Winston Churchill was a funny guy

April 17, 2016
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Comedian

From Ian Lindquist’s review of Larry Arnn’s Churchill’s Trial: Winston Churchill and the Salvation of Free Government:

Churchill walked into the men’s room in Parliament and noticed that Clement Attlee, his replacement as prime minister and leader of Britain’s Labour Party, was his sole restroom companion. The rambunctious former prime minister sauntered down to the urinal furthest from the peacetime P.M. Attlee, sensing something amiss, turned to him and quipped: “Feeling a bit standoffish today, are we, Winston?” Churchill, presumably doing his business at this point, rejoined: “No. It’s just that whenever you see something big you want to nationalize it!”

*Rimshot!!*

Sir Winston should have take that act on the road. Smiley Laughing Maniacal Clown

Speaking of which, I have that book on my Kindle. Must get around to reading it.

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Sunday Book Review: Paul Johnson’s “Churchill”

January 25, 2015

book cover johnson churchill

It’s less fashionable in the practice of History these days to study the lives of great men, those individuals who by their words and deeds change the course of the world for better or worse. At one time, History was about these men: Alexander, Caesar, Washington, Napoleon, and others. Then that fashion fell out of favor and, in reaction, the role of Great Men was largely supplanted by the study of “impersonal forces,” those societal and intellectual trends that move History along, individuals being less important, often replaceable. This view was popular with progressive historians of the early to mid-20th century, seeing its extreme in Marxist historians.

But the study of Great Men lives on, in this case in the form of Paul Johnson’s “Churchill,” a brief biography of Sir Winston Churchill, the British statesman, soldier, parliamentarian, and his nation’s Prime Minister during most of the Second World War.

Johnson’s biography of Churchill is of an older school, which seeks not just to analyze its subject, but draw from it moral lessons for the reader. In this manner, it is comparable to Plutarch’s “Lives .” As Johnson writes at the start:

Of all the towering figures of the twentieth century, both good and evil, Winston Churchill was the most valuable to humanity, and also the most likable. It is a joy to write his life, and to read about it. None holds more lessons, especially for youth: How to use a difficult childhood. How to seize eagerly on all opportunities, physical , moral, and intellectual. How to dare greatly, to reinforce success, and to put the inevitable failures behind you. And how, while pursuing vaulting ambition with energy and relish, to cultivate also friendship, generosity, compassion, and decency.

Churchill’s life is well-known, and Johnson glosses over the details to cover the important points the reader needs to know: his early childhood with a vaguely disapproving father; his military career , which established the young Churchill as a popular journalist; his political career with his rise to Cabinet rank as First Sea Lord during World War I; his role in laying the foundation for Britain’s welfare state, and his fall from power; his “wilderness” years out of government, when even his fellow party members rarely wanted him around and during which he warned incessantly about the rise of the Nazis in Germany; his return to power when the Nazis started World War II, again as head of the British Navy and then Prime Minister; and his postwar life and career, with one more pass as prime minister, until his death in 1965.

That Johnson can cover all this in just 170 pages while telling a fascinating story and educating the reader is a mark of how good a writer he is. “Churchill,” if it was a joy for him to write, is also a joy for us to read. Johnson’s style is delightful, and he deftly weaves in small details and observations that humanize for us a towering figure who might otherwise be lost behind the noble statues and stern portraits. For example,one that sticks with this reviewer is the revelation that Churchill found happiness in, of all things, bricklaying. So much so, that he tried to join the bricklayer’s union. (He was declined.) Most people know that he was an accomplished painter, but a bricklayer? That such a common, workaday craft should bring satisfaction to a man born in a palace and who dealt regularly with kings and presidents, who commanded his nation’s armed forces in a global war, can’t help but build a bond between reader and subject, reminding us that Winston Churchill, for all the statues and portraits, was still a mortal man.

“Churchill” is not without its weaknesses. A degree of superficiality is inevitable, given the task of compressing so full a life into such a short work. And it touches very lightly on his flaws, such as his Romantic fixations on strategies of dubious worth, for example his attempted defense of Antwerp in the First World War, or his obsession with invading Norway in the Second. A late Victorian in a rapidly changing 20th century, his attitudes toward non-European people were often at best patronizing, sometimes downright bigoted.

But, to dwell on these lacks would be to criticize “Churchill” for not doing what it was never intended to do: to be a “balanced, modern” biography. As much hagiography as biography, Paul Johnson’s goal was to introduce us to the life of one of the greatest men who ever lived and show how it could serve as an example and an inspiration, especially for the young. In this, he has succeeded admirably.

Highest recommendation.

Format note: Churchill is available in both Kindle and softcover formats. I read the Kindle edition and can recall no problems with editing or formatting. And I do get a few pennies from each purchase made through the links in this review.

UPDATE: Catching up on my reading at Power Line, I came across historian Steven Hayward’s post quibbling with the idea of Churchill as “the last lion.” I think what he says about “Great Men” and how they differ from their contemporaries is pertinent to this review:

The tides of history and the scale of modern life have not made obsolete or incommensurate the kind of large-souled greatness we associate with Churchill or Lincoln or George Washington. Of course all of us are powerfully affected by our environment and circumstances, yet the case of Churchill offers powerful refutation to the historicist premise that humans and human society are mostly corks bobbing on the waves of history. Lots of Churchill’s contemporaries were also products of the late Victorian era—many of them from the same schools Churchill attended. But no one else had Chruchill’s courage, insight, and capacities. Why was Churchill virtually alone among his contemporaries? The answer must be that they transcended their environments and transformed their circumstances as only great men can do, and thereby bent history to their will. Which means we are contemplating a fundamental human type. Leo Strauss wrote of Churchill in a private letter to the German philosopher Karl Lowith: “A man like Churchill proves that the possibility of megalophysis [the great-souled man] exists today exactly as it did in the fifth century B.C.” (In other words, as the idea was presented in Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics.)

Churchill was indeed a “large soul.”

 

 

 


(Audio) Obama has spoken. Now listen to a real orator

January 20, 2015

President Obama has just delivered his State of the Union address Speech from the Throne. If you had the stomach to put up with that, then you deserve a reward: the greatest orator of the 20th century at the climax of his greatest speech.

Ladies and Gentlemen, the Prime Minister:

No comparison.


Bookshelf update: Paul Johnson’s “Churchill”

January 11, 2015

Renaissance scholar astrologer

I’ve updated the “What I’m reading” widget to the right to reflect the latest item on the Public Secrets lectern, Paul Johnson’s “Churchill.”

book cover johnson churchill

 

I’m only a few chapters into it, so far, but it’s been an easy to read introduction to and survey of the life of arguably the most important man of the 20th century. This is a short work, as much hagiography as biography, and Johnson is a delight to read. It is available in both Kindle (1) and paperback formats.

PS: Why, yes. This is a shameless bit of shilling on my part. I like getting the occasional gift certificate that comes from people buying stuff via my link. But I still think it’s a good book.

Footnote:
(1) I’m happy to say I’ve found very few typos or formatting errors, so far. These are all too common in Kindle e-books.


Surprisingly not The Onion: John Kerry as the new Winston Churchill

May 1, 2014
With apologies to Sir Winston.

With apologies to Sir Winston.

(Image via Greg Nash / Getty Images)

I realize The Hill leans a bit left, and Budowsky himself is a hardcore liberal, but either he had the “special mushrooms” for dinner last night, or he was laughing uncontrollably while writing this:

Looking across the landscape of world affairs, from sectarian carnage to Middle East instability, from climate change that threatens the earth to a Russian dictator who threatens security in Europe, from the bellicosity of China to nuclear issues with North Korea and Iran, if there is a Winston Churchill of modern times who issues warnings and offers solutions, it is Secretary of State John Kerry.

Since the founding of Israel in 1948, Israel has had no better friend than John Kerry. His aspirations and efforts for Middle East peace might soon be dead, and if they are, historians will long condemn the intransigent and small-minded Israeli and Palestinian leaders who will force young Israelis and Palestinians to pay the price of their pettiness for generations to come.

While commentators grow impatient with Kerry’s Churchillian warnings about the consequences of failure in the Middle East peace process, the world might sadly witness how right Kerry is.
As Vladimir Putin escalates his war against Ukraine, employs lies as an instrument of invasion and subversion, and wages war against the sanctity of sovereignty and borders that has kept the peace in Europe since Hitler fell and the Berlin Wall tumbled, Kerry calls on a timid Europe to demonstrate resolve with the moral force with which Churchill addressed Neville Chamberlain.

Winston Churchill, for all the mistakes he made in World Wars I and II, got one thing, the Big Thing, right: there could be no alternative but absolute, unbending resistance to Hitler and the Nazis, even if it meant war. He knew that diplomacy not backed up by the credible threat to use force would only encourage civilization’s enemies. He was also an eloquent, masterful speaker and writer.

In my opinion, Winston Churchill saved Western Civilization.

John “Christmas in Cambodia” Kerry, on the other hand,  is a fatuous dunderhead who has been serially, perennially wrong about our enemies. Far from having “Churchillian foresight” about the Middle East, Kerry’s obsession with a two-state process is doomed because he refuses to recognize (1) the strength and depth of Islam’s rejection of Israel’s very existence; you can’t negotiate peace with someone who thinks it’s a commandment from God to kill you. As for Ukraine, it’s hard to take Kerry’s moral force seriously when his first reaction is to say “don’t be so 19th century, Vlad.” The fact is that no one in the broader world takes Secretary of State Kerry seriously, because he’s a stuffed shirt who knows nothing except how to spew empty platitudes. As for his speaking and writing… Well, I challenge you to try to get through one of his speeches without laughing or yawning.

This man is like Churchill??

Nah. I must’ve clicked on The Onion.

Like I said this morning on Twitter:

(Thanks to a friend for the idea.)

Footnote:
(1) Or he’s intellectually incapable of it, which is also possible.

(Crossposted at Sister Toldjah)


Your Saturday morning moment of Churchill

June 4, 2011

On this date 71 years ago, faced with a seemingly unstoppable Nazi threat, Winston Churchill told Parliament and the nation that Britain would never surrender.

LINKS: My blog-buddy ST is also feeling History-minded today, as she posts one of Ronald Reagan’s greatest speeches.

via Big Government


“This was their finest hour”

June 18, 2010

Today is the 70th anniversary of one of Winston Churchill’s finest speeches, given in that abysmal time after the fall of France, when Britain stood alone against Hitler and Germany:

Now that is how a leader makes a speech. It was indeed Great Britain’s finest hour and, regardless of whatever faults he may have had, Churchill was without doubt one of the great men of Western History.