Churchill at War

In 1914, Churchill was First Lord of the Admiralty, in the Liberal war cabinet. He was dismissed from the Admiralty after the Dardanelles campaign, as part of the Conservatives’ price of entering the National Coalition, but remained in Cabinet. When he was also excluded from the War Council in November 1915, he went to serve at the Front, as a major then a colonel. He returned to government in July 1917, as Minister of Munitions.

Churchill saw that the war had not and could not be won: For the time being the stupor and the collapse which followed the World War ensure a sullen passivity, and the horror of war, its carnage and its tyrannies, has sunk into the soul, has dominated the mind, of every class in every race. There were gains from his Dardanelles campaign: destroying enemy forces and equipment, and tying the Ottomans up in that place; but the ships did not force their way through the Straits to Russia, the landings established no beachhead, and the Allied dead were 56,707, just greater than the Ottoman figure. It was seen as a defeat.

Churchill defended it robustly. The Dardanelles might have saved millions of lives…I believe history will show they acted for the best, and will record its opinion that this was the right thing to do, and that if one could have got more power and influence to push it through with vigour it would have made an enormous difference and would have saved us the torments and tortures of the last two years of the war. Don’t imagine I am running away from the Dardanelles. I glory in it; but he admitted he was “ruined” over it.

He did not take well to criticism. Criticism should be restrained when the party criticised is not able to reply, especially when he is not able to reply without disclosing facts which would do harm to the critic as well as the party criticised if they were disclosed…. We are waging this war, on which from day to day our vital safety depends, and no one who is concerned with military departments ought to have his attention drawn away from the immediate needs of his military and naval operations for the purpose of going at undue length into matters which lie in the past.

While waiting on Skyros to go into action, Rupert Brooke was bitten by a mosquito. The wound became infected, and he died on a hospital ship, aged 27. Churchill wrote, Joyous, fearless, versatile, deeply instructed, with classic symmetry of mind and body, ruled by high undoubting purpose, he was all that one would wish England’s noblest sons to be in days when no sacrifice but the most precious is acceptable, and the most precious is that which is most freely offered.

Before accepting command of an infantry brigade, Churchill requested experience of trench warfare as a Major. Then, he was given command of a battalion: 1000 men rather than 4000. War was diabolical. No more strategy, very little tactics; only the dull wearing down of the weaker combination by exchanging lives; only the multiplying of machinery on both sides to exchange them quicker. So morale was essential. He told his officers, Laugh a little, and teach your men to laugh- great good humour under fire- war is a game that is played with a smile. If you can’t smile grin. If you can’t grin, keep out of the way till you can.

On the first day of the Somme, 20,000 British soldiers were killed. In his book The World Crisis, Churchill wrote, they grudged no sacrifice however unfruitful and shrank from no ordeal however destructive. Struggling forward through the mire and filth of the trenches, across the corpse-strewn crater fields, amid the flaring, crashing, blasting barrages and murderous machine gun fire, conscious of their race, proud of their cause, they seized the most formidable soldiery in Europe by the throat, slew them and hurled them unceasingly backward.

The generalissimo of an army of two million men, already for ten days in desperate battle, has little or nothing to do except to keep himself fit and cool. His life is not different, except in its glory, from that of a painstaking public official, and far less agitating than that of a Cabinet Minister who must face an angry Chamber on the one hand or an offended party upon the other.

Churchill, in Government, provided the machinery for exchanging lives: I accepted from Mr. Stettinus a contract of over £100,000,000 sterling to supply the whole requirements of the United States Army in medium artillery (6-inch guns and howitzers) for the campaign of 1919.

Churchill the Pacifist

File:Churchhill 03.jpgI have been reading “Churchill: The Power of Words”, edited by Martin Gilbert. It comprises two hundred extracts from his books, journalism and speeches, annotated by his definitive biographer. I love his language- “blood toil tears and sweat”, and all that- and know him as the great Leader in war, File:Churchhill 04.jpgbut here I see Churchill arguing against increasing the size of the army, and as a young adventurer in Cuba and South Africa. H, a sprightly 71, loathes him as the Tory breaker of the General Strike and Miners’ Strike of 1926: she was brought up by people who retained and communicated that loathing. Churchill had just “re-ratted” from the Liberal to the Tory side.

In 1895, when he was 21, he went as a guest of the Spanish army to Cuba, to witness the rebellion there. He wanted that lure of youth, adventure for adventure’s sake. It is a great moment in our lives, one of the best we have experienced. We hope devoutly that something will happen. A volley rings out, and a bullet passes within a foot of Winston’s head, to kill a horse behind him. I began to take a more thoughtful view of our enterprise than I had hitherto done.

In 1898 he considered colonial warfare: The Akhund of Swat, Kruger, Lobengula, and the Mad Mullah, each with his complete set of crimes, File:Winston Churchill 1874 - 1965 Q113382.jpghorrible customs, and ‘minor peculiarities’, march one by one from the dark wings of barbarism up to the bright footlights of civilisation, like a pantomime scene at Drury Lane.

He did not admire Islam. How dreadful are the curses which Mohammedanism lays on its votaries. Besides the fanatical frenzy, which is as dangerous in a man as hydrophobia in a dog, there is this fearful fatalistic apathythe influence of religion paralyses the social development of those who follow it.

In 1899 he was captured by the Boers. It matters very little whether your judgments of people are true or untrue, and very much whether they are kind or unkind. He escaped from Pretoria, and made his way to Durban. I have read elsewhere that he might have been disingenuous with his parole, but that is not discussed here. He rejoined the army, and sent reports to the Morning Post after each battle. After one battle, Anger had turned to pity in an instant. The desire to kill was gone… the soldiers succoured the Boer wounded.

Ah, horrible war, amazing medley of the glorious and the squalid, the pitiful and the sublime, if modern men of light and leading saw your face closer, simple folk would see it hardly ever.

He toured Britain, Canada and the US, speaking about the war, and made nearly ¬£6000, which with his war correspondent’s salary and the profits from his books was a fortune enough to keep him independent so he could devote himself to politics.

File:Churchill 1904 Q 42037.jpgHis maiden speech to Parliament concerned the continuing Boer war. If I were a Boer, I hope I should be fighting in the field…This war in South Africa has been on the whole carried on with unusual humanity and generosity. This is not the book to inform me of the British use of Concentration camps in which nearly 28,000 Boer civilians, and an unknown number of Black Africans, died. He said the Army should be reinforced, not only to cover the losses from battle and disease, but to increase its strength by 2000 or 3000 men monthly, to overwhelm the enemy.

On 13 May 1901, as Tory MP for the working class constituency of Oldham, he argued against increasing the size of the army: a European war would demand, perhaps for several years, the whole manhood of the nation, the entire suspension of peaceful industries, and the concentrating to one end of every vital energy in the community.

What I fear is that these costly and beautiful army corps which are to be kept ready almost at a moment’s notice for foreign war will develop in the country feelings of pride and power… when popular newspapers are prepared almost every morning to urge us into war against Great Powers, surely we ought not to make it seem so easy, and so attractive, to embark on such terrible enterprises?

Churchill the pacifist. Who would have thought it? This is a good argument, but it leaves so many questions: how does it fit with his other thought, writing and political action, at the time or any other- is it unique? If it were mere political opportunism, what made it opportune for him then?

Elegant idiocies

The otherbugger will get on your back if he can.
That is all the advice you ever need to give.
If he’s on your back already, it’s TOO LATE!

That was sent on a postcard to the Citizens Advice Bureau where I worked, and it fascinated me. It pictured a world where each human being was locked in war with every other person, seeking advantage, and all comradeship was a lie. Everything we did was worthless: if that really were all the advice we needed to give, it could be given with a poster on the wall, rather than forty-odd people inside, beavering away, thinking they were doing something useful. It fascinated me because it was so far from the truth, yet so coherent and so beautifully expressed.

So I started collecting such phrases.

Don’t compare your sin to my skin.

Here are people of colour firmly in the Kyriarchy, busily oppressing others. “Christians” who believe that gay people, rather than being part of the wonder and diversity of Creation, are sinners who choose to be disgusting, and do not deserve “Civil rights”- in fact the comparison of their campaign to that of Martin Luther King is wicked. I can imagine people¬†repeating that phrase to themselves,¬†thinking how clever¬†they are, making themselves even less open than before to the need and¬†hurt of others: in the words of Neil Peart,

quiet in conscience
calm in their right
confident their ways are best

The evil in the phrase is focused and intensified by the elegance of its expression.

Who would wear a T shirt reading “I hear voices and they don’t like you”? It could not be expressed better, and it is a foul sentiment.

My favourite explanation of Astrology:

As above, so below.

Well, of course it isn’t. The orbit of Neptune does not affect my destiny, at all. The value of Astrology is in being a repository of wisdom about how people are, and a way of bringing these characteristics to mind whose randomness actually enhances its usefulness. In the hands of a skilled practitioner it has value. She says something about me which she thinks may be true, but her choices are constrained by the framework, which means she must be more creative herself. Then the thought sits in me and matures, either attracting or revolting me, and so teaching me. Just possibly, belief in the doctrine may help in this.

And finally, a sentence which is the opposite of elegant, but equally striking, in the circumlocutions half-concealing the basic idea:

Apart from a few comparatively unimportant particulars, the Law of England appears to be almost as near to perfection as can be expected of any human institution.

Wow. We’re so good that if we said it straight out we¬†would risk being¬†accused of self-worshipping blasphemy. One wonders what “comparatively unimportant particulars” the¬†Real Property Commissioners, delivering their first report in 1829, had in mind: perhaps the fact that someone¬†might be executed for stealing something worth less than two weeks’ wages for a skilled artisan, or the rule that no woman could own real property: it was held in trust by her father or husband.


Winston Churchill said,

You create your own universe as you go along.

Now, I happen to believe that. My perceptions are not the same as reality, but from within my own brain, and my moods and past experience affect my perceptions. The struggle to make them closer to reality is painful and difficult. However, have a look here at the context. Or here. It seems from the second link that Churchill takes a naive realist position- he knows things exist because he senses them- and from the first, that he believes in Christian doctrine because it gives him comfort, and he wants to believe it. The quote is a straw man. So to quote it out of context is to misrepresent him and to cite him as authority for a belief he derided. And yet a quick Google shows it is often quoted in Law of Attraction sites, without context. Picture: public domain.

Einstein is quoted often as saying,

Imagination is everything. It is the preview of life’s coming attractions.

Wikiquote disputes the citation. Again, from Google, it is frequently quoted on Law of Attraction sites.

What matters is not who said it, but whether it is true. Perhaps the quote has such value as it has not because he wrote it but because a particular Facebook friend chooses to share it. However imagination is much richer than that. I hated one of my psychiatrists so much that I had revenge fantasies about him. I would be horrified if they happened, but they were a safety valve for my feelings.

‚ÄúEverything has its beauty, but not everyone sees it.‚ÄĚ I have seen this attributed to Confucius, but since I cannot find where he is supposed to have said it, your guarantee of its truth or value is either your own experience, or your faith and trust in me.