The Tao of Gaming

Boardgames and lesser pursuits

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.


Written by taogaming

January 24, 2015 at 6:59 pm

Posted in Non-Gaming

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10 Responses

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  1. Won the Nobel prize for literature. (Certainly wasn’t going to win it for Peace.)

    Fred Bush

    January 25, 2015 at 12:43 am

    • True, although I suspect it was more of a lifetime achievement award than based on his writing.


      January 25, 2015 at 8:19 pm

  2. I don’t have a good understanding of UK or US culture, what is so embarassing about being raised by a Nanny?


    January 25, 2015 at 4:19 am

    • Well, since he was probably sixteen at the time, this is the equivalent of basically being dropped off by your mom in front of the cool kids and have her treat you like the small child she raised, when you are trying to be manly and independent.


      January 25, 2015 at 8:10 pm

      • Ah, now I understand. Thank you.


        January 26, 2015 at 1:23 am

  3. Bush paints. Oh, you said accomplished.

    I think that it is true that great men arise both from an individual achieving great things and from there being a great collective need. Without WW2 it is doubtful that we’d even be talking about Churchill, but I think only a very few other people could have done as good an overall job as he did.

    Think about WW1, how many world leaders do you know? Wilson, Wilhelm, Nicholas, Lloyd George… Clemenceau, Victor Emmanuel. Only a couple are nearly as well known as Churchill, Hitler, Roosevelt, Stalin, Mussolini, Tojo. I’m not sure that the WW1 leaders were necessarily lesser men, just that the opportunity for fame/infamy wasn’t as great.


    January 26, 2015 at 10:19 am

    • I understand your point, but I think you can take those WWI leaders and compare them with their WWII counterparts and the former will always come out on the bottom. Wilson was a fascinating figure, with many great features and great faults, but he still doesn’t measure up to FDR on either end of the spectrum. Kaiser Wilhelm was an excellent military man, but he was neither a genius nor anything close to the monster Hitler was. Czar Nicholas’ faults were sufficient to inspire one of history’s most important revolutions, but as an actor on the world’s stage, that doesn’t even put him in the same league as Stalin. Lloyd George seems to have been a good man and a sound leader, but Churchill towers over him. Clemenceau may have had some good qualities, but he is best known for his foolhardy rush into Germany at the inception of the war (which must have resembled a Three Stooges routine) and his bullying at the peace talks at Versailles, neither of which paints him in any kind of positive light. WWII was the more impactful and terrible time, but it also featured the more impactful leaders. Sometimes, history doesn’t bother to have things even out.


      January 26, 2015 at 10:02 pm

      • Clemenceau is an excellent example. Rushing into Germany at the start of WW1 was a terrible idea, but at the start of WW2 it could have been a game changer. Germany only had a light force in the west until after the Polish campaign. Sometimes it isn’t about the individual leaders or the ideas they have but about the opportunities available to them.


        January 27, 2015 at 6:29 am

  4. I remember viewing the Churchill funeral on TV at the age of 7. My family didn’t own a TV, so we must have gone to someone else’s house to see it. The adults were trying to impress upon me the fact that he had been a notable person. I had no idea at the time who he had been, but I remember the event.

    Eric Brosius

    January 27, 2015 at 9:50 am

  5. Certainly the greatest English-speaking orator? I don’t know. If you asked me, I would have thought Abraham Lincoln or Martin Luther King, Jr. Not that Churchill didn’t give great speeches, I just don’t think it’s obvious that he was the greatest *English*-speaking orator of all time, never mind one of the greatest ever.

    I think what you say about Churchill’s diversity of experience is true, but part of this is due to the differences between the UK’s Parliamentary system and the US’s three branches. You couldn’t really go from being Secretary of the Navy (for example) to begin President because that’s not really how our system works; Secretary of the Navy is a cabinet appointment that serves the President and is really more of a civil service position than an office held by a career politician. A number of current American politicians have war experience; John McCain is an ex-POW. Barak Obama’s money comes primarily from his book. Anyway, I know what you’re saying, it’s just that I don’t know that the differences are *so* stark. We still have “interesting” elected officials, just a different sort.

    Another thing about Churchill: he was one of the first to understand the threat of Stalinism and to anticipate the Cold War.

    He was also a prime mover behind Britain’s NHS.

    I think he *was* a great, or at least very good strategic thinker, but he was thinking as the leader of the UK, not as a partner in a US-UK alliance. His various plans for action in the Mediterranean were based on long-standing, successful British strategic thought, and not the fact that his alliance partner had a large and well-equipped army. The British staff and Churchill were 100% correct to argue for the Mediterranean in ’42, which the US Army was unbloodied (as demonstrated at Kasserine), but arguably held to that strategic view for too long.

    Anyway, John Keegan wrote a very good, relatively slim biography of Churchill for the Penguin Lives series.

    Chris Farrell

    January 29, 2015 at 2:05 pm

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