Perhaps the best way to write about Sir Winston Churchill and present some of his best quips, is to begin with one of the best comeback lines in history. And it’s not his!
When Sir Winston saw his wife Clementine talking to a street sweeper for a while, he asked: “What did you talk about for so long?”
Clementine replied with a smile. “Many years ago he was madly in love with me.”
Churchill smiled ironically, “So you could have been the wife of a street sweeper today.”
“Oh no, my love,” Clementine replied. “If I had married him, he would have been the prime minister today.”
Winston Churchill has his own clever quips. However, I thought it would be remiss of me to offer only that clever side of Winston without showing the complexity of the man and, in turn, the complexity of mankind, the most complex of nature’s creatures. We have the capacity to both think and feel, to use language to devastate, create, explore, and heal, and to take action to either destroy or repair what we see. Humans have even conquered space by sending men to the moon. Yet, too often, humans have used their genius to destroy rather than create, and to become the master murderers and thieves of the planet.
“In Churchill’s view, White Protestant Christians were at the top, above white Catholics, while Indians were higher than Africans. ‘Churchill saw himself and Britain as being the winners in a social Darwinian hierarchy.’”1
So, before going into greater details about Winston’s views, let’s start off by reminding everyone that, unless grand theft of the art and culture of other nations is the measure of the greatness of one’s own nation, Britain should return the so-called ‘Elgin’ Marbles stolen from Greece. So far, Britain has refused. Theft of other people’s culture does not make one’s own culture great.2
Churchill’s legacy is rich with examples of both triumphs that have reached heights most of us will never achieve, and a slew of less than noble acts and pouts. He represents the dichotomy between the good, the brilliant, the petty and, some might even say, the evil that can dwell in one and the same person.
Labour candidate Benjamin Whittingham once tweeted that Churchill was “a racist and white supremacist”. Whittingham later apologized if his statement caused offense, and deleted the tweet, as if calling someone “a racist and white supremacist” could be conceived of as a compliment by some. Others argued that Churchill was simply a “paternalist who believed that Britain had a profound moral duty to improve the lives of the peoples of her Empire, but it was incidental that these peoples exhibited different colours and creeds.“3
Not only has Winston Churchill and Britain been accused of draining “over $45 trillion from India, which to date has hampered the country’s ability to come out of poverty,”4 Churchill has also been accused of Genocide in India, especially in his handling of the India rice famine. “In 1943, India, then still a British possession, experienced a disastrous famine in the north-eastern region of Bengal—sparked by the Japanese occupation of Burma the year before,—and Churchill’s actions, or lack thereof, have been the subject of criticism. …[Churchill’s] War Cabinet ordered the build-up of a stockpile of wheat for feeding European civilians after they had been liberated. So 170,000 tons of Australian wheat bypassed starving India—destined not for consumption but for storage. …Churchill even appeared to blame the Indians for the famine, claiming they ‘breed like rabbits’ … it was difficult for people to get him to take the [famine] issue seriously.”5 In light of the 3 million Indians who died during the famine, who Churchill could have saved, the view of Churchill as a ‘paternalist’ has more holes in it than a sieve.
As to those ‘rabbits,’ Winston couldn’t know that one of those ‘rabbits,’ Subramanyan Chandrasekhar, would win “the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1983 “for his theoretical studies of the physical processes of importance to the structure and evolution of the stars.”6 And then there’s that other ‘rabbit,’ Srinivasa Ramanujan, a poor, self-taught Indian mathematician who was immortalized in the film, The Man Who Knew Infinity.’ “One of his last discoveries, before dying at 32 of a liver infection, was of mock modular forms, functions currently being used by physicists to study the thermodynamics of black holes.”7
Winston’s brag about being a member of a superior race, suggests he also forgot about the great achievements of other cultures before the British even existed as a people. Britain emerged from various Anglo-Saxon kingdoms around July 927 A.D. Even then, the Brits, like most of the western world, were woefully behind the times. No offense to the British. We love them. This is simply meant to be a reality check to all those who believe that Western White folks have always been the superior race throughout history, because they are “the winners in a social Darwinian hierarchy,” as Churchill put it. More likely they are the winners of the development of more lethal modern weapons, and the will to use them to invade, crush, and rob other nations and their people… just like those who came before them all through history. Even then, those weapons wouldn’t have been available to the British if it hadn’t been for the early Mesopotamians, Sumerians, Babylonians, and Greeks. Around 5000 to 6000 years ago, Early Mesopotamians were the first to fully harness the ability to extract and work with copper. “Archaeological evidence suggests the transition from copper to bronze took place around 3300 B.C.… Prominent Bronze Age kingdoms included Sumer and Babylonia in Mesopotamia and Athens in Ancient Greece.…The use of iron became more widespread after people learned how to make steel, a much harder metal, by heating iron with carbon. The Hittites—who lived during the Bronze Age in what is now Turkey—may have been the first to make steel.”8
In fact, Britain and most other Western Nations often lagged behind when it came to things we now take for granted. For instance, during the Neolithic Ozieri civilization in Sardinia [3200 to 2800 BC] ceramic ladles and spoons were already in use.9 In the stone age, spoons were made from hollowed out pieces of wood or seashells that were connected to wooden sticks. Animal horns also were used as a means to eat liquid foods.”10 Some sources claim “archeological findings can place some of the ornamental and religious spoons in the area of 1000 years BC in Egypt. Yet by 1611 AD, “England continued to live without spoons, which were first introduced to them by the traveling records of Thomas Coryat. His teaching sadly managed to take hold only after half a century.” Forks go way back to the ancient Greeks and were in “common use by the 4th century.11 The personal table fork was most likely invented in the Eastern Roman (Byzantine) Empire.”12
In the eighth or ninth century, some Persian nobility may have used a fork like tool. In the 11th century, “Italian nobleman Domenico Selvo married a Greek princess who brought with her [the] first recorded fork in central Europe. Her addition of the fork to the eating practice was regarded as scandalous and heretic.”13 It wasn’t until the “Early 17th century [that] Forks became commonplace across entire Europe. Majority of people still used sharply pointed knives for that purpose,”14 or they used their fingers to eat.
And let’s not forget the civilizing effects the Romans had on the British. The Romans ruled from 43 AD to 410 AD. “With the Roman Conquest in 43 AD came the first written records of England’s history.”15 The Romans taught Britains “about hygiene, about clean drinking water, a calendar, laws and the legal system. They also introduced new infrastructure such as straight roads, central heating, aqueducts as well as concrete. Basically, the Romans changed the British culture, geography and even their way of thinking and had an effect on the British language.”16 And where did the ancient Romans acquire much of their knowledge and art? From the ancient Greeks, of course.17
We should not forget however, that Britain has produced some of the greatest poets, painters, and playwrights, Shakespeare among the greatest. They’ve also produced great actors and filmmakers. And, of course, Britain does have the clock tower known as Big Ben and London Bridge. And it does have a few grand castles and palaces. However, other nations also have grand castles and great bridges. In fact, “The Neolithic people built boardwalk bridges across marshland. The Arkadiko Bridge (dating from the 13th century BC, in the Peloponnese) is one of the oldest arch bridges still in existence and use.”18
The ancient Assyrians were inhabitants of Mesopotamia, one the world’s earliest civilizations, which began to emerge around 3500 B.C. Some claim the Sumerians invented the world’s first written language around 3100 bce in southern Mesopotamia. The Assyrians produced what’s believed to be the world’s oldest book, The Epic of Gilgamesh, written down around 2000 B.C.19 The Assyrians invented the 360-degree circle, established Hammurabi’s code of law, created the first library, i.e. The Library of Ashurbanipal, and are credited with many military, artistic, architectural, agricultural, and other great achievements, including the invention of the wheel.20 The Assyrians were also among the first to accept Christianity, with the founding of the Assyrian Church of the East by the apostle Thomas in 33 C.E.21
Then there’s that North African nation, Egypt, a civilization that coalesced around 3100 B.C. and left a lasting legacy. Its art and architecture were widely copied, and its antiquities carried off to the far corners of the world. “The many achievements of the ancient Egyptians include the quarrying, surveying, and construction techniques that supported the building of monumental pyramids, temples, and obelisks, [thousands of years before modern machinery or tools]; a system of mathematics, a practical and effective system of medicine, irrigation systems and agricultural production techniques, the first known planked boats, Egyptian faience and glass technology, new forms of literature, and the earliest known peace treaty, made with the Hittites, probably written on papyrus, “the first writing material to assume many of the properties of what we now know as paper. It was invented by the Egyptians in approximately 3000 B.C.,” a precursor to the paper we use today, that was invented by the Chinese in 105 A.D. And although, like other ancient civilizations, ancient Egypt did have slaves, or more accurately, prisoners they had won during wars, those prisoners “could marry Egyptian women and had similar jobs as other inhabitants of the Nile Valley. Contrary to popular belief, they did not build the pyramids, and their life was not harder than that of Egyptians doing hard jobs.”22
The British on the other hand, didn’t abolish slavery until 1833, but it didn’t take effect until August 1, 1834. And even a quick read of Dickens, who wrote in the mid-1800s, tells us that British society had a strict class system, and Britain had not taken care of its poor and struggling citizens. The Poor Law Amendment Act of 1834 simple established workhouses in place of the old poor houses, which some called: “Prisons for the Poor.”23
Soap was invented 5000 years ago by the Sumerians, and later expanded by the Babylonians and Egyptians. “Evidence has been found that ancient Babylonians understood soap making as early as 2800 BC. … Records show ancient Egyptians bathed regularly.”24 Soap was later “exported from Syria to other parts of the Muslim world and to Europe.”25 That invention alone saved many millions of lives throughout history. The English didn’t begin making soap until the 12th century.26 And, unfortunately, even after the Romans taught the English about bathing, bathing was often only available to the wealthy.
Then of course there are the Greeks. The findings of the ancient Greeks “in the areas of astronomy, geography, and mathematics made them pioneers in the field of science. The Greeks’ interest in the scientific specification of the physical world can be seen as far back as the sixth century B.C., and they have often been hailed as the fathers of science, medicine, zoology, and many other areas.” Their gifts to the world include: The Water Mill; the Odometer; the alarm clock; Cartography; the Olympics; Basis for Geometry; Earliest Practice of Medicine; Modern Philosophy; Concept of Democracy; Discoveries in Modern Science.”27
In today’s Islamophobic atmosphere, there is constant denigration of Arabs, Islam, and Muslims, so it’s easy to forget about ’The Islamic Golden Age.’ It began in 622 AD, and was devastated in 1258, when the Mongols under Tamerlane invaded and took over Bagdad and other Middle Eastern lands, slaughtering millions of inhabitants.28 The Ottoman Turks finished the job, bringing the Golden Age of Islam to an end. During the Golden Age of Islam, the world was given coffee, universities, a flying machine, algebra, optics, music, the toothbrush, the crank, and hospitals.29 Science, economic development, and cultural works also flourished. During the Golden Age of Islam, Arabs brought that culture, science, and philosophy, as well as extraordinary architecture to Europe.30
As to education, one source claims: “the earliest formal school was developed in Egypt’s Middle Kingdom under the direction of Kheti, treasurer to Mentuhotep II (2061-2010 BC)31 According to the Guinness World Records, “The oldest existing, and continually operating educational institution in the world is the University of Karueein, founded in 859 AD in Fez, Morocco. The University of Bologna, Italy, was only founded in 1088 and is the oldest one in Europe. …The Sumerians had scribal schools or É-Dub-ba soon after 3500 BC”32 Mesopotamian civilization flourished almost simultaneously with Egypt during the first civilizational phase (3000–1500 bce).33 England’s first school was the “King’s School, Canterbury, founded in 597, apparently related to a school of royal charter 1541.”34
“From the 11th to the 13th century, Europe absorbed knowledge from the Islamic civilization. …Around the year 1,000, the celebrated doctor Al Zahrawi published a 1,500 page illustrated encyclopedia of surgery that was used in Europe as a medical reference for the next 500 years.”35 Under Muslim rule, “medieval Spain holds the distinction of being the sole place in Europe where Jews, Muslims, and Christians lived side by side on the same soil, frequently in harmony.”36 Many claim the Italian Renaissance, which flourished during the 15th and 16th centuries, was inspired by Muslim contributions in Spain.37
And how did the Arabs come about many of their ideas? From reading Greek books of philosophy and science. Those Greek books were first found by Assyrian scholars who translated them into Syriac and Arabic.36 The Arabs took those text, studied them, and went back to the original Greek.
In David Fromkin’s A Peace to End All Peace, Fromkin writes: “Winston Churchill, no scholar of ancient languages or literature, was as jealous as a child. “Those Greeks and Romans,” he protested, “they are so overrated. They only said everything first. I’ve said just as good things myself. But they got in before me.”38
It’s difficult to believe Churchill wasn’t joking. This ‘tongue in cheek’ humor was and is quite common. However, judging by the way the most impressive nations and peoples in history have been brought to their knees, and their people sometimes ridiculed in modern times, one has to wonder if jealousy was shared by less ingenious peoples throughout history, especially those of the West.
So, although Churchill claimed: “A nation that forgets its past has no future,” he apparently forgot some of Britain’s past. Ditto his assertion of being “winners in a social Darwinian hierarchy.”
To read more about Churchill’s darker side, see: Tom Heyden, The 10 greatest controversies of Winston Churchill’s career. BBC News Magazine. 26 January 2015.
Meanwhile, here are examples of Churchill’s wit, the other side of the coin:
Diplomacy is the art of telling people to go to hell in such a way that they ask for directions.
You will never reach your destination if you stop and throw stones at every dog that barks.
Fear is a reaction. Courage is a decision.
If you’re not a liberal at twenty you have no heart. If you’re not a conservative at forty, you have no brain. [This one is rather questionable]
Success consists of going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm.
A good speech should be like a woman’s skirt: long enough to cover the subject and short enough to create interest.
A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty.
One man with conviction will overwhelm a hundred who have only opinions.
However beautiful the strategy, you should occasionally look at the results.
Life can either be accepted or changed. If it is not accepted, it must be changed. If it cannot be changed, then it must be accepted.
We contend that for a nation to try to tax itself into prosperity is like a man standing in a bucket and trying to lift himself up by the handle.
I’d rather argue against a hundred idiots, than have one agree with me.
In the course of my life, I have often had to eat my words, and I must confess that I have always found it a wholesome diet.
Life is fraught with opportunities to keep your mouth shut.
An appeaser is one who feeds a crocodile, hoping it will eat him last.
- Tom Heyden, The 10 greatest controversies of Winston Churchill’s career. BBC News. 26 January 2015.
- Zachery Small, Prominent Lawyer Suggests That Officials Committed Fraud to Keep Elgin Marbles in England During 19th Century. Art News. February 26, 2020.
- Andrew Roberts and Zewditu Gebreyohanes, Cambridge: “The Racial Consequences of Mr. Churchill,” A Review. The Churchill Project, Hillsdale College. March 14, 2021.
- Business Today. How much money did Britain take away from India? About $45 trillion in 173 years, says top economist. Nov 19, 2018.
- Tom Heyden, The 10 greatest controversies of Winston Churchill’s career. BBC News. 26 January 2015.
- The prize was shared with with William A. Fowler for “…theoretical studies of the physical processes of importance to the structure and evolution of the stars”. Wikipedia.
- Ramin Skibba, Mathematicians And ‘The Man Who Knew Infinity’. Inside Science. April 29, 2016. A quick internet search will reveal other Indians who contributed to the world’s knowledge and art.
- Eating Utensils, http://www.eatingutensils.net/history-of-cutlery/timeline-of-eating-utensils/
- Sources for these dates are all over the map, so perhaps none are completely accurate, but you get the idea.
- Timeline of Eating Utensils. http://www.eatingutensils.net/history-of-cutlery/timeline-of-eating-utensils/
- Ben Johnson, The Romans in England. Historic UK. https://www.historic-uk.com/HistoryUK/HistoryofEngland/The-Romans-in-England/
- The Romans in Britain.
- Culture and religion. Britannica. https://www.britannica.com/place/ancient-Rome/Culture-and-religion
- J.M. Roberts, History of the World. Oxford University Press. New York. 1993. P. 41.
- Assyrians. https://www.encyclopedia.com/history/asia-and-africa/ancient-history-middle-east/assyria. Syriacs, Chaldeans, and Arameans are all Assyrians.
- Egyptologist: The life of slaves in Egypt. Ancient Egypt, Wikipedia
- The National Archives. https://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/education/resources/1834-poor-law/
- Cleaning Institute.
- Ahmad Y. al-Hassan (2001), Science and Technology in Islam: Technology and applied sciences, pp.73-74 2017-12-09 at the Wayback Machine, UNESCO.
- Cleaning Institute.
- Saugat Adhikari, Top 10 Inventions and Discoveries of Ancient Greece That Are Remarkably Used Today. Ancient History Lists. February 3, 2021. https://www.ancienthistorylists.com/greek-history/top-10-inventions-discoveries-ancient-greece-remarkably-used-today/
- Biography of Tamerlane, 14th Century Conqueror of Asia. https://www.thoughtco.com/timur-or-tamerlane-195675
- Olivia Sterns, Muslim inventions that shaped the modern world. CNN. January 29, 2010. http://www.cnn.com/2010/WORLD/meast/01/29/muslim.inventions/index.html
- Ahmedessa with Othmanali, The Muslim Contribution to the Renaissance. International Institute of Islamic Thought, 2012.
- Marie Parsons. “Education in Ancient Egypt”. Tour Egypt.
- Guinness World records
- Britannica. Education in earliest civilizations.
- List of the oldest schools in the United Kingdom. Wikipedia.
- Guinness World Records
- Jane S. Gerber, Ornament of the World” and the Jews of Spain. National Endowment for the Humanities. December 17, 2019.
- Nestorians of 9th-Century Iraq as a Source of Greek, Syriac and Arabic. Chapter 9. From the Greeks to the Arabs and Beyond. Volume I: Graeco-Syriaca and Arabica. Brill. May 4, 2021
- David Fromkin’s A Peace to End All Peace. Henry Holt and Company. 1989. P. 24.
Thea Halo is the author of the critically acclaimed memoir, Not Even My Name, a former news correspondent for WBAI in NYC, and a former producer for public radio in upstate NY. Not Even My Name was instrumental in garnering the first state-level resolutions in the U.S. that recognized the genocide of the Pontian and other Asia Minor Greeks and Assyrians. She was a co-sponsor and driving force, along with Prof. Adam Jones, of the International Association of Genocide Scholars (IAGS) resolution that affirmed the Ottoman Genocides of Pontian and other Asia Minor Greeks and Assyrians as comparable to the genocide of the Armenians. She has also published a collection of poetry, and a number of Thea’s historical papers on the Genocides of Greeks and Assyrians have been published in books on the Ottoman Genocides. In 2009, Thea, along with her mother, Sano Halo, who passed away in 2014 at the age of 105, were awarded honorary Greek citizenship by the Greek government. In 2002, Thea was awarded the AHEPA Homer Award and, in 2012, the Association of Greek American Professional Women honored Thea and Sano for their “Profound contribution to Literature and to Hellenic Cultural Heritage and History.” Thea has also won numerous awards for her poetry and literary essays.