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Honoring Winston Churchill on his 136th Birthday

Posted by B. Daniel Blatt at 2:40 am - November 30, 2010.
Filed under: Great Men,World History

As I’m returning today from San Francisco where I celebrated the 2nd anniversary of the California red-head mentioned in this post, I have not had time to write an original post celebrating Winston Churchill, so will repost the piece I wrote last year to make the occasion.  At the end, I added a bit about his first day as Prime Minister.

Today marks the 136th anniversary of the birth of the greatest man of the century concluded just about a decade ago.  On November 30, 1874, Winston Leonard Spencer Churchill was born at Blenheim Palace.  His father was Lord Randolph Churchill, his mother the former Jennie Jerome, the second daughter of the American financier Leonard Jerome.  His very parentage thus embodied the special relationship between the United States and United Kingdom.

Indeed, it was Churchill himself who coined the term to describe the relations between the two powerful Anglophone democracies.

Like a red head born almost exactly 134 years after him, Churchill was two months premature.  (The combination of those two characteristics must be a sign of greatness!)  Like that young Californian, the great Briton had trouble sitting still, traveling to Cuba, India, Sudan and South Africa to fight for his country (and sometimes dubious causes) before his 30th birthday.  He would write about his experiences; his books would earn him fame and fortune.

First elected to parliament in 1900 as a Tory, he broke with his party over tariffs, preferring free trade and the Liberals.  He would rejoin the Conservative Party in 1925, staying with the Tories, through his two terms as Prime Minister and until the end of his life.  Noting that Churchill “stood for Parliament under six labels,” one of his biographers, Paul Johnson wrote that “He was not a party man. . . .  His loyalty belonged to the national interest, and his own.

And Churchill saw the British national interest clearly linked to that of the United States and Western democracies.

While forever associated with the two great wars of the last century, the man himself may well have enjoyed the thrill of battle, but he was well aware of the horrors of war and did his utmost to prevent it.  A warmonger he clearly was not, though he did understand that war was sometimes necessary to prevent even worse evils.

Even before World War II had begun, he “warned in speech and print that it would be a catastrophe for humanity.”  Indeed, it may well have been a worse catastrophe than it was had he as First Lord of the Admiralty in the early 1910s not built a whole new class of warship, the largest ever built at that time, in order to maintain British naval superiority over the (even then-) rapidly rearming Germans.

When, a quarter century later, the Germans, under an even more diabolical leadership, started rearming once again, Churchill, no longer at Admiralty, but instead in the political wilderness, found his pleas to respond aggressively unheard, ignored or dismissed.  In the 1930s, he was a lone voice warning against the Nazi threat.  Had Europeans listened to him, the continent likely would have been spared a great catastrophe and tens of millions of people would have not seen their lives cut short.

Churchill well understood the maxim attributed to the Roman military writer Publius Flavius Vegetius Renatus, “If you want peace, prepare for war.”

After standing virtually alone in the 1930s, he would rally a nation in the 1940s and lead it to victory:

In 1940, upon taking the helm of the British government, he rallied a nation, fearful for its future, its survival even, after the swift defeat of its European allies as the Nazis & their allies enslaved nearly all of continental Europe.

Through it all, he never faltered, always held firm, believing that as dark as things appeared, the West would triumph, victory was on the horizon. He stood up to the naysayers of his day and stood strong against tyranny, defending Western civilization and the long English tradition of freedom under the law. He was a friend of the Jews and other then-oppressed peoples.

A blog post does not allow enough space to fully appreciate the greatness of this man.  I haven’t even touched on his great wit or included a sampling of his marvelous prose and his wise and often caustic quips. Even Johnson’s biography at 175 pages doesn’t do him justice.  The official Churchill biography runs to 8 volumes, not counting the 3 volumes of war papers.

Let me conclude this post with a passage from my even shorter post on this anniversary three years ago:

On this his birthday, let us be inspired by Sir Winston, cognizant of the threats to our freedom and of the power of a great man to lead and inspire a nation with an understanding of his nation’s history (indeed of world history) and a commitment to its traditions, values and freedom, a recognition of the enduring legacy of Western Civilization.

UPDATE for 2010:  Returning from Buckingham Palace after the King officially named him Prime Minister on May 10, 1940, W.H. Thompson, Churchill’s bodyguard, sat silently with the then-new head of British government.    In Five Days in London:  May 1940, historian John Lukacs reports how Thompson broke the silence:

“I only wish the position had come your way in better times for you have an enormous task.”  Tears came into Churchill’s eyes.  He said to Thompson:  ”God alone knows how great it is.  I hope it is not too late.  I am very much afraid it is.  We can only do our best.”

Churchill the faced a challenge that few in history have faced.  And he met it first with tears and then steely resolve.  Advice to us all.  This great man knew the magnitude of the task he faced.  He was not joyful when he achieved the object for which he had long striven.   He acknowledged his fears.

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18 Comments

  1. “Some see private enterprise as a predatory target to be shot, others as a cow to be milked, but few are those who see it as a sturdy horse pulling the wagon. ”

    -Sir Winston Churchill

    Comment by ThatGayConservative — November 30, 2010 @ 2:53 am - November 30, 2010

  2. We need a Winston Churchill in this country now.

    All we have in charge is a Neville Chamberlain.

    Regards,
    Peter H.

    Comment by Peter Hughes — November 30, 2010 @ 10:31 am - November 30, 2010

  3. Neville Chamberlain demands (well politely requests, it is Chamberlain after all) an apology for the negative comparison.

    Comment by The_Livewire — November 30, 2010 @ 10:53 am - November 30, 2010

  4. Churchill was the single greatest person of his century, and the most to be admired.

    Comment by man — November 30, 2010 @ 12:37 pm - November 30, 2010

  5. Well, This calls for a cigar.

    It amazes me, if you look back and read the histories you see a lot of these great men had a sense of destiny and spoke openly about it before they were even in power. I don’t see that quality in any modern leaders.

    Then again I don’t think we have any great men any where near the seats of power right now.

    Mr. Blatt, Teach your little red head to be a good person, to read and learn every chance that he can and to know that sometimes a fight is necessary even if running away seems easier.

    I think I am going to go watch “the gathering storm” great movie about Winston and the build up to WW2.

    And in Winston’s words “K.B.O.” – keep buggering on! =)

    Comment by Stone K — November 30, 2010 @ 12:38 pm - November 30, 2010

  6. Now, if only he and FDR had stomped on Stalin….

    Comment by ThatGayConservative — November 30, 2010 @ 2:55 pm - November 30, 2010

  7. Churchill was ill at Yalta, and although Churchill tried, he was unable to persuade Roosevelt about Stalin.

    Comment by man — November 30, 2010 @ 3:28 pm - November 30, 2010

  8. Stone–that is a great movie. I own the DVD!!!

    Comment by B. Daniel Blatt — November 30, 2010 @ 4:05 pm - November 30, 2010

  9. #8 – lol I have a small ww2 movie collection I have been working on for a few years, and I am not being modest, it only numbers maybe 10 movies (I spend more on books) and it was one of the first DVDs I bought (I started collecting DVDs late). I go to my friends house if I need a WW2 hit, High def, Surround sound and more movies than I can shake a stick at. Granted his wife now polity accepts the fact we bounce around like small kids when we watch BoB or Patton.

    If your ever in London, check out the War Cabinet rooms. Pretty nifty and near downing street.

    Comment by Stone K — November 30, 2010 @ 4:15 pm - November 30, 2010

  10. Winston Churchill WAS a warmonger. He did everything he could to drag the United States into WWII, holding secret meetings with FDR on just what was necessary to get the American people to support involvement in another bloody, European, war that had nothing to do with America.

    Churchill is no hero to me and shouldn’t be to anyone. Nor should FDR, who flat out lied to the American people about wanting to stay out of WWII.

    Comment by Brian — November 30, 2010 @ 4:50 pm - November 30, 2010

  11. @Brian . . . I imagine you would have applauded Hitler’s march into Czechoslavia and Poland. Killing Jews, gays, gypsies and anyone else he wanted? Maybe even turned in your neighbor because he was a jew? History is full of appeasers. Better red than dead, eh Brian?

    Comment by man — November 30, 2010 @ 5:41 pm - November 30, 2010

  12. ” ‘We need a Winston Churchill in this country now.

    All we have in charge is a Neville Chamberlain.’

    Regards,
    Peter H.”

    Here, here! Amen! Right on, bro!

    Comment by Seane-Anna — November 30, 2010 @ 8:34 pm - November 30, 2010

  13. @Brian, ” …ihr ausweis bitte !!”

    Comment by Ted B. (Charging Rhino) — November 30, 2010 @ 10:27 pm - November 30, 2010

  14. I visited Blenheim Palace about four years ago. We were taken through the room where Churchill was born. The bed he was born in is still there. It is a modest chamber, small and simple compared to the rest of the Palace. It was sobering to be there in that room.

    I never knew that he liked to write “greeting cards”. That he was also an artist. I knew very little of him prior to that visit, and I regret my ignorance.

    Blenheim is a spectacular place, Churchill a complex and amazing man.

    Comment by Ladysforest — December 1, 2010 @ 12:15 am - December 1, 2010

  15. Peter: no matter what you think of the man (and I have significant contempt for him myself), Neville Chamberlain was an educated and intelligent man who had spent years as a working politician, public servant, and businessman. Serving in office since 1918, he had been at times a MP, Chancellor of the Exchequer, and Secretary of Health before eventually becoming PM. Before his election, he spent 17 years as a managing director in a naval engineering company and had been trained as an accountant. He also served on Birmingham’s Planning Committee (one of the first in the nation) and was eventually elected to Lord Mayor of Birmingham.

    I’d like to see where Barry O.’ s ‘achievements’ stack up in any way shape or form to those of PM Chamberlain. He’d barely qualify to carry Chamberlain’s briefcase.

    The only places there’s true congruency are social: both men thought that their own personal ‘legend’ was more important than their duty to their nation; and both men stand convinced that anyone who disagreed with them was not just wrong, but a mental inferior and an enemy to be attacked.

    Comment by DaveP. — December 1, 2010 @ 12:35 am - December 1, 2010

  16. My hero. When in London, England, visit the Churchill Museum and Cabinet War Rooms.

    http://www.iwm.org.uk/

    Comment by Ben — December 1, 2010 @ 8:46 pm - December 1, 2010

  17. You should have a favorite Churchill quote contest- here is my vote:

    “One ought never to turn one’s back on a threatened danger and try to run away from it. If you do that, you will double the danger. But if you meet it promptly and without flinching, you will reduce the danger by half. Never run away from anything. Never!”
    Winston Churchill

    Comment by Jim in St Louis — December 4, 2010 @ 3:40 am - December 4, 2010

  18. #17 – My favorite Churchill quote, and it is dedicated to our resident socialist trolls (hello, Evileene and Kevvie):

    Clement Attlee, Labour leader, was in the men’s room at the House of Commons when Churchill entered and went to the far end of the row of urinals, away from Attlee.

    Attlee: “Winston, I know we’re political opponents, but do we have to carry our differences into the WC?”

    Churchill: “Clement, the trouble with you Socialists is that anytime you see anything big and robust, you tend to nationalize it.”

    Hear, hear! ;-)

    Regards,
    Peter H.

    Comment by Peter Hughes — December 6, 2010 @ 10:36 am - December 6, 2010

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