It is perhaps an appropriate occasion (as a follow-up to yesterday’s post) to mention the fifty-year anniversary today of the death of Winston Churchill. Voted in 2002 (thirty-seven years after his death) the Greatest Briton, Churchill topped a list that included the names of William Wilberforce, J. R. R. Tolkien, Jane Austen, William Blake, William Shakespeare and a host of British monarchs.
(The list didn’t include C. S. Lewis, I’m sorry to say, though technically his birth in Ireland might have disqualified him? Not sure.)
Born in 1874, Churchill became a bigger-than-life presence and a pivotal figure during a critical time on the world stage. He may have endured (during his lifetime) more critics than admirers and history seems to reflect he suffered many defeats and discouragements. But his legacy cannot be ignored.
Given how Hitler’s invasion forces swept through Europe like lightning in mid-1940, a number of Brits believed a negotiated peace with Germany was the preferred path. (We can reason with Hitler … set ourselves in important positions and do business with his expanding war machine. We’ll make millions!)
As Prime Minister, Churchill chose the harder road, a path he knew would lead to outright war (Churchill’s predecessor had already declared war in September of 1939) – and less certain – his choice might eventually lead to a hoped-for victory.
Considering Churchill’s stubborn refusal to surrender to Hitler, the Luftwaffe engaged an eight-month bombing campaign of strategic sites and facilities (during which London alone suffered fifty-seven consecutive nighttime raids) which was surely enough for some Brits to think peace at any cost was preferable.
Not Churchill, God bless him.
“I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears and sweat.”
Information about Churchill’s life and leadership proliferates across the web. I won’t pretend to offer anything new here. He has also become the target of sharp critiques in recent years.
Of note are his comments about Islam. In the first edition of his 1899 book The River War (Part II), the key passage that invites charges of bigotry is where he writes of the “curses which Mohammedanism lays on its votaries!” He goes on to decry that women and children are viewed as “absolute property.” (You can read the book yourself at the link provided above. These particular quotes are found on pages 248-9. But be sure to read the entire passage.)
Interestingly, the foregoing quote (in its context) includes two mentions of Mohammedanism in close proximity. However, through the remainder of the 500-page tome, there are no further references to the term. There are several mentions of Mohammed, but these are name references for Sudanese individuals. (I love that this book is readily available online!)
The crucial question: Was Churchill bigoted? Based on the foregoing quote, some would say absolutely. I think it would be more accurate to observe (viewing him as we must from our 21st century culture) he may have been guilty of political incorrectness … by today’s standards.
Personally, I think he understood (over 100 years ago when the book was written) the truth that the “final extinction of slavery” will be postponed … as long as nations and religions tolerate the ownership of certain minorities.
“I was not the lion, but it fell to me to give the lion’s roar.”
Two years before his death, Winston Churchill was recognized as an Honorary Citizen of the United States by President John F. Kennedy. This unique designation has only been awarded eight times (to date) and Churchill was the first to receive this designation.
Fifty years after Churchill’s passing, we remain grateful heirs of his extraordinary leadership and courage. Men of his caliber are needed in every age, but especially today.