April 27th, 2005

Winston Churchill speaks (and cries)

Some wonderful quotes, this time from Winston Churchill:

A fanatic is one who can’t change his mind and won’t change the subject.

It has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all the others that have been tried.

Men occasionally stumble over the truth, but most of them pick themselves up and hurry off as if nothing ever happened

Never, never, never believe any war will be smooth and easy, or that anyone who embarks on the strange voyage can measure the tides and hurricanes he will encounter. The statesman who yields to war fever must realize that once the signal is given, he is no longer the master of policy but the slave of unforeseeable and uncontrollable events.

Success is the ability to go from one failure to another with no loss of enthusiasm.

And from this site:

“The inherent vice of capitalism is the unequal sharing of blessings. The inherent virtue of socialism is the equal sharing of miseries.”

“Some regard private enterprise as if it were a predatory tiger to be shot. Others look upon it as a cow that they can milk. Only a handful can see it for what it really is – a strong horse that pulls the whole cart.”

“Writing is an adventure. To begin with, it is a toy and an amusement. Then it becomes a mistress, then it becomes a master, then it becomes a tyrant. The last phase is that just as you are about to be reconciled to your servitude, you kill the monster and fling him to the public.”

We contend that for a nation to try to tax itself into prosperity is like a man standing in a bucket and trying to lift himself by the handle.”

“My education was interrupted only by my schooling.”

“I utterly decline to be impartial as between the fire brigade and the fire.”

“Still, if you will not fight for the right when you can easily win without bloodshed, and still yet if you will not fight when your victory will be sure and not so costly, you may come to the moment when you will have to fight with all the odds against you, and only a precarious chance for survival. – There may be a worse case. You may have to fight when there is no chance of victory, because it is better to perish than to live as slaves.”

And here’s a website devoted to debunking Churchill myths, including quotations falsely attributed to him–among them, regrettably, the following favorite:

If you’re not a liberal when you’re 25, you have no heart. If you’re not a conservative by the time you’re 35, you have no brain.” There is no record of anyone hearing Churchill say this. Paul Addison of Edinburgh University makes this comment: “Surely Churchill can’t have used the words attributed to him. He’d been a Conservative at 15 and a Liberal at 35! and would he have talked so disrespectfully of Clemmie, who is generally thought to have been a lifelong Liberal.

And yes, yes, I know that Churchill was not perfect. He had flaws. But I don’t demand that people be perfect. I happen to admire him greatly for his unflagging courage, his leadership during WWII (despite his understanding, shown in the fourth quote, that war is a difficult and unpredictable undertaking), his moral clarity about Nazism and Communism, his astounding ability to express himself in simple declarative English sentences that sound like the most powerful poetry, and even for the fact that he was well-rounded enough to have been a rather decent painter.

I also thank Churchill for having given William Manchester the inspiration for what may well be the best biography ever written, the two-volume The Last Lion. Certainly it’s the best incomplete one; it is a deep regret to me that Manchester died before writing the final volume of this work–which, even minus the last installment, constitutes 1729 hardcover (or 1792 paperback) highly readable and vastly entertaining pages.

There’s one other thing that has always struck me about Churchill. Unlike many great men, he was a loving husband and father–even though, like many of the children of fame, some of his kids ended up having problematic lives. Here’s an excerpt from an interview with one of his daughters:

Q: Did your father have time to show you affection when you were young?
LADY SOAMES: Both my parents were enormously affectionate, visibly so, and he was a great hugger, my father, and loved having us around. The stiff upper lip of the British upper class had really no part in our family life; it was something I read about in books. I may have been deeply shocked the first time I saw my mother cry, because that was as a result of a great drama in the family, but I often saw my father weep and it never struck me as odd that a man should express emotion.

Q: What kind of thing made your father cry?
LADY SOAMES: He was moved by events and tragedies, by people behaving nobly, by poetry … I’ve seen him recite Shakespeare and his eyes brimming with tears. He wept easily. He wasn’t ashamed of it.

An extremely unusual combination of characteristics were united in Churchill, a man for whom the word “heroic” can be applied without hyperbole.

10 Responses to “Winston Churchill speaks (and cries)”

  1. Timur T. Says:

    (beeing not an Englishspoker)
    1. W. Churchill teached us to see the present moment as part of the History.
    2. He showed that vision, courage and firmness can serve not only the evil but the right as well.
    3. In my eyes, W. Churchill turned the European History into right – forever, I believe. Fight for the right – this is his testimony.
    4. He – as every human – was mixture of good and bad. His words (on democracy as the worst, except all the others) stand on our true human nature, too.
    5. Thanks for the possibility to say that.

  2. mark Says:

    We had a choice between shame and war. We chose shame and we will get war – Churchill after Munich

  3. Jeff Says:

    Re: Robert, post #7: It was something I read on aldaily.com — maybe it was one of those mythological ones. I’m no authority, I just liked it.

  4. robert aldridge Says:

    Jeff – my dictionary of quotations says, “History teaches us that men and nations behave wisely once they have exhausted all other alternatives” Abba Eban, 1970. I didn’t know he had plagiarised it – surely someone would have noticed? Two original minds coming to the same conclusions?

  5. Paul Says:

    Churchill was hard to beat aand he was a master of the English language.


    If you like reading quotes and stories from the famous, it doesn’t get any better than Churchill’s. A fan I am.

  7. Jeff Says:

    Another good one: “The Americans will always do the right thing, once they have exhausted the alternatives.”

  8. Fred Says:

    I heard of an exchange of letters between Churchill and George Bernard Shaw.

    Shaw wrote Churchill (something like): Enclosed are two tickets for the opening of my new play, they are for you and a friend — if you have one.

    Churchill’s answer: Thank you for the tickets. I regret I cannot attend the opening performance; will try to attend the second — if there is one.

  9. robert aldridge Says:

    Along with his painting, you forgot to mention that he wrote – among other things – a very readable, and, for the most part, beautifully written History of the English Speaking Peoples.”

  10. Bookworm Says:

    I’m a big Churchill fan. His leadership during WWII was exemplary. He was extraordinarily prescient, too, no doubt owing to his intelligence, experience and vast knowledge base. Reading his speeches is always a real charge for me. The only problem is that I get depressed by the turgid state of American political discourse. Even if you don’t like what Churchill happened to be saying at a given time, his verbal elegance, his wit, his erudition, make everything he says a pleasure.

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Previously a lifelong Democrat, born in New York and living in New England, surrounded by liberals on all sides, I've found myself slowly but surely leaving the fold and becoming that dread thing: a neocon.

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