December 28, 2021

Finest Hour 192, Second Quarter 2021

Page 40

By Michael McMenamin

125 Years Ago
Spring 1896 • Age 21
“A Most Agreeable Six Months” 

Churchill admits in My Early Life that, after he returned from Cuba and prior to departing for India in September 1896, he spent the spring and summer in idle pursuits, primarily polo as well as social engagements designed to enhance his prospects for a career in politics:

I now passed a most agreeable six months; in fact they formed almost the only idle spell I have ever had. I was able to live at home with my mother….We played polo at Hurlingham and Ranelagh.…I had now five quite good ponies, and was considered to show promise.

I gave myself over to the amusements of the London Season. In those days English Society still existed in its old form. It was a brilliant and powerful body, with standards of conduct and methods of enforcing them now altogether forgotten. In a very large degree every one knew every one else and who they were.

The few hundred great families who had governed England for so many generations and had seen her rise to the pinnacle of her glory, were inter-related to an enormous extent by marriage. Everywhere one met friends and kinfolk. The leading figures of Society were in many cases the leading statesmen in Parliament, and also the leading spokesmen on the Turf.

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100 Years Ago
Spring 1921 • Age 46
“They Would Naturally Take It Over”

Despite being a committed Zionist, what Churchill wanted most in Palestine was to save money by reducing the number of British troops stationed there. While still Minister of War, he had hoped to reduce the number of troops from 16,000 to 7,000. Now, as Colonial Secretary, he saw that was impossible. Arab riots in Jaffa in early May left thirty Jews and ten Arabs dead. Churchill regarded the Arabs as being at fault and said at the time, “The present agitation is doubtless engineered in the hope of frightening us out of our Zionist policy….We must firmly maintain law and order and make concessions on their merits and not under duress.”

The Arabs wanted two things from the Colonial Office: (1) the abandonment of the Balfour Doctrine and the prohibition of Jewish immigration; and (2) a “representative elective government.” Churchill gave them neither. In a well-received speech in the Commons on 14 June, he explained that “We cannot turn round and march our armies hastily to the coast and leave the inhabitants, for whose safety and well-being we have made ourselves responsible in the most public and solemn manner, a prey to anarchy and confusion of the worst description. We cannot, after what we have said and done, leave the Jews in Palestine to be maltreated by the Arabs who have been inflamed against them….I see no reason why with care and progress there, there should not be a steady flow of Jewish immigrants into the country, and why this flow should not be accompanied at every stage by a general increase in the wealth of the whole of the existing population, and without injury to any of them. That, at any rate, is the task upon which we have embarked, and which I think we are bound to pursue. We cannot possibly agree to allow the Jewish colonies to be wrecked, or all future immigration to be stopped, without definitely accepting the position that the word of Britain no longer counts throughout the East and Middle East.”

Further, Churchill said that Britain would indefinitely suspend the development of a representative elective government in Palestine, “owing to the fact that any elected body would undoubtedly prohibit further immigration of Jews.” A week later, the Canadian Prime Minister asked him if it was the British Government’s aim to give the Jews control of the government in Palestine. Churchill replied that if the Jews over “the course of many, many years” became a majority in Palestine, “they naturally would take it over.”

75 Years Ago
Spring 1946 • Age 71
“I Have Many Links with Scotland”

Upon his return from America, where he had delivered his famous “Iron Curtain” speech, Churchill promptly began, as Martin Gilbert writes, “setting up a research team for the war memoirs and devising a method of work for what were intended to be four or five volumes, and were later extended to six….Whether at Chartwell, in London, or on his travels, work on the memoirs became a feature of Churchill’s daily life.” Nevertheless, the aging Churchill also delivered an average of four speeches a month during the spring of 1946 on a wide variety of topics in England, Scotland, and Europe.

In Aberdeen on 27 April, Churchill received the Freedom of the City. He took the occasion to reflect upon the “Northern Kingdom” and its role in creating the British Empire. Churchill said that the Highland Division was in “the forefront of all the battles by which the British Empire—about which our intellectual nitwits are so bashful—was built up and by which the broadening freedom of the western world was steadfastly maintained. Scotsmen in Scotland and all over the world may cheer their hearts and let their pulses stir as they tell the tales of Highland valour, deathless in the songs and annals of the Northern Kingdom.”

Churchill also used the occasion to reflect upon his own contacts with Scotland: “Although I do not claim any very traceable Scottish ancestry, I have many links with Scotland. I took the precaution of being born on St. Andrew’s Day. I found my wife in Scotland. I commanded the 5th Battalion of the Royal Scots Fusiliers in the Great War and am its Colonel today. I represented in Parliament for fifteen years the home of the Black Watch on the banks of the Tay. And now here today you give me the Freedom of Aberdeen. You will excuse me on this very personal occasion if I dwell upon the contacts and ties which I cherish with the grand race of men bred in the North and respected in every clime.”

Churchill’s speech in Edinburgh two days later about the “Failures of the Government’s ‘Doctrinaire Socialism’” had a much sharper tone. Speaking of the housing shortage, Churchill poked fun at the junior Minister who had proposed a sentence of seven years’ penal servitude for the crime of builders guilty of building or repairing houses without a license. He then pointed out that the Socialist government had exported 1,000 prefabricated houses to Holland rather than use them for homeless British citizens and diverted to France 5,000 prefabricated houses the government had bought in America. He continued: “They talk of seven years’ penal servitude! What sort of sentence should be passed on Ministers of the Crown who are so much more nice than wise that they did not hesitate to inflict hardship and disappointment on so many thousands of families who want to have a hearth and home of their own? But Socialism is like that: in its revolt against the unequal sharing of blessings, it glories in the equal sharing of miseries. I am told of the popular slogan ‘Labour gets things done.’ But surely, in housing at any rate, we can already see that it should run ‘Socialism gets things done in.’”

Speaking at The Hague on 9 May, Churchill outlined what he described as “practical tests by which the virtue and reality of any political democracy may be measured.” “Does the Government,” Churchill began, “in any country rest upon a free constitutional basis, assuring the people the right to vote according to their will, for whatever candidates they choose? Is there the right of free expression of opinion, free support, free opposition, free advocacy and free criticism of the Government of the day?”

Moving on, Churchill asked if Courts of Justice were “free from interference by the Executive or from threats of mob violence, and free from all association with particular political parties? Will these Courts administer public and well-established laws associated in the human mind with broad principles of fair play and justice? Will there be fair play for the poor as well as for the rich? Will there be fair play for private persons as well as for Government officials? Will the rights of the individual, subject to the duties of the state, be maintained asserted and exalted? In short, do the Government own the people, or do the people own the Government? There is the test.”

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