Here is a brief excerpt from an article by Bret Stephens for The New York Times. He recommends, in this season of giving, that we get (and give) Andrew Roberts’s brilliant new biography. To read the complete article, check out others, and obtain information about deep-discount subscription rates, please click here.
Credit: Hulton Archive/Getty Images
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Earlier this year, the retired astronaut Scott Kelly posted a harmless tweet quoting Winston Churchill’s famous line, “In victory, magnanimity.” Left-wing Twitter went berserk, and Kelly felt obliged to grovel.
“Did not mean to offend by quoting Churchill,” he wrote. “My apologies. I will go and educate myself further on his atrocities, racist views which I do not support.”
We live in a time in which decent and otherwise sensible people are surrendering too easily to the hectoring of morons or extremists. Think of Prime Minister Theresa May of Britain and the hard-core Brexiteers. Or of what used to be called the Republican establishment and Donald Trump.
We also live in an era in which the counterexamples are few and far between. “In defeat, defiance” is another great Churchillian maxim, and it’s hard to name a single political figure today who embodies it — as opposed to, say, “in defeat, early retirement to avoid a difficult primary.”
So maybe it’s time to acquaint (or reacquaint) ourselves with the original, and there’s no better way of doing it than to read the historian Andrew Roberts’s “Churchill: Walking With Destiny.” A review last month in The Times called it “the best single-volume biography of Churchill yet written,” but it’s more than that. It’s an antidote to the reigning conceits, self-deceptions, half-truths and clichés of our day.
For instance: Being born into “privilege” is ipso facto a privilege.
For Churchill — who suffered as a child under the remote glare of a contemptuous father and a self-indulgent mother; fought valiantly in four wars by the time he was 25; and earned his own living through prodigious literary efforts that ultimately earned him a Nobel Prize — the main privilege was the opportunity to bear up under the immense weight of inner expectation that came with being born to a historic name.
Or: To be a member of the establishment is to be a creature of it.
Churchill championed free trade to the consternation of Tory protectionists. He supported super-taxes on the rich and pensions for the old to the infuriation of his aristocratic peers. He called for rearmament before both world wars against the hopes and convictions of the pacifists and appeasers in power. His great, unfulfilled political ambition was to create a party of the sensible center. Being at the center of the establishment is what allowed him to be indifferent to — and better than — it.
Or: To be a champion of empire is to be a bigot.
In 1899, Churchill envisioned a future South Africa in which “Black is to be proclaimed the same as white … to be constituted his legal equal, to be armed with political rights.” He denounced the 1919 British massacre of Indian demonstrators at Amritsar as “a monstrous event.” He promoted social reform at home so that Britain could be a worthy leader of its dominions abroad. Churchill was a patriot, a paternalist, a product of his time — and, by those standards, a progressive.
Or: The moral judgments of the present are superior to those of the past.
One of the alleged crimes for which Churchill is now blamed is the perpetration of a “genocide” in India after a cyclone-caused famine in 1943. Evidence for this is that he used racially insensitive humor during the crisis. Except that Churchill did send whatever food he could spare, Japan was threatening India from Burma, the rest of world was at war, and difficult choices had to be made.
It is because Churchill made the judgments he did that his latter-day detractors live in a world free to make judgments about him.
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Here is a direct link to the complete article.
Bret Stephens is an American journalist, editor, and political commentator. He began at The New York Times in late April 2017 and as a senior political contributor for NBC News in June 2017.