At A Time When A Weary, Disheartened World
Is Looking for Leadership
A Look Back At He Who Saved Democracy
It’s personal, this tribute to Winston S. Churchill, one of the 20th century’s most captivating characters. I was born in 1938, on the eve of the Second World War, one cold December morning in a small, gold-mining centre in northern Canada. Thus, in my childhood innocence, I became aware of his name and shortly thereafter, his magnificent, stentorian voice, that made you want to listen to his every word.
The other link I had to this man’s destiny, was that my father had left mother and me in Timmins, Ontario, to fight overseas in Holland and Germany, with Canada’s Algonquin Regiment.
Not a day went by during his absence, when Mother would say to me, Churchill said this or said that, in a serious, reverend tone that reinforced the man’s stature in my young eyes. Adding to this awareness, were the special moments when Mom would say, Churchill is going to speak and that meant I dropped everything and sat with her, as if attached, to our floor model radio, while the voice of a defiant, English lion transfixed the free world with uplifting words of, “We will never give in . . . NEVAH!”
That explains how I came to know, respect, admire and now, cherish, this one-of-a-kind human, who is today recognized far and wide as the man who saved democracy and, in the process, arguably became the closest example of a superman the free world has ever known. In the words of President Dwight D. Eisenhower, “I have known finer and greater characters, wiser philosophers, more understanding personalities, but no greater man.” December 1954.
As a history buff, I have recently completed a long, rewarding journey through time, as I turned my way, page by scintillating page, through the 1,000 pages of the latest Churchill biography, WALK WITH DESTINY, by the gifted British historian, Andrew Roberts. When I finished the book, for the first time in my life, I decided to start all over and read it a second time, it was that compelling. As one of the book jacket quotes observes, “Walking With Destiny replaces the preceding 1,000 Churchill biographies.”
There are so many truly remarkable things about the man, it is hard to know where to start. But because I am using words to deliver this message, let’s start with his towering command of the English language. Some facts: he published 6.1 million words in 37 books – more than Shakespeare and Dickens together. Add to that, the five million words he spoke in public speeches. That total ignores his mountains of letters and memorandums. Now it’s easier to understand why he has so few, if any, peers in English and why, when he died, he had sold more history books than any other historian in history. To me, he seemed to revel in the richness and power of the language. But in addition to being masterful in his expression, his other abiding talent lay in being succinct. For instance, who could have expressed these prescriptions for civilization more succinctly?
“In war, Fury. In defeat, Defiance. In victory, Magnanimity. In peace, Good will.”
Or, another example: “Courage is rightly esteemed the first of human qualities because . . . it is the quality which guarantees all others.” But as so often is the case in this man’s record, there were complete and frequent contradictions. Always ready to concede he wasn’t perfect, especially in conversations with his beloved Clementine, he once observed that during the course of his life, he had frequently been forced to eat his own words. Then he added, “But I must say, I always thought it was a rather wholesome diet.”
So, at this point, we know he was a writer, orator and historian, a reasonable list of achievements for one person. But that would be an oversight, because he was so much more than one person, wouldn’t it? At different times in his life, he was also a: politician, sportsman, artist, parliamentarian, journalist, essayist, gambler, soldier, war correspondent, adventurer, patriot, internationalist, dreamer, pragmatist, strategist, Zionist, imperialist, monarchist, democrat, egocentric, hedonist, romantic, butterfly collector, big-game hunter, animal lover, newspaper editor, spy, bricklayer, wit, pilot, horseman and novelist.
We also know how much he liked to drink, but while that seemed to be well understood, few if any observers ever reported seeing him drunk. He lived until he was 90, in 1965, so it clearly asn’t a health problem, and as he once commented, “I have taken more out of alcohol than alcohol has taken out of me.”
If you are anything like me, at this juncture you’re starting to ask yourself, O K, I get it . . . he was a remarkably superior human being, but why? What drove him to behave in such a compelling manner? Surprisingly, the answer is straightforward – he believed in his ancestor, the first Duke of Marlborough. But let’s hear it in the man’s own words. In the final lines of his famous book, The Gathering Storm, the first volume of his war memoirs, he recalled the evening of Friday, 10 May, 1940, when he had become prime minister only hours after Adolf Hitler had unleashed his Blitzkrieg on the West, Churchill wrote, “I felt as if I were walking with destiny, and that all my past life had been but a preparation for this hour and for this trial . . . I could not be reproached or making the war or want of preparation for it. I thought,” he continued, “I knew a good deal about it all, and I was sure I should not fail.”
What we learn here is he very much believed in his own destiny. As a 16-year old, he had told a friend he would save Britain from a foreign invasion. His lifelong admiration of Napoleon and his ancestor, John Churchill, first Duke of Marlborough, coloured his belief that, he too, was a man of destiny. In fact, it took him 65 years to become prime minister, perhaps the world’s longest apprenticeship. But during that time, it is stunning to comprehend the number of defeats, rejections, public criticisms, errors and tragedies he endured, while exercising a prodigious work ethic and developing an inspiring leadership. So, when civilization’s darkest hour arrived, he was able to put each and every one of those life’s lessons to work . . . and, in the shadow of the eternal gratitude of his and future generations. . . he walked with destiny.