Why Americans Still Love Churchill

Elizabeth Olson, writing in the NYT (Feb. 7, 2004):

While on a trip to New York in 1895, Winston Churchill, then 21, wrote to his brother that the United States"is a very great country, my dear Jack," adding,"Not pretty or romantic but great and utilitarian."

His relationship with Americans, beginning with his Brooklyn-born mother, Jenny Jerome Churchill, was cultivated over visits spanning most of his life and made Churchill the best-known and most popular British leader on the American side of the Atlantic. That"mutual love affair," as his daughter Mary Soames, 81, called it, is being celebrated in a display being billed as the first comprehensive exhibition on Churchill in the United States. It opened on Thursday at the Library of Congress.

"Americans who admired him knew he liked them very much and set store by his relationship with America," Lady Soames said in an interview after viewing the exhibition on Wednesday, when President Bush also toured it.

More than 200 public and private letters, cartoons, photographs, maps, scripts and even a large globe used in plotting wartime strategy are in the exhibition, which focuses on Churchill's long and close ties with the United States.

Views of Churchill are more uniformly positive in the United States than in England, Lady Soames acknowledged. In 1954, Dwight Eisenhower said of Churchill:"He comes closest to fulfilling the requirement of greatness of any individual that I have met in my lifetime." A collection of video clips at the beginning of the exhibition features American politicians of nearly every stripe quoting Churchill — although not always precisely.

One reason for his grandfather's enduring popularity in the United States, said his grandson and namesake, Winston Churchill, also in Washington for the exhibition's opening, is that people still remember his stirring wartime broadcasts.

"It's partly a reflection that he put so much effort into crafting his speeches, and he did it himself," Mr. Churchill said."One of his private secretaries said he would invest up to one hour of preparation for every minute of delivery. That would mean a 30-minute speech took 30 hours of preparation."

For the exhibition, which runs through June 26, the Library of Congress scoured its collections and found 15 previously unknown Churchill letters.

In a newly unearthed letter from 1908, Theodore Roosevelt wrote that Churchill"is a rather cheap character" who, like his father, Randolph, displayed"levity, lack of sobriety, lack of permanent principle and an inordinate thirst for that cheap form of admiration which is given to notoriety."

In another letter being exhibited for the first time, from 1898, young Lieutenant Churchill wrote of being"thoroughly sickened of human blood" during the British Army's cavalry charge at Omdurman, Sudan. But he liked military life, not least because it gave him a chance to win fame and pave his way into politics. His service in the Boer War finally won him the celebrity he sought. After resigning his commission, he wrote dispatches for a London newspaper describing his daring escape from Boer captivity.

comments powered by Disqus

Subscribe to our mailing list