Thursday, March 8, 2012

Winston Churchill: Smoker, Drunk, One Tough Dude--With Good Judgment

In the course of writing an introduction to a World War II memoir (one of the projects that got in the way of blogging in recent weeks), I had occasion to read a generous body of historical literature on the war, which inevitably yielded a few choice and sometimes humorous passages. (And in the meantime, as issues of war and peace suddenly again become the subject of national conversation, these quotations about policy and leadership perhaps acquire additional significance.)

Here, a description of the military and political situation upon the outbreak of World War II on the western front:
Hitler was riding high; his goals within reach. Life was good. The sight of German troops marching down the Champs-Elysées assuaged the humiliation of Versailles. Only two vexing matters remained: an ally he loathed to the east—the Soviet Union—and a foe he admired to the west—Great Britain. Contrary to expectations and against all odds, Britain had not folded. Neville Chamberlain, with whom he had done satisfactory business in Munich in 1938, had stepped down as prime minister on 10 May 1940. Winston Churchill, cut of another cloth entirely, was now in charge. It was perturbing to have so equal an adversary. Fortunately, Churchill was a heavy smoker and a drunk, the teetotaler Führer consoled himself. Surely he would either drop dead or, in an inebriated stupor, err egregiously.
Churchill did smoke heavily and drank a bottle of whiskey a day. But he did not err egregiously. His vivid historical imagination gave him a moral and intellectual compass to guide him through the turbulence of the moment. A great nationalist, Churchill was proud of Britain's past and hopeful for its future. It seemed to him that a historic moment was upon them. Thus, as Belgium fell and France teetered and Britain's foreign secretary Lord Halifax suggested a negotiated peace with Hitler using Mussolini as a negotiator, Churchill stood firm.
—Debórah Dwork & Robert Jan van Pelt, Holocaust: A History (NY: W. W. Norton, 2002), 166

[update: image]


SnoopyTheGoon said...

"Churchill did smoke heavily and drank a bottle of whiskey a day."

It beats me why some people consider the above detracting from the image.

Citizen Wald said...

Yes, reminds one of the statement attributed to President Lincoln upon hearing complaints regarding Ulysses S. Grant's heavy drinking: "I wish some of you would tell me the brand of whiskey that Grant drinks. I would like to send a barrel of it to my other generals."