Winston Churchill is a name that is fading fast in the collective memory of our society today. Most who do remember Churchill, do so for the role he played as the Prime Minister of Great Britain during World War II. He is remembered as the the face of the staunch British resolve bolstering what was left of a failed European resistance to the encroaching tyranny of Nazi Germany. He was the personification of the British stiff upper lip. His most quoted of speeches, delivered June 4th 1940, just three and a half weeks after relieving the great appeaser Neville Chamberlain of his post, stands as the standard for war time nationalist pep talks.
“We shall go on to the end, we shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, 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….”
These were powerful words from a powerful man. A widely shared opinion is that Churchill was the man for just this moment. He was a once in a generation leader who, through sheer force of will, bound his people together and focused their centuries of resolve towards casting off yet another attempted invader. After all, England hadn’t been successfully invaded since 1066. Who else but the grandson of the Duke of Wellington, the great Field Marshall who defeated Napolean, could once again protect British sovereignty. This was man, moment, idea all aligned. This is the narrative. And it’s a good one because, as much as any historical narrative is, it’s reasonably true. What is lesser known, however, is that Churchill was not just a man for this moment. He was a man for many moments, before and after. All you had to do, was ask him. Or better yet, stand within ear shot of him and you wouldn’t have to ask at all.
Most of our modern leaders have come from fairly predictable backgrounds. 26 of 44 U.S. Presidents were lawyers. Another thirteen had military backgrounds. Throw in a few school teachers and civic leaders and there really are few outliers. The pattern remains true for most democratically elected governments. In the United Kingdom you can add the ranks of those born into political life as a part of the caste system. Clearly we Americans have a few of those too by this point in our political development. As a member of a noble family, the son of a former Chancellor of the Exchequer (the British equivalent of the Secretary of Treasury) , Churchill certainly fits the bill for that last group. If you take some time to study him though, it becomes exceedingly clear that there was more to this man than just being a life long politician who seized the moment to deliver the “blood, toil, sweat and tears” speech. Churchill was much more. He was made of a substance that transcended class and profession. It transcended events, timelines, even history. That substance was an inexhaustible need to express himself in any medium that would suffer him. From the very beginning of his public life and probably before, Churchill had something to say. And he said it.
In his lifetime, Sir Winston Churchill wrote 42 books. His entire catalog of speeches fills eight volumes of publications. His essays fill four. In all, Winston Churchill, the cigar chewing Johny Walker drinking man of countless off color quotes, produced more published words than William Shakespeare and Charles Dickens combined. By the turn of the 20th Century, before he turned 30, Churchill was one of the highest paid journalists in the world as the equivalent of a modern day war correspondent chronicling his experiences in the Sudan and the Second Boer War. The quality of his work is highlighted by his 1953 award of the Nobel Prize for Literature. Additionally, Churchill painted over 500 paintings, several that have sold at auction for seven figure sums. He did all this while consistently serving in Parliament for 64 years, including two separate turns as Prime Minister.
All of this begs the question. How did Winston Churchill have the time to produce so much written work while taking on the task of running major portions of the most prolific empire the world had ever seen? Those that study or even knew Churchill would likely turn that question on its side and ask how he had time to do anything else when it is clear to them so much of his passion and energy was poured into his creative process.
Churchill never stopped producing. When he woke, he sat up in bed, plugged a cigar in his mouth and began to dictate to one of the army of scribes that he had on staff at his Chartwell estate. When he needed a fact confirmed or an exact date chased down, a rarity because of his remarkable recall, he sent one of his staff of researchers into his vast family library pouring out of every orifice in his famous Chartwell study. This went on all day and into the night. He usually dismissed his staff around three in the morning. When in office, he often scheduled his obligations somewhere between his stream of consciousness dictations. Producing literature and journalism was a compulsion.
So what’s the point? Winston Churchill, long before he was the Winston Churchill of his June 4th speech, was a man who had something to say to the world. And he said it. He wasn’t always right. As the Lord of the Admiralty in World War I, he was the chief architect of one of the worst military failures in modern history at Gallipoli. His views and off-hand comments on Indian independence would likely have landed him apologetically resigning from today’s modern political landscape. One thing was consistent though. No matter where he was in his political career, stage of life or phase of conflict, Churchill viewed everything around him as an opportunity to express himself. This was one of the key ingredients in his resiliency. No matter how poorly received or even at times, absolutely wrong his point of view was on the last topic, it never silenced him when the next one opportunity to express himself came around. Twice during his political career, he changed parties after decades of establishment with the opposition. Churchill didn’t have a burning platform. He was a burning platform. So when the world hung in the balance and the forces of oppression stood poised to march unopposed across the globe, Churchill did what he always did. He spoke up. He spoke up against Chamberlain and his policy of appeasement. He spoke up against Hitler and recognized the lunacy of his Anti-Semetic rhetoric years before evidence of the Holocaust ever surfaced. He spoke up to FDR, urging him daily to end the policy of American isolation. As it had been for the fifty years preceding the crisis, Winston Churchill had something to say. And he said it.
In the spirit of Churchill’s passion for expression, I’ve started this blog. Not because I aim to be a modern day Churchill. By that measure, I’m decades of political service and millions of words off the pace by this point in my life. I’ve started it because I too have something to say. It’s high time I got to work on saying it. The spirit of the blog is objectivity. In today’s information environment, it is becoming increasingly difficult to find facts, data and objective context to important events of our times. We’ve lost the signal in the noise. This is not a political blog. Its contents aim to be far too sensitive to circumstance and fact to be motivated by ideology. In the end, I hope to find the therapy Churchill found in creating the written word. For those of you who ever choose to spend any time here, I hope you enjoy.