported with every vigour and if necessary they must be avenged. Force, or perhaps force and bribery, are the only things that will be respected. It is very sad, but we had all better recognise it. At present our friendship is not valued and our enmity is not feared.”

Churchill on Attlee

LA QUINTA, CALIF., APRIL 29TH— I just completed Emory University Professor P. Allitt’s Teaching Company course, “The Rise and Fall of the British Empire.” It was superb: interesting and informative; and I learned a great deal.

I was however dismayed at Allitt’s including canards about how Churchill regarded Attlee (lecture 29). They were vastly different personalities and their views at great variance, but their relations were marked by mutual respect, particularly in the World War II coalition government.

Particularly galling is the misquote about an empty car driving up and Attlee getting out. According to Sir John Colville (quoted in Rees’ Sayings of the Century), Churchill unequivocally denied saying that: “Mr. Attlee is an honourable and gallant gentleman, and a faithful colleague who served his country well at the time of her greatest need. I should be obliged if you would make it clear whenever an occasion arises that I would never make such a remark about him, and that I strongly disapprove of anybody who does.”

Geoffrey Best in Churchill: A Study in Greatness, while not offering the exact quote, recounts that Churchill was indignant about misattributions which implyed a lack of regard for Attlee, and instructed Colville “expressly to deny them” (page 304). Unsurprisingly, Richard Langworth, in his Churchill By Himself, page 571, classed the empty car line as a “red herring.”

Dresden Revised

DRESDEN, MARCH 18TH— Nazi claims that as many as 500,000 people died during the Allied bombing of Dresden in the Second World War were exaggerated, a group of German scientists has concluded. Official estimates by the local authorities after the end of the war estimated the number of dead to be around 25,000. But far-right groups claimed that up to 500,000 people were killed in the attack, by 1300 British and American bombers between 13-15 February 1945.

Critics claim that the attack constituted a war crime which had no strategic aim since Germany was already close to defeat and the targets were civilian not military. Now, five years of research by a team of historians from Dresden Historians’ Commission confirms that 25,000 died in the celebrated baroque city.

FH’s opinion: The late Kurt Vonnegut would be astonished to be classified among the “far right.” (In Slaughterhouse V, Vonnegut used a war veteran to recite the Nazi Dresden death count.) Indeed, the same people who complain that Churchill didn’t bomb Auschwitz (see again Sir Martin Gilbert, Finest Hour 145: 20-21) often bewail the bombing of Dresden.

This is another disproving of a “Leading Churchill Myth”—that Churchill personally ordered the bombing of Dresden—demolished by Sir Martin Gilbert in our Fifth Churchill Lecture in Washington in October 2005 (*

In floating this theory, critics always omit the overriding point. What was that point? It was to beat Hitler. There was a little thing called a war going on, and the object was to win it, and thus end it. It’s really just a side issue that the Russians not Churchill wanted Dresden bombed; that Attlee gave the order; that Churchill didn’t even know of it until Stalin confronted him at Yalta.

Similar obfuscation attends Churchill’s and Roosevelt’s “sin” of leaving Eastern Europe to be communized (see Ted Hutchinson’s review, page 53). Eisenhower, when criticized in 1952 for failing to take Berlin, remarked: “[N]one of these brave men of 1952 have yet offered to go out and pick the ten thousand American mothers whose sons would have made the sacrifice to capture a worthless objective.” [Worthless? —Ed.]

Perhaps these decisions were right or wrong in hindsight. At the time, they were moral obligations: if hitting Berlin would shorten the war, hit it. If nuking Japan would save thousands of Chinese a day, not to mention a million American casualties, nuke it. Churchill knew what Civil War General Sherman said before him: “War is cruelty. There’s no use trying to reform it. The crueler it is, the sooner it will be over.” That also explains why the great democracies have run into so much trouble trying to delay or avoid it.

Historians should coin a word for assigning quotes, events or decisions to well-known people because you’re too lazy to verify them, or because it makes a better story. The crueler the lie, the faster it will be spread—a sentiment of Civil War General Sherman with which Churchill was familiar.

It’s strange, finally, how much of our former enemies’ views are still accepted as history: Goebbels’ myth of Poland’s “weak” resistance in 1939 (FH 145: 39) goes hand in hand with his myth of half a million deaths at Dresden. Alongside those marches the Soviet claim of 20 million war dead, despite persistent rumors and some evidence that Stalin’s purges and starvation policies accounted for a very large number of them.

*A further extension of this nonsense is that Dresden was Churchill’s revenge for the bombing of Coventry, which allegedly he let burn to protect his secret intelligence—also punctured by the faithful Sir Martin. (“Coventry: What Really Happened,” FH 141: 32.)

Forbes Trove Sold

LONDON, JUNE 2ND— Steve Forbes, 62, chief executive of Forbes Inc., is selling his collection of items associated with former British leader Winston Churchill at auctions in London and New York. The Churchill memorabilia, offered in three parts at Christie’s International beginning here today,was expected to raise £1 million ($1.5m).

“My father liked to observe that nothing is forever, including collections,” said Forbes in the foreword to the auction catalog. “Since my immediate family doesn’t share this passion of mine, it seemed fitting and proper to let others have the opportunity and thrill of putting their own collections together, an activity that I enjoyed for some three decades.”

Among the 150 lots of letters, books and photographs on offer in the June sale will be the wartime Prime Minister’s engagement diary, detailing Churchill’s appointments from September 1939 to June 1945. The document, kept by private secretaries, notes the start of the Battle of Britain and meetings with President Roosevelt, Charles de Gaulle and Stalin. In 1940 former assistant private secretary, Eliot Crawshaw-Williams, wrote to the Prime Minister, urging he reach agreement with Hitler. That document, and Churchill’s terse response—”I am ashamed of you for writing such a letter. I return it to you—to burn & forget”—are estimated at £6000 to £8000 respectively. (See below.) The rest of the collection will be offered at auctions in New York and London on December 3rd and in the summer of 2011 respectively.

The first part of Steve Forbes’s Winston Churchill collection including letters, diaries and a trademark cigar was sold by Christie’s in London today for more than £570,000.

Correspondence with colleagues including the exchange with Crawshaw-Williams over seeking peace with Hitler sold for nearly £35,000. In another exchange between the two, but from 31 years earlier when Churchill was president of the Board of Trade, Churchill exposed his views of the suffragettes:

“I am not going to be henpecked on a subject of such importance,” he wrote in advance of a meeting in Manchester, which came at a time of disturbances from campaigners for votes for women. “I hope that you will see that all proper precautions are taken, that no women are allowed in the meeting unless vouched for,” including that “the roofs as well as all cupboards and recesses” be examined.

[Above paragraph edited: Churchill soon supported women’s suffrage, and the campaigners wanted women’s votes, not “women’s rights,” among which WSC was one of the leading advocates. —Ed.]

A Havana cigar that Churchill gave to a fellow diner at the Hotel de Paris in Monte Carlo in 1963 was sold for £2125.

In an account of the Battle of Omdurman, in which Churchill took part as a young soldier, written in September 1898, he described encountering the enemy and being shot at as “the most dangerous two minutes I should live to see.”

The sale also included a less than flattering description of Churchill contained in a telegram written by the Boer police in 1899. It was sent after Churchill escaped from a war prison in Pretoria by vaulting a wall behind the latrines and waiting in an outer garden.

“Englishman 25 years old about 5 foot 8 inches tall medium build walks with a slight stoop,” it read. “Pale features. Reddish-brown hair almost invisible small moustache. Speaks through his nose and cannot pronounce the letter S. Had last a brown suit on and cannot speak one word of Dutch.”

[We doubt very much that this was Churchill’s original, which we last saw framed at Chartwell. —Ed.]

Today’s auction was the first of three conducted by Christies on behalf of Forbes, the grandson of B.C. Forbes, who founded the business magazine that bears their name. The second will take place in New York on 3 December and the third sale, in London, is expected to be held in summer 2011.


The page four masthead on the Spring issue 146 reads number 145, Winter 2009-10. Sorry!

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