Perhaps President Obama moved too quickly when he returned the bust of Sir Winston Churchill to the British Embassy. It had been sitting in the Oval Office during the George W. years, and Mr. Obama obviously had other ideas for decorating his office.
I am sure that the dislodging of Mr. Churchill was not the result of any antipathy towards him, or any lack of appreciation for his enormous successes during his terms as British Prime Minister. But perhaps the emotions of the two men entering office were not too dissimilar, and perhaps there is something that President Obama could take heart from Prime Minister Churchill.
I have just read through an address on Churchill that Sir Martin Gilbert delivered last year at Ditchley, a country house used by Churchill for a time as an official residence and now home to a foundation which, among other things, promotes Anglo-American relations.
Two Churchillian anecdotes related by Gilbert might have special meaning for Mr. Obama today, albeit the war he is fighting is primarily an economic one, rather than the military war faced by Churchill.
First, from the early days of Churchill’s government, when German advances made everything appear quite bleak. I quote:
“…the head of his Defence Office, General Ismay recalled, “I walked with him from Downing Street to the Admiralty. A number of people waiting outside the private entrance greeted him with cries of ‘Good luck, Winnie. God bless you.’ He was visibly moved, and as soon as we were inside the building, he dissolved into tears. ‘Poor people,’ he said, ‘poor people. They trust me, and I can give them nothing but disaster for quite a long time.'”
Second, not too much later, when the opposition in Parliament was giving Churchill a very hard time as he made his initial speeches as prime minister to the legislators. Again, I quote:
“Churchill appealed to Parliament. ‘I say, let pre-war feuds die; let personal quarrels be forgotten, and let us keep our hatreds for the common enemy. Let Party interests be ignored, let all our energies be harnessed, let the whole ability and forces of the nation be hurled into the struggle, and let the strong horses be pulling on the collar. Of this I am quite sure, that if we open a quarrel between the past and the present, we shall find that we have lost the future…..”
Thanks to Sir Martin for sharing his very interesting, and somber, address at Ditchley.