What Would Winston Churchill Have Said?

In an editorial in the London Times , Ben McIntyre asks the question, “How would Churchill have answered the Islamist threat?”


Churchill had an uncanny ability to frame emotional tumult, personal sacrifice and human conflict in a unique form of political poetry that was instantly timeless. His words from February 1934 seem grimly appropriate: “I have lived through a period when one looked forward, as we do now, with anxiety and uncertainty to what would happen in the future . . . Suddenly something did happen: tremendous, swift, overpowering, irresistible.”

It is reasonable to ask what Churchill, a man so acutely aware of his own historical legacy, might have made of the worst terrorist attack on British soil. He would, I think, have snorted at the facile comparisons between the deaths caused by the attacks of 7/7 and the pounding, nightly horror of the Blitz. But he would surely have commended the “business as usual” attitude of most Londoners, and the outpouring of resistance on the internet, with its spontaneous black humour.

From a broader perspective, he might well have backed the invasion of Afghanistan and the toppling of the Taleban, an identifiable regime with a putrid ideology posing an imminent danger to British subjects. I am less convinced that he would have supported the war in Iraq. At the time of the Mesopotamia campaign in 1917, Churchill had seen the British Army march on Baghdad to take control of the oilfields and topple a brutal regime, only to become embroiled in a bloody quagmire. Churchill also knew that the “highest moral value” attaches to striking the second blow, to responding to provocation: he would not, I believe, have started a pre-emptive war. (Saddam was another avid Churchill fan: “We will fight them on the streets, from the rooftops, house to house . . . ” he told George Galloway, shortly before running away to hide in a hole in the ground.)

Well, we do know how Churchill responded in the struggle to free the Sudan from the Jihadists of the 19th Century:

“How dreadful are the curses which Mohammedanism lays on its votaries! Besides the fanatical frenzy, which is as dangerous in a man as hydrophobia in a dog, there is this fearful fatalistic apathy. The effects are apparent in many countries. Improvident habits, slovenly systems of agriculture, sluggish methods of commerce, and insecurity of property exist wherever the followers of the Prophet rule or live. A degraded sensualism deprives this life of its grace and refinement; the next of its dignity and sanctity. The fact that in Mohammedan law every woman must belong to some man as his absolute property, either as a child, a wife, or a concubine, must delay the final extinction of slavery until the faith of Islam has ceased to be a great power among men. Individual Moslems may show splendid qualities – but the influence of the religion paralyses the social development of those who follow it. No stronger retrograde force exists in the world. Far from being moribund, Mohammedanism is a militant and proselytizing faith. It has already spread throughout Central Africa, raising fearless warriors at every step; and were it not that Christianity is sheltered in the strong arms of science, the science against which it had vainly struggled, the civilisation of modern Europe might fall, as fell the civilisation of ancient Rome.”

—Sir Winston Churchill, from The River War, first edition, Vol. II, pages 248-50 (London: Longmans, Green & Co., 1899).

Churchill would have considered the Islamist attacks against Western civilization to be an assault against Western civilized values that should be dealt with sternly.

One thought on “What Would Winston Churchill Have Said?

  1. exactly, and going to war in Iraq would have cleared that all right up!I don’t know who you’re trying to convince, because I haven’t met a person yet who was against going to war against the terrorists in Afghanistan.


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