Observations on Churchill

I’ve been slowly watching the History Channel’s documentary on Churchill (thank you, Netflix!) over the past week or so, and I’ve several observations.

First, I always imagined Churchill to be a grand orator. Indeed, he has written some of the most powerful and moving speeches of the 20th century. However, his oratory style was often slow, almost plodding, and had many small pauses. Additionally, I imagined him to be much more fiery and, for lack of a better word, emotional while on the stump. He was neither. I hate to say it, but I think I would have been bored if I had to sit through one of his speeches. They seem to make better reading. For example, one of his famous lines is this: “We shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be, we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender.” A very stirring quote. When I read this, I imagine how I would give it in a speech, and, let me tell you, it would sound great. Starting off with a firm and steady voice, I would crescendo with the mention of each battlefield, and reaching the climax with a strong voice and the cadence of a war drum beating the call for battle. But when Chruchill gave this line it was really rather monotone and boring. Quite a let down, to be sure.

Second, once again, I couldn’t help but be struck by the similarities between President Bush and Churchill when it came to recognizing an evil and trying to stir a country into an offensive posture. I’m not saying Bush is Churchillian, I’m just saying both men were put in quite similar situations and both had and have trouble getting the country to agree with him. Though, it’s interesting that Churchill was very obstinate and arrogant; something Bush is often accused of as well.

Third, after the European conflict was ended, Churchill was up for election again. As we all know, Churchill lost that election (more thoughts on that election momentarily), but it’s interesting to find out a couple of possible reasons why he may have lost that election. One is the British servicemen, still deployed throughout the Continent, thought they would be demobilized sooner if Churchill wasn’t in power. This seems like a plausible assumption considering Churchill was quite the warmonger (in all the best sense) and was extremely wary of Stalin’s enormous armies. The documentary also mentioned the servicemen thought they would get more cigarettes if Churchill wasn’t in power, and they needed more smokes. I’m not sure what the connection with Churchill and the scarcity of cigarettes was (maybe he was using up all the tobacco for his cigars?), but there it is. Another facsinating reason that may have contributed to his fall from power was one fateful speech he gave in which he compared his opponents (the socialist-leaning Labour party) to the fascist Nazis who were just crushed. Does this comparison sound familiar? Here’s one line from the speech: “Socialism is in its essence an attack not only upon British enterprise but upon the right of an ordinary man or woman to breath freely without having a harsh, clumsy, tyrannical hand clapped across their mouths and nostrils. No socialist system can be established without a political police. They would have to fall back on some form of Gestapo.” It was an outrageous and shocking claim 60 years ago, and it still is now. I guess those crazy liberals out there are Churchillian too . . .

A final thought, and I’ll try to keep it brief, concerns Churchill’s electoral defeat. Here was a man who had personally sacrificed, scraped, fought, and tore for his country to defeat a most evil and powerful foe, and, at the end of the war, instead of rewarding him with a victory at the ballot box, they removed him from power. They kicked him out. “Thank you,” they said, “for keeping us alive. Now off you go.” I can not imagine how I would feel after something like that. I suppose I’d be brimming with vicious bitterness and disgust. Fortunately for Winston, he had an Italian villa to enjoy, took up painting, and recovered remarkably quickly.

I have written other thoughts on Churchill here and here.

4 thoughts on “Observations on Churchill

  1. Oh, I don’t know. I kinda like the way Churchill spoke. Definitely gives the impression of a bulldog. And did he know which lines were going to be pulled from his speeches and quoted for decades to come? Probably not. He may not have seen any reason to place extra emphasis on that sentence.

  2. Good point, but whenever a live bit was played from one of his speeches his tone was always the same. It doesn’t seem like he ever did much besides run through the speech.

  3. Well done, sir. I have always been fascinated by Churchhill, but haven’t ever done any serious reading or research on him. I’ve been meaning to read the biography of him from Halberstam, just haven’t gotten around to it.

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