Not many years after the Second World War the world had only a hazy memory of the man who may have saved Western Civilization, namely, Winston Churchill. Historians have wondered over the years why the man was not more honored toward the end of his life as he sat, for the most part quiet, in Parliament and awaited his inevitable death. To be sure, his nation remembered him on the day of his burial while millions paid a last tribute to the man whose voice they heard countless times during that awful war telling them to remain calm and carry on. But perhaps they, like the rest of the world, wanted to forget as soon as possible the horrors of that war and thus Churchill was not given the tribute that many, if not all, of his biographers think he deserved. One of those biographers, Geoffrey Best, asks a profound question as he pondered this rather confusing determination to forget:
“One might not lament the end of ‘glory,’ but what about ‘chivalry’ and ‘honour’? There must be improvement of some kind in the fact that the concept of ‘dying for your country’ no longer provides a model of an ideal death; but there may not be much of an improvement in not knowing whether there is anything in your country worth dying for, whether you belong to this country or that, or even whether you belong to any distinctive country at all.”
Since the time of Winston Churchill’s death this question has become more and more pressing as we begin to see that the wars that cost so many lives are often, if not always, fought for the wealthy to become even wealthier and the poor who survive the wars even poorer. The scales have been removed from our eyes as we see more clearly now what it is that makes men and women do what they do — especially in this country in the past few months as a man who is riddled with shortcomings, prejudices, ignorance, and blurred vision, who has no concept whatever of what true patriotism and self-sacrifice involve, has become one of the most powerful men on earth. One asks seriously whether we truly belong to this country.
The terms “great” and “honor” are called into question in a relativistic age as we ponder the pressing questions of how we, too, can become wealthy and where next to find the latest titilation. Chivalry, of course, went out with hooped skirts and the moral high ground has been leveled so no one stands any higher than anyone else. The past is forgotten by people scurrying about like the creatures at Alice’s caucus race, hoping for some sort of tangible reward simply for making the effort: trophies for all participants and find the path of least resistance — but for heaven’s sake, don’t stop and think about what is going on around you!
Men like Winston Churchill were, in fact, great men, because they took advantage to the opportunities offered them and did what they knew had to be done — at great personal risk. Early on he was pilloried by his own countrymen for warning them about the dangers of Naziism, though he was later honored during the war when he rose to great heights; but he is now largely forgotten along with the rest of the men and women who created and sustained Western Civilization. And there don’t appear to be many around able or willing to take his place.
Sorry Hugh, you and I will have to disagree on this one. Churchill’s mess ups in World War One, where as the war minister, he sent thousands of men knowingly to there deaths in Gallipoli. While his public face war all Rah, rah, rah, Rally the Troops and all that bluster, he cared little for the common man in the street as evidenced by his impassioned visits around bombed London. His accolades were always through the ranks of the ‘elite,’ and publicly, we Brits sang his praises, but I wonder if we would have felt the same about him if we had lost the Second World War. There were many atrocities on both sides so we might have seen a totally different view if we had lost. 😢
Thanks for the perspective from your side of the Pond!
Probably just my personal perspective, although my husband largely agrees. We have visited Chartwell, Churchill’s country home from the early 1920’s until his death in 1965. The National Trust owns the house now and keep it as it was then. Churchill was obsessed by all the bling gifts he received over the years…his wealth is displayed throughout the house. There is also a macabre obsession with taxidermy, and animals staring down from walls with fearful expressions. Churchill was a mostly drunken manic depressive, but history tends to gloss this side as a sort of quaint aside to the man’s character. While I would never berate alcoholics, nor people with bipolar disorders for their afflictions, I do not think they are qualities one should have for leadership.
There is a blog site dedicated to ‘crimes.’ It’s writer has seemingly done quite a bit of research on our Mr. Churchill. I haven’t verified it all, but I believe Churchill’s own words are accurately quoted.
We have a very well known news anchor (now retired) called Jeremy Packman who made some nuanced opinions about the scurrilous nature of Winston Churchill that were denounced by the still quite powerful Churchill family. Paxman announced his retirement shortly afterwards. A recent statement by a current MP with similar sentiments especially in regard to Churchill’s anti semetic leanings… He has similarly been scolded.
Sorry to take the wind out of your sales Hugh, but Churchill remains a very controversial figure in our British History.
Hugh, he is only the most important man of the 20th century. To have him pass away without greater acknowledgement is an huge oversight. He led a country to stare down the Nazis alone until the US was pulled in to the war many months after it began. The world owes a debt of gratitude to this heroic man. Keith
Indeed. And yet he is buried in his family plot and was not officially recognized with a monument or even a plaque from the country when he died. Sad, indeed.
Hugh, he may prefer the quiet. One of my old bosses used to quote Churchill in his speeches. I spoke before him once and mentioned he would likely quote Churchill. I said I wanted to be safe and not use his quote, so I quoted Yoga Berra. Keith
Bad typo – Yogi Berra
Winston Churchill had a state funeral at Westminster Abbey which was highly televised. He chose (his pre-death wishes) to be buried near to his aristocratic parents in the family churchyard of Blenheim Palace. I think this hardly makes him any less recognised.
There is a bronze statue of Winston Churchill in Parliament Square. And of course Winston Churchill was a ‘Sir,’ having received the Order of the Garter in 1953 for his war achievements. https://www.nationalchurchillmuseum.org/winston-churchill-knight-of-the-garter.html
I don’t know what other accolades you would like to see?
As it is, the history that Winston Churchill wrote is littered with some unsavoury things. Look up ‘Britain’s Dirty Secret – Athens1944.’ In truth, Churchill murdered a lot of people, and history knows it. I doubt very much that you will see any further recognition bestowed on him.
The horrors of war bring out the worst in people, not the best. We do not find hero’s if we look deeper into the promulgators of war. What we find is only ‘winners’ and ‘losers.’ Both sides have bad people willing to do bad things to others. But when one looks at the average soldier, they are fed propaganda and lies about the other side. The Christmas Day Truce of 1915 shows that sometimes, the common soldier out on the battlefield sees the deception of their leaders who want to fight over borders and land grabs in a constant power struggle that cares little for their peoples.
When I visited Churchill’s gravesite I was struck by the fact that there was no official sign of appreciation from this country of the man’s role in the Second World War — despite the fact that he was one of FDR’s closest friends and a staunch ally of this country. Clearly there are different “takes” on the man and his legacy. But I tend to focus on his role in facing-down Alolph Hitler. He was one of the few major players to have actually read Mein Kampf and knew what a threat Hitler was to the West and, indeed, the world at large. Like him or not, he was a great man.
Ah, but history has twisted turns and as you say, Mein Kampf was a document that outlined a future with little room for anyone not considered Aryan enough for Hitlers Eugenic future. And yes, Churchill saw that which his predecessor Lloyd George did not…
But there is also an element of truth in the 1936 version of events… Russia was a threat. We in the West did not see that either and in fact went on to divide up lands with the Soviet Union after World War Two. This still has major ramifications today.
Churchill, for all his bravado, would not have defeated Hitler without the Americans…and FDR’s commitment to throwing more men into the war. But both men paid a price for that friendship…Churchill got financial backing from America at an enormous payback price for taxpayers; debt that Britain has only just paid back recently! And FDR got to play footsie with the Russians at great cost in the subsequent cold war. Incidently, Churchill tried to hold FDR back from giving to much over to the Soviet Union. He was right in his distrust of their subsequent power mongering that had such similar goals to Nazism and land grabs.
I am not sure of these so called great ‘friendships,’ but rather see ‘alliances’ forged in the name of common goals.
I am a pacifist at heart, but I am not naïve and do realise that without some sort of deterrent, power mongering countries will overwhelm and destroy their neighbours. But hero’s? They are not the leaders, but rather the little man out in the field whio gives his life in the name of freedom.
I would prefer to see a plaque to describe the follies and pitfalls of war. Great men are the negotiators who avoid escalating conflict. They do not fall under the spell of Propaganda!
Colette, I agree that war is an ugly thing and we should do everything in our power to avoid it. And, the ones that paid the ugly price are not the “fortunate sons” as sung by John Fogarty. I also think our leaders do a horrible job of not remembering these lessons and making decisions based on map drawing and not people. We are paying the price today for poor decisions made in the Middle East after WWI. I understand no person or leader is perfect, but Churchill stood up to tyranny until the Americans joined the fight. FDR was far from perfect as was his cousin Teddy, but they did more good things than bad and are remembered well. I appreciate greatly your point of view on this and offering the links. Keith
Well said, Colette. Churchill was indeed a war-monger but at the time he was right and the rest of the Western World was wrong in underestimating Hitler. Churchill was not without flaws — who among us is?– but given the time and the situation and the notion that “greatness” has to do with the impact a man or a woman has on the world Churchill was a great man.
No, I’m sorry Hugh, he wasn’t. He was just a better bully than Hitler. He let Three million Indians starve, having taken all there grain for storage purposes in the Middle East (just in case it was needed), and he quipped about the Indians breeding too much. He made them work, robbed their resources and let them die. I will never call him ‘great!’
We have been duped. But that often happens in history.
Please have a look at this blog
I checked out the “Trial” of Winston Churchill and thought it a bit hysterical. I have read several biographies of the man, including the two-volume biography by Manchester. I dare say the “real” Churchill falls somewhere between my image of him and yours. But I do appreciate your comments: they make us all think and that’s what is most important.
That’s fair Hugh. I do know that the Second World War is a complicated issue, as was the first. All conflicts usually occur with unresolved opinions on opposite sides of an issue. I really do believe all of us have a good side and a bad side. We use both and I guess I really was trying to point out that until we can see the two sides of a coin and see the true objective picture, we will always get it wrong when trying to resolve a debate.
Our common ground is that Winston Churchill was doing what was required of him to win a ‘war’ that he didn’t start. No one can fault that!
PS…many apologies for the bombardment of the ‘crimes’ link. In truth, the comment kept disappearing when I posted it…(bit like a letter you have to rewrite because the email provider suddenly cuts one off…mid composition and doesn’t save a draft. I certainly didn’t intend it to arrive three times…makes me look like a blooming fanatic raving about misjustice. I can assure you I’m not. But for some reason that I cannot fathom, I took an instant dislike to Mr. Churchill after visiting his home, Chartwell! Such is the fallible nature of humanity and it is also the most compelling reason that we should never go to war. Our thinking is terribly flawed, and no one can claim perfection. 😳
No problem! Your comments were designed to make me see another side of a complex issue and I thank you for that!
A lot of classified information was released in 2015, 50 years after his death. It was only then that Britons began to see him as something not quite do heroic! Sad, but true.
Good post, Hugh. I’m not up to participating in the discussion, but good post. 🙂
Uh oh; this reminds me of being at a party and mentioning something that happened in the past and then receiving a totally-opposite side of the story… it takes time to digest both versions and then weigh each through neutral eyes… I remember the first time I mentioned facts about a particularly-challenging person in my life and hearing, ‘I know you’re telling the truth but I’ve NEVER seen that side of that person…’
I’m visiting friends in Costa Rica right now, and will bring this up at breakfast or while we’re working on a painting project…. he loves history so will surely have some interesting feedback.
I have read a number of biographies of Churchill and none of them mentioned this side of the man. But I suspect it is the case that he, like the rest of us, had major flaws and blind spots. But the fact remains that he was almost alone for a number of years in opposing the maniac who was out to take over the world. It is not hyperbole to say that he was instrumental in saving Western Civilization.
You know that I respect your views, and I always appreciate what you have to share. Am at teh airport and have your most recent post opened.. Will be reading it as soon as I finish reading the new comments!