Sunday, September 26, 2010

Week 37: The British Bulldog

There's not much I can add to the trove of biographical work done on the life of Winston Churchill. So why write about Sir Winston? Simple: it is unacceptable for me to know so little about such an important historic figure. He is one of the most respected and celebrated statesmen of the 20th century, and played a tremendously important role in saving the world from Nazi Germany.

I've often thought about the fact that my generation has not been called upon to sacrifice in the same way that prior generations have sacrificed. We have had the incredible priviledge of growing up without having to practice hiding under our desks in school or worrying about being drafted to fight in wars. I have tremendous respect for those from my generation who are willing to put themselves in harm's way to defend my freedom. But the calling today is different than the calling of soldiers in World War II, when literally a generation of young men were summoned to fight. Winston Churchill was in many ways the iconic figure in this struggle between good and evil.

Like most wars, World War II was a war between nations, but it was bigger than that. The victory shaped the course of humanity, and superseded any one nation. For his role in tirelessly fighting for freedom, Winston Churchill is arguably as loved outside of Britain as he is within the empire. Indeed, along with Mother Teresa, Winston Churchill is the only person to receive an honorary US citizenship while still alive.

While one of the highest profile awards received by Churchill, honorary US citizenship was just one on a very long list of honors. There is an entire wikipedia page devoted to this list. He has a mountain range named after him in the Canadian Rockies, countless roads and schools, two Royal Navy ships, honorary doctorates from a dozen schools... Oh yea, and then there is the Nobel Prize he won in Literature in 1953. Did I mention that he was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II? Or that he was elected as a Member of Parliament at the age of 25 (my current age)? And with all of his free time, Churchill was an amateur painter (see his study of boats here.)

Of course, Churchill is also known for both his wit and his love for brandy. In addition to the obvious - and fantastic - "our finest hour" type of quotes, there are a number of others that I enjoy (e.g., "You have enemies? Good. That means you’ve stood up for something, sometime in your life."). Occassionally, his quotes and his drinking mixed together - when told he was drunk by Bessie Braddock, Churchill replied "And you, Madam, are ugly. But I shall be sober in the morning." Also famous was this comment to Saudi King Saud, whose kingdom forbade drinking: "I must point out that my rule of life prescribed as an absolutely sacred rite smoking cigars and also the drinking of alcohol before, after, and if need be during all meals and the intervals between them." Suffice it to say that Winston Churchill was not afraid to say what was on his mind.

I could go on and on about Churchill - but the point is there are many reasons to study his life in more detail. Perhaps the best part of this blog is that I've been introduced to dozens of new topics. Next year I look forward to spending more in depth time learning about some of them. I can assure you that a biography of Winston Churchill will be at the top of my reading list.

1 comment:

  1. Carioca laments that he couldn't find his all-time-favorite Winston Churchill story; therefore would be unable to authenticate it as genuine; and therefore, regretfully, chooses not to post it...

    At the same time, while searching, found the following fascinating snippets:

    "The story of what his daughter calls the 'Papa Cocktail' (a smidgen of Johnnie Walker covering the bottom of a tumbler, which was then filled with water and sipped throughout the morning), is confirmed by so many observers that it could hardly be untrue. WSC's observation that he learned this habit as a young man in India and South Africa (in My Early Life) appears to be literally true: the water being unfit to drink, one had to add whisky and, 'by dint of careful application I learned to like it.' The concoction he grew to like was, Jock Colville said, more akin to mouthwash than a highball. It barely qualifies as 'scotch and water.'"
    And, "A doctor attending him after he was knocked down by a car New York in 1931, Otto C. Pickhardt, actually issued a medical note that Churchill's convalescence "necessitates the use of alcoholic spirits especially at mealtimes," specifying 250 cc per day as the minimum (FH 101:51)."