February 28, 2015

Finest Hour 157, Winter 2012-13

Page 04

Myth of the “Black Dog”

I couldn’t disagree more with Carol Breckenridge’s “The Myth of the ‘Black Dog’” (FH 155: 28). I have a bit of manic-depression myself, and so do most of my family members. That’s why I’m able to recognize it in Churchill.

The author’s assertion that you can’t be productive if you are manic-depressive is completely absurd. In fact, it’s the exact opposite of the truth. I have a family member with the syndrome who has written over a thousand articles that have been published in medical journals. If anything, we’d probably prefer if he were less productive!

I’d like to see an article providing the counter-argument. Raising awareness about the condition could go a long way to removing the stigma and making it easier for people who need it to get help.

Ms. Breckenridge replies: It is difficult to tell exactly what in my article you disagree with. I was specific in using the DSM criteria that mental health professionals employ in order to make a bi-polar diagnosis and applying them to what is known about Churchill’s life. One can be anxious but still not qualify for a diagnosis of anxiety disorder, or depressed without a diagnosis of major depression. If I omitted facts about Churchill’s life or got facts wrong, you do not identify them.

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I do not wish to suggest that people with bi-polar disorder cannot lead productive lives. Of course they can, and do. Medication now available helps to level out the crushing swing between mania and depression and reduce the extremes in their moods. Churchill however was not simply productive—he was a self-described “glow-worm” of productivity. As a mental health professional I too would like to see the stigma of mental illness removed. I don’t believe the way to do that is by labeling a historic figure like Churchill as having bi-polar disorder when the facts of his life do not fit the DSM criteria.

Myth of the Centre

The Churchill Centre is fundamentally a Churchill adoration society. Mr. Churchill’s views on eugenics and even sterilization of human beings he referred to as “feeble minded,” his abhorrent intolerance of Islam and the Muslim people, his insulting attitude toward Gandhi, his opposition to the independence of the sub-Indian continent [sic], and his constant emphasis on the role of the English-speaking peoples as if the French and Brazilians and Portuguese and Spanish among others cannot and do not play equally important roles, do not receive the attention which they should by the Churchill Centre.

These unfortunate views of his are all quoted in your very own well edited book Churchill in His Own Words, but not popularly discussed either by The Churchill Centre or by Churchill scholars. Nor does it appear that The Churchill Centre wishes to take a look at these very untoward views and ideas. The Churchill Centre shop sells nothing which would indicate to anyone that Mr. Churchill had many flaws, and grievous ones at that, in the respects to which I make mention.

Editor’s response: Why Churchill should have cared about the Brazilians and the Portuguese any more than Don Quixote cared about the English eludes us. But perhaps you should read our publications more carefully.

Any organization whose subject is an individual, from Mark Twain to Mickey Mantle, is in the nature of things positive; else why bother to found the organization? Nevertheless, to quote the scholar Paul Addison: “I am glad to see TCC presenting diverse viewpoints. Paradoxically, I always think it diminishes Churchill for him to be regarded as super-human.” And John Ramsden: “TCC has been anxious to foster study of Churchill’s life and significance in the round, rather than simply providing further evidence for the man’s admirers.”

And Warren Kimball: “Finest Hour has come a long way from its cozy origins as a newsy little trivia sheet, replete with hagiography and anecdotes, before it moved toward analytical yet entertaining looks at Churchill and what he did, [taking him] from the clutches of the worshipful and giving him over to the appreciative.”

Now, about that reading. See for example: “Churchill the Great? Why the Vote Will Not Be Unanimous,” FH 104: 15 and “Churchill’s Flaws and Mistakes,” FH 99: 37. “Churchill and Eugenics,” FH 152, stated: “Churchill’s intentions were benign, but he was blundering into sensitive areas of civil liberty” (http://bit.ly/V241mG).

His remarks on Islam, black South Africans and the Indian sub-continent appeared in Finest Hour long before my book—along with certain other remarks which hardly suggest intolerance:

“[The Muslim Dervishes] were as brave men as ever walked the earth. The conviction was borne in on me that their claim beyond the grave in respect of a valiant death was not less good than that which any of our countrymen could make” (FH 85). “British government is associated in the Boer farmer’s mind with violent social revolution…. the Kaffir is to be declared the brother of the European, to be constituted his legal equal, to be armed with political rights…nor is a tigress robbed of her cubs more furious than is the Boer at this prospect” (FH 105). “Mr. Gandhi has gone very high in my esteem since he stood up for the Untouchables….Tell Mr. Gandhi to use powers that are offered and make the thing a success” (FH 106).

The Churchill Centre shop is run by a dealer who donates a portion of his sales to TCC, but I’m sure that if you could reproduce the famous Nazi papier mache jug, showing a constipated Prime Minister straining over a chamber pot, they’d happily take several dozen.

It is easy to be wise in retrospect. And in retrospect you are wise indeed. Churchill was human. He was a Victorian. He used words like “Kaffir” and “blackamoor” because most people in his time and place did. But he thought more deeply about the nature of man than any comparable figure. Please don’t misrepresent our work by casting it as labors of the worshipful, rather than the appreciative.

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