The 50th anniversary of Churchill’s Death
… was yesterday. There’s a fine remembrance by Boris Johnson.
Apart from being a central character in one of the (the?) most popular gaming topic in history, Churchill represented a different age. Even in his own time he was an anachronism. In many ways he was the Last Victorian, clinging desperately to The Empire in an age of colonial independence. Despite this, he was also a futurist: He played a pivotal role in the development of the tank, radar and atomic weapons (in that one of his close advisors quickly grasped the potential in the thirties, appraised Churchill, and passed information and people to the US).
He was not a great strategic thinker. He wasn’t a consistent thinker. But he had so many ideas that some of them were great. And he consistently voiced warnings about the Nazi Menace, when the rest of the world tried to bury its head in the sand. You can argue about his accomplishments (and disasters), but you cannot deny that he was singular.
We no longer seem to have interesting, accomplished politicians. Churchill lived in an age where you could offend people (he certainly did) and still be elected. Compare him to the average politician with 20+ years in Congress or Parliment today.
- Churchill was an accomplished painter.
- He served as a soldier (Churchill participated in the “Last great Cavalry charge of the British Empire,” he was a prisoner of war during the Boer Wars, although he escaped and later complained to Prime Minister Botha that the reward put on his head had been pitifully low).
- He was widely respected in the Navy for his stints as First Lord of the Admiralty.
- He was also a pilot very early on (back when each flight had a significant chance of death).
- He switched parties multiple times. (“Anyone can be a rat, but it takes a certain ingenuity to re-rat.” — WSC).
- He personally added brick rooms and guest areas to his house (Chartwell).
- Despite opposing many politicians, he seemed to genuinely like many of them (Hitler being the obvious exception). He got along quite well with Irish revolutionaries.
- He made a successful living as a writer (in fact, he’d have gone bankrupt without it).
- And he is one of the greatest Orators the world has seen; certainly the greatest in English
Of course, he had significant advantages. He certainly was “born on third base” but nobody can say he rested on his accomplishments. My main non-fiction reading of the last year (or so) has been The Last Lion. It is quite long (3 volumes) but fascinating throughout, for its glimpse into several different ages and one spectacular life.
PS — Churchill, of course, really did say many of the things attributed to him. But one anecdote that you probably haven’t heard. While a teenager he went around campus (Harrow?) with his childhood Nanny (“Woom”). He had been bullied during his early schooling, yet he introduced her to his classmates and did not make any attempt to hide the fact that she had raised him. Since teenage boys are still mostly the same from times past, one of his classmates later called it “one of the bravest things I’ve ever seen.”
Edit — Thanks to Jeff G for pointing out some stuttering/missed words.