Spanish – Speaking of the times of torches and tridents, I was re-reading Winston Churchill’s biography written by Edgar Black. I would like to take up one particular episode because I think it portrays the British Prime Minister very well.
In 1901, a promising young Churchill finally arrived in Parliament. He had won in the Oldham district and was emerging as the star of the Conservative Party. He was famous because he had been a “war hero” – although details were still fuzzy about that – and he was also a remarkable writer. In short, Churchill walked through the front door of British politics.
The Tories were confident that a new and interesting politician was appealing to society. He was irreverent. Although new members of Parliament usually wait months to even utter a word, Churchill had no respect for that tradition.
But what the Conservatives did not expect was that they would have a resolute and principled man in their ranks, who was unwilling to give in or give up. When Churchill first spoke, his debut was wonderful. His colleagues applauded him, but the same would not be true of his next speeches.
Churchill’s father, Lord Randolph Churchill, had also been a politician with a future in Britain. However, his career plummeted when it started to get uncomfortable for his party. Now, young Churchill was ready to vindicate his tragic father.
Winston Churchill based his politics on the ideas of Lord Randolph. They were his principles, and he would not give in. Eventually, his doctrine became uncomfortable for his own party. In every speech, he wielded irksome premises for the Cecil gerontocracy that dominated the Conservatives. They tried to neutralize him. They accused him of wanting to divide the Tories. But Churchill did not give in.
At one point, he gave a masterful speech. It was uncomfortable, of course, for his party and the government. He attacked the Minister of War, the Secretary of State, and senior party members. But he received a standing ovation. It was one of the career-defining speeches whereby journalist H.W. Massingham predicted that Winston Churchill would become the next prime minister of England. The journalist was not wrong about the young man, who never gave in on his principles and values. Eventually, he had to leave the Tories.
His enemies never forgave him for this display of determination, and with this courage, he built his career and became one of the most influential men of the entire 20th century (perhaps, the most influential on the side of the good). His determination, grit, courage, intuition, and shrewdness led him to be the one largely responsible for ensuring that the swastika never fluttered in London.
In recent days, statues have fallen across the United States and Europe. It is the angry hordes, greedy for fire and rubble, who bring down everything that is not, in their eyes, untainted. And in the framework of this inquisitorial contest, Lincoln, Grant, Queen Isabella of Castille, Columbus, Cervantes, and Winston Churchill fell. Statues vandalized, spray-painted, disfigured, and some even mutilated.
I now defend Winston Churchill’s statue because I think it is pressing. It has provoked quite a lot of controversy, and some people are even now proposing that all the statues of Churchill should be removed because the old lion was an alleged monster, an alcoholic, a nuisance, and a racist.
“Without Churchill, Hitler, a true racist, would have killed many more on racial lines,” British historian and journalist Andrew Roberts, who was the latest to write a biography of the former prime minister, told El Independiente.
Roberts is quite right because, based on the facts that have impacted the course of history, Winston Churchill would actually be the greatest anti-racist and anti-fascist in history. He was adamantly opposed, despite the extremely unfavorable environment, to the menace of the Third Reich. He opposed it, unswervingly, and, with an iron fist, saved London from Nazi devastation.
Winston Churchill was not only a war hero with a long record of triumphs and some defeats. He was a statesman, a first-rate orator, who set the bar too high for his successors. Historian, journalist, and painter. He was also a prolific writer, which even earned him the Nobel Prize for Literature.
Yes, he was born in 1874 and died in 1965, quite a while ago. He was eight years old when Charles Darwin was still alive, only a few decades after the abolition of slavery in America. At this point, very few Americans objected to the Jim Crow laws. There was consensus on, for example, the racial hierarchy, and Churchill surely grew up convinced of British superiority over those who he considered barbarians here or there.
There is no doubt that Churchill said some things, in the Edwardian era of his life, that could be considered deplorable and regrettable. Irrefutable. But he said them in another context. Richard Toye, the author of Churchill’s Empire, told the BBC that “although Churchill did think that white people were superior, that didn’t mean he necessarily thought it was fine to treat non-white people in an inhumane way.” In fact, as Andrew Roberts himself pointed out, “a racist seeks to impose himself on other races, something Churchill never did. He was proud that the incorporation of the natives of the colonies allowed for the expansion of the British Empire. He was proud that the life expectancy of non-whites would double under British rule in India, something a racist would never do.”
However, the aspects mentioned above, if anything, are his shadows. And if we are going to push the great men of history into the fire for those stains, then let’s start with Bolivar for slavery, Picasso for misogyny, and Heidegger for fascism. That would be absurd because these men, like Churchill, are honored, not for their faults, but despite them.
“It is one thing to have streets and squares dedicated to killers like Hitler and his henchmen or Stalin and his own. They are individuals who have done nothing but commit these crimes. But we pay homage to many other complex, or ambiguous, imperfect people for the good they did despite the bad,” writes Javier Marías, right as always.
And Churchill is in that category. Unhealthy, alcoholic, lazy in the mornings, whimsical, reckless, and, uh, racist? But all of these, marginalized by the facts. Nobody cares. I don’t care, at least. Because Winston Churchill, the British bulldog, transcended and will continue to transcend history as the man who saved his country and Europe from the greatest racist in the history of mankind – and as the statesman of statesmen, and speaker of speakers. On his merits, I appeal not only for a respect for his monuments but also for the not-so-excessive idea of having his bust erected in every square. So that we all bear in mind, today and forever, what our heads of state must be like.