March 15, 2015

Finest Hour 160, Autumn 2013

Page 04

Finest Hour 159:

Lady Thatcher and “AMB”

Thank you for your sensitive tribute to Baroness Thatcher. Her name, like that of the man she admired, will remain bright in the annals of history when all her detractors are deservedly forgotten.

I loved your tribute to Margaret Thatcher, and remember that 1993 Churchill conference so well. Do they still have the great camaraderie of those days? At the British embassy reception, I spoke with lady Thatcher briefly about the Bosnian issue and complimented her on her stand. She said she had visited the Holocaust Museum that day and what an important symbol it was. I think this is in my introduction to Martin Gilbert’s speech. Thank you for mentioning it.

Thank you for the wonderful remembrances of lady Thatcher and Sir Anthony. You so skillfully “painted a portrait” of each that I felt like I was able to say that I had known them personally. Your writing ability is well known and you called upon it most effectively in these two articles.

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What a superb issue (as usual). I would be grateful if you would kindly send: (a) copy of the many references to lady Thatcher in Finest Hour, 1983-2007; (b) copy of Anthony Montague Browne’s remarks and the response by Lord Soames to the Churchill’s England tour in 1985 (FH 50).

loved the latest edition, as always. We are off to see Shelagh Montague Browne in Kent next month. What a star she is, and the service she arranged for Anthony M-B at St. Clement Danes (central church of the RAF) was a triumph. He would have thoroughly approved of it all, and Celia Sandys spoke beautifully. Lady Soames read a lesson, which was very kind of her. It was a good turnout to say farewell to a brave man.

Editor’s response: Thanks for the kind words. Please note that the material requested by Dr. Gaunt and Ms. Lewin is always available by email.

The Way the Land Slides

My compliments on issue 159.  It is full of fascinating, well-written pieces. I’m enjoying reading it. One juxtaposition reminded me of an interesting exchange awhile ago with Sir Martin Gilbert and others. On page 31 you remark on the many changes since 1901, especially in language.

Then on the next page, Churchill himself refers to the “innumerable grammatical imperfections” floating around in 1901, concluding: “It should be every journalist’s ambition to write pure, correct English.” (What would he think of English in 2013?)

But what prompts this note is Christopher Beckvold, in his finely crafted piece on Churchill and Foreign Policy (pp. 36-40), noting the “liberal landslide victory in the January 1906 general election” (37). This reminded me that in The World Crisis in 1923, Churchill described that same event as “a Conservative landslide”!

Remember? That sentence sent you, Sir Martin, Ronald Cohen and others racing to learn how Churchill of all people could possibly have made such a mistake, or whether it was an editing error.  You found that “landslide” in those days meant a huge loss, not a triumph, as in the earth sliding downhill. Interestingly, Webster’s cites a 1926 definition for landslide as an election win by a heavy majority. So Churchill’s comment in 1923 may have been one of the last instances of the usage of the term in its original meaning.

I just found it fascinating and wanted to share this with you. It also illustrates to me how much we miss Sir Martin’s active involvement.

“Argo” and Canada

Reading about the “Argo” film (“Britain Helped Too,” FH 159: 8-10) I was moved to send you a Canadian perspective. One never looks to Hollywood for historical fact, but even Ben Affleck was disturbed by Canadian reaction to his movie and the laughable, egregious errors of fact.

While “Argo” was good entertainment, it was severely panned in this country for very good reasons. Affleck was so concerned that he requested a meeting with Ken Taylor (our ambassador to Iran during the 1979 hostage crisis and honorary chairman of ICS Canada) to enquire as to what changes he would make. Ambassador Taylor graciously wrote an addendum which was added to the end of the movie making some corrections.

Since 1979 Ken Taylor has always eschewed any heroic role, but if one listened closely you could discern how truly dangerous the situation was for the many days he housed and looked after the Americans. Flora MacDonald, then Canadian Secretary for Foreign Affairs, has been more descriptive of the bravery of Taylor and his staff and has talked of the “difficulty of dealing with the Americans.” The plan to get the U.S. staff out was delayed repeatedly, but at Taylor’s urging she asked our prime minister to call President Carter and emphasize the need to act.

President Carter himself criticized the film after receiving an honorary degree at Queens University in Kingston, Ontario last November:

“Yes, the CIA was involved, but it was the Canadians who did the planning, it was the Canadians who took all the risks, it was the Canadians who exhibited outstanding bravery, and our country will be forever grateful to them. No one else could have done what the Canadians did.”

The lesson in all this is: never let the facts get in the way of a good story!

Editor’s response:Any editor of FH quickly becomes very sensitive to the frequent underplaying of Canada’s role in fighting the good fight, particularly in World War II. But I didn’t have that impression about “Argo.” Perhaps that’s because I know Ken Taylor, saw the addendum, and made allowances for typical ahistorical Hollywood interpretations. What I didn’t know until the eruption in England was how the British embassy played a heroic role. The end result reminds us of Winston Churchill’s 1943 injunction at Harvard: “If we are together nothing is impossible. If we are divided all will fail.” We could use some of that spirit today.

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