Dr. Larry Arnn Begins A Series On Winston Churchill, This Week Comparing Him To Barack Obama
HH: It’s time for the weekly Hillsdale Dialogue with Dr. Larry Arnn and/or one of his colleagues at Hillsdale College. It’s become sort of a cult following on the radio. In fact, I was in Phoenix on Wednesday night, Dr. Larry Arnn, and the GM there, Jim Ryan, took me aside and said he looks forward to this hour every single week, and he’s a hard core radio guy, and so he just loves it. And then, I went out to the Republican Party fundraiser I was speaking at, and one of the nice kids from the Jesuit high school in Phoenix came over and said he was coming up to see you this weekend at…I guess you’re going to do a student gathering in? Do you have a visitation coming up on the campus?
LA: We do, yeah, big bunch.
HH: All right, I told him to come by and find you and tell you how much he admired my broadcasting skills, because obviously, I’m making you look good. That’s it.
LA: That’s it. That’s it. And my genius is nobody else thought you’d be able to do that.
HH: (laughing) That’s why I want the Larry Arnn Chair in Rhetoric, America. Someone’s got to fund that, because I think we’ve got to cabin him soon. Now I’m glad to have a little fun at the end of a terrible week, Dr. Larry Arnn. And we’re going to talk about, after this week got underway, after this meltdown, Dr. Arnn has been urging me for some time to stop and consider the life of Churchill in four parts, and we’re going to do that, because right now, we could use a statesman. Sir Winston Leonard Spencer Churchill, and all the initials after his name, was the prime minister of the United Kingdom from 1940-1945, and again from 1951-1955. That’s the Wikipedia entry, Larry Arnn. But of course, you can’t even get an entry for Winston Churchill. Why are we going to talk about him now, at this moment of great…I mean, Vladi Putin is running the United States foreign policy.
HH: Why are we talking about Churchill now?
LA: Well, Churchill is, in my opinion, the last really great statesman that you can say that of, of a rank with somebody like Lincoln or Washington, and because he’s recent enough. A lot of the things we’re dealing with, his career is amidst those things. And so if you go to Lincoln, there’s so much to learn there, and it’s so great to study him. Churchill is a man of the modern world, the world we live in now. And so you can see many of the same themes, and you can see how somebody of real capacity dealt with them.
HH: And you can see parallels such as he had to deal with Uncle Joe, Joe Stalin. And now President Obama either has to deal with or run away from Putin, and we’re dealing with the Middle East, and Winston Churchill drew some of the lines, right? There’s an epic career here that meshes quite nicely with the fiasco we have underway.
LA: One of the most important things that Churchill learned about war, he learned in 1899, participating in a battle in which the last cavalry charge of the British Army was, and he was a cavalry officer. Well, the person he was fighting, the army he was fighting, was the Army of the Mahdi of Allah. And today, the grandson of the Mahdi of Allah is the ruler of the Sudan. The Mahdi of Allah was the first Arab fundamentalist ruler, set up the first Islamic state. And the current Mahdi in Sudan is the teacher of Osama bin Laden.
HH: Wow, see, that is remarkable.
LA: So very connected.
HH: Very connected, and if we look at Russia, there were times when Churchill warred against it, and there were times that he, as he said he would, find a few kind things to say in Parliament should the Devil invade Hell, and he got together with Stalin.
LA: That’s right, he did. And the record of that is of course very controversial, but the record shows, I assert and can prove, Churchill never lost sight of what Stalin was. And you know, other leaders in the war did do that, in my opinion. And so there’s a kind of a, one thing you see, like you started last week, because you set a trap for me and you wanted to read, you wouldn’t tell me what you were going to do, although it was transparent, you were going to read some quotes from Churchill that indicate that we ought to go intervene in Syria, and we ought to accept our responsibilities in the world. And it’s true of every great statesman, every statesman of an equality, that you can of course quote them on both sides of every issue, because the art that they practice is prudence. And that’s one part principle and one part a profound understanding of the circumstances that prevail. And what you do depends so very much on the circumstances. And you can derive some rules of conduct from reading the great statesmen, but the rules themselves, how you apply them, depend on the circumstances. And so Churchill was very involved in the Middle East. He is, you know, one of the founders of modern Iraq, for example. And so there’s a lot that he had to say about all that, that’s very interesting to read, and makes one wiser to read it, and then you’ve got some thinking to do about what you do.
HH: We also have some thinking to do about the fact great statesmen require great opponents and/or allies or colleagues. And as I’ve been reviewing just the war years, and we’re going to do this thematically today, and then chronologically over the next three weeks, he was up against incredible evil. He had to partner with incredible evil. He had amazing allies in FDR and Jan Smuts and others, and he had to deal with de Gaulle, and he had to deal with young men and old men and women and children, and he was really called upon over a long period of time to hone his skills. And that experience served him well at his ultimate challenge. I have to ask you what you think of President Obama this week, because I must say, I have never seen left and right unite in opinion of a president as they did this week in viewing his performance as disastrous.
LA: Well, his performance this week, in my opinion, is beneath contempt. It’s wrong, Constitutionally, it’s wrong, strategically, it’s wrong, morally, in the end. His, what he’s doing, first of all, he decided, he laid down a red line. If they do X, then we’re going to do Y. And they up and did X. And so now he’s in a hole, because he really doesn’t want to do anything. And so he flirts around with the strategy, and this is the first wrong. If you’re going to go fight somebody, you need to figure out A) how you’re going to win, and B) what you’re going to win. And in a democratic society, you need to be able to name those things. And I was shocked. I was taken aback. I was reading the Wall Street Journal, and there were quotes, and they were probably verified from high administration officials, that said that the strikes were going to be calculated so as not to upset the balance of power in Syria, because we didn’t know whose side to be on. And if you just translate that a little bit, we’re going to go bomb and kill some people, but not with the purpose to affect the state of play.
LA: And so it’s a demonstration. A demonstration of what, exactly? That’s unclear. But then, look at the Constitutional issue. Congress has two things it can do in a situation like this, and it’s not being asked to do either one of them. It can declare war, or it can provide money for something. But the actual command of the forces of the United States, the president of the United States does that. He’s given that job. And in the Federalist Papers, they make terribly clear that the reason they just appoint one guy to do that is so that we know who to blame, and so that guy can act. And so the story is that the President went on a 45 minute walk, or a 30 minute walk, and had a long talk with himself, and came back and announced that he was going to ask Congress for permission. And what Congress should actually say to that is, that’s not what we do, right? You, Mr. President, seem prepared to use powers that are not yours all the time. This turns out to be one that is yours. And you want us to use one that’s not ours.
LA :And it’s, there’s a parallel. The way these budgets, and you know, we’re going to have a debt ceiling crisis here pretty soon, I think, and another one, and another one, another one. On and on and on, they go. And he’s going to do again the thing that he always does, and maybe the people in the legislature are going to fall for it, but here’s the way we do the budget in America. Money bills start in the House, and they pass a bill. And then the Senate passes a bill. And the bills always disagree. When the two houses are in different hands, they tend to disagree a lot.
LA: And then, there’s a process. It’s called a conference committee. And they have a conference committee, and they do, they follow this procedure. The conference committee, if they obey the law, which they mostly do, they take everything that’s common in the two bills, and that’s part of the final bill. And then they take things that are in between the outer ranges of the two bills that are sufficient, in their judgment, to make a bill that does the job. In other words, they hammer out a compromise according to those rules.
LA: And then it goes back, and both houses pass it. And then president signs it or he doesn’t. And if you circumvent that by inviting the Speaker of the House, and the majority leader of the Senate, over to your house to iron it all out, and then go back and get both houses to pass the same bill, you have deprived the American people of something they need, which is to see where the two houses and the two parties stand, so they can choose between them.
HH: Exactly right.
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HH: And then the dictator of Russia publishing an op-ed in which he challenges American exceptionalism in the New York Times yesterday, Larry Arnn, and Peter Baker writing an article in the New York Times yesterday about this Hamlet-like performance. And so I gave you my plan for the next three segments, which is I’m going to talk about something Obama did, and ask you to contrast how Churchill did it. First of all, President Obama treats his political adversaries with contempt, and does so publicly. He did so again this week repeatedly. He mischaracterizes what they believe, he made the Republicans appear to be the enemy of human rights, he is derisive via spokespeople, of criticism…how did Churchill treat his political opponents, his domestic political opponents?
LA: Well, it depends. He once looked across the aisle at the Socialist prime minister, Ramsay MacDonald, and said that his dad used to take him to the circus, and there was one thing that was so horrible at the circus. He could see the bearded lady, and he could see all that, but there was one thing that he would never let his son see. And now, Churchill says, I’ve grown up to look across the Treasury Benches, which is the table between the two parties in front of the Speaker in the House of Commons, to look across the Dispatch Table, is what it’s called, to see before my very eyes the boneless wonder.
HH: So that’s brutal.
LA: But you know…
HH: He did it in person.
LA: The House of Commons is an arguing society, right? And so they argue a lot. And Churchill attempted to read the Socialist Party right out of British politics. His argument all his life was they were unfit to be the opposition. So Churchill was very rough. But on the other hand, during the war, the Second World War, they were coalition partners with him, and the deputy prime minister was Clement Attlee, the leader of the Socialist Labour Party, they call it in Britain. It was a pure socialist party back then, and less so now. Churchill treated him with courtesy and respect. And in matters of conflict and international relations, when Churchill was in the opposition, from ’45-’51, Churchill was complimentary and supportive of them on almost all occasions.
HH: He was also, during the war, when Neville Chamberlain was kept in the government and then became sick and died, he was emotionally moved, and never went out of his way to blame his predecessors for the mess they created, not even Stanley Baldwin, who was vicious towards him in his wilderness years. He did not take revenge on the people who could not fight back.
LA: Well, he, that’s true. He did send some of Chamberlain and Baldwin’s key guys out of the country during the war.
HH: Gently, yes. And he sent…off you go, Halifax.
LA: But Chamberlain in particular, there’s a great story about that, because, well, I’ll tell you a little Churchill story, and it’s one of the most important ones. On the 28th of May, 1940, the British cabinet dealt for the last time with a proposal from Lord Halifax to accept a proposal from Mussolini to host a peace conference. The Italians were not in the war, yet. Churchill had become prime minster on the 10th of May, so this was 18 days later, and France has fallen. And the foreign minister, and Neville Chamberlain’s close colleague and appeaser, Edward Halifax, says we should do this. And in the cabinet in Britain, they don’t vote. They just say what they think, and then the prime minister sums it up. And if you don’t like it, you can quit. Well, if Halifax or Chamberlain had quit, Churchill’s government probably would have fallen. And so he didn’t really have the power to make them not have this conference, which he thought would be disastrous. Churchill gave a speech. The War cabinet was the one deliberating about this, and that was just five people. But there was still the big cabinet, and he called them all together on the 28th of March, and there’s no text of what he wrote, but two guys, and including especially a man named Hugh Dalton, a Labour member, took copious notes, and the notes agree, largely. And Churchill gave a survey of the war, and how difficult it was, and how Britain was soon going to be alone, how we had to hope the United States would eventually come in and help us, and we’ve got to hold them off with the navy and the air force, and there’ll be a great battle over the Channel. He predicts all that. And then he says at the end, he says almost exactly this. He says I’ve been thinking in these last few days whether it is part of my duty to open negotiations with that man, meaning Hitler. And I believe that if I were for a moment to consider parlay or surrender, every one of you would rise up and tear me down from my place. If this island story is to end at last, let it end when each one of us lies choking in his own blood upon the ground. Well, he finished his speech with those words, and there were forty-some people, I think, in the room. And they leapt up and cheered, and rushed to the front of the room and pounded him. And that was, he referred to it later as the most remarkable demonstration he had ever seen in a cabinet meeting.
HH: You know, Larry, it’s not even possible to imagine that in our country today, is it?
LA: Well, you know, remember, these are, when we study the past and we study peaks of excellence, one of the reasons it’s so interesting is because Churchill was a human being. And he had his failings. But he exhibited one of the human potentialities. And if it is a potentiality, you never know, you know?
HH: Oh, gosh. I guess we can pray for that. Let’s talk a second thing. The President, Obama, this week, in his speech, told large untruths. He suggested that Bush did not go to the Congress when he did go to the Congress. He suggested other things. Then, he embraced the Bush doctrine. He did not care for his facts and his history. Now Churchill was artful, but was he truthful? And I genuinely don’t know how you’re going to answer this. Statesmen sometimes aren’t.
LA: Well, Churchill said in war, truth must always be accompanied by a bodyguard of lies. You have to remember about Churchill, he was very memorable, right?
HH: Yes, he is.
LA: But Churchill believed that the life, the central political life of Great Britain happened in the House of Commons, and the debates in the House of Commons, the debates there, was the activity that really constituted the British political system and the British Constitution. And he thought that was sacred, and he thought it was urgently important to be candid and truthful there. And of course, constantly contradicted, you know, whether one was or not, but he treated that process with enormous respect. And certainly, in a war situation, he…Churchill’s statements about socialism go way beyond anything…in 1945, in the general election, Churchill said in a big speech, “The Socialist Party could not realize its ultimate aims without the use of a secret police. Yes, I mean a gestapo. That’s a heck of a thing to say of your cabinet colleagues in 1945 as the Nazis are just being beaten. But Churchill didn’t say anything like that during the war, right?
HH: Yeah, after. During the war, different, different circumstances when the country is threatened.
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HH: This week, I’m looking thematically, and comparing him and contrasting with President Obama this week. Dr. Larry Arnn, President Obama appeared as weak as an American president has at least since Carter, and probably going back further, and indecisive. Did Churchill appear that way ever to the little Austrian house painter?
LA: Well, you know, Churchill was a very vigorous individual, and so no. He was, Churchill’s faults, of which he was accused, were recklessness, excessive boldness, rhetorical excess. Churchill, you know, and in politics, by the way, the faults of which you are accused are exaggerations of both your virtues and our vices. Churchill was lightning quick. He wrote 50 books. He wrote his own speeches. In the greatest debating legislature in the modern world, in the history of the modern world, Churchill is a man who would draw large crowds. And so he was a very formidable man, right? And he was, he took many blows, and was much ridiculed. But here’s a story about what he was like. He gave one of his great orations in the 30s when he was really commanding crowds, and he was taking on the appeasers by himself, and then he sat down and finished, and there was a big silence, and then a huge crowd, and then everybody started leaving. And the guy after him stood up and said thus ends the last chapter of the last book of Jeremiah, as though Churchill was being accused of delivering a Jeremiah address.
LA: And somebody called out, followed, oddly enough, by Exodus.
HH: That’s very good. I can’t remember who said it, and I can’t remember the exact phrase, about Winston Churchill got all of God’s gifts, and that it was judged unfair, so they shook out of him judgment and something else, I can’t remember what.
LA: Neville Chamberlain, that was a favorite theme of Neville Chamberlain. And see, that, you mentioned, I’m going to talk about magnanimity for a second, because you know, Churchill, after Churchill gave that great thing about choking in his own blood upon the ground, Chamberlain stepped in and helped to save the day in the war cabinet immediately after that. Well, Churchill happened to know that Chamberlain’s wife loved to live in 10 Downing Street, the official home of the prime minister. And when Churchill was made prime minister on May 10th, 1940, he said to Chamberlain, we’re too busy to move with this war on. You stay there. In other words, stay in the White House. I don’t need it. I’ll just be the prime minister.
HH: I’ll go to Blair House. I’ll live in Blair House.
LA: That’s a huge thing, right?
HH: Yes, it is.
LA: And Chamberlain, Churchill did, you know, I think Churchill thought much better of Neville Chamberlain than he did of Stanley Baldwin, but…and I think Churchill was right about that, although Chamberlain made terrible mistakes, and they were ideological in their nature, and he overestimated his power, that’s something I think we’re doing right now, and underestimated his enemy. And I think he helped to make one of the greatest disasters in history. But I think Baldwin might have been worse. And I think Churchill thought so. But that’s a thing that’s open to debate.
HH: When you said overestimated his power, that’s something we’re doing now, did you mean with reference to President Obama’s estimate of his own skills, or with regards to the national will and treasury?
LA: Yeah, we should be careful, you know, about what exactly we can do. And I think it’s important, I should say something fundamental about what Churchill thought about war, because there’s a surprising thing there that everyone should absorb, because it’s very relevant to our time. Churchill, in 1899, was in a battle, and he wrote, you know, by the time Churchill was 25 years old, he had fought with distinction in three big wars, and he had written three bestselling books about the wars. So who’s done that, right?
LA: And then he got elected to Parliament. But Churchill saw the British destroy this Dervish army. And the Dervish Army was 70,000 people, if I’m remembering right, and they charged 20,000 British. And the soldier, the Dervish soldier who survived to get closest to the British line came within about 150 yards, a football field and a half away.
HH: Wow. What a slaughter.
LA: He still couldn’t see them very well.
HH: Hold that thought until afterwards. I want to hear, I want this told in full, the last charge of the Dervishes in the Sudan.
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HH: Dr. Arnn, we were talking about Winston Churchill’s attitude towards war, and how it might inform President Obama’s and everybody else’s in D.C. So he witnessed this charge of the Dervishes, the fundamentalists in 1899, and?
LA: And the British obliterated them, and we know, because Churchill said it to people and it’s recorded. But part of his purpose in these wars, and in these books he was writing, was to make himself famous so he could get elected to Parliament. And so all he had to do in this really great early book he wrote is just celebrate this tremendous victory. And he doesn’t do it. He says it’s unfair. He uses that term. And there’s a paragraph where he describes in the same paragraph what it must have been like from the Dervish line, and what it was like for the British. And he says it’s these men charging in the heat across the sand on horseback, many, and metal ripping into them, and the screams of the wounded. That’s on the one side. And on the other side, he describes the British. He said, and I can quote it from memory, he said, “The infantry fired steadily and stolidly, and soon enough, the work became tedious.” And then he described how they’re carrying ammunition, and they’re changing the water jackets to keep the barrels from melting, and it’s a manufacturing operation he’s describing. And Churchill sees what that means. And he sees…and so, here’s the argument. Churchill saw that science is making us so powerful, that war is becoming a mortal threat. He said what if two such armies come together? And in 1925, he published an essay called Shall We All Commit Suicide? And it contains this paragraph in paraphrase. Mankind has never been in this position before. Without enjoying wiser guidance, or having improved appreciably in virtue, he has got into his hands at last the means of his own destruction. Death stands waiting at attention silent and expectant, waiting for one word of command from the frail being so long his servant, now, for once, his master. So you see what 9/11 means? A bunch of guys harnessed a bunch of power that was meant for other purposes, and without much training, and with little expense, they killed 3,000 people. And so we are living in an age in which it is very cheap to kill people. And we should think about the defense of the United States with that in mind. Churchill always did. And in the Second World War, he won his glory there, and he was asked, and he published this, what should we call this war? And he said that’s easy. We should call it the unnecessary war, because it could have been prevented, see. Now what that means is, my view, and I’ll just give you what I divine from this, and I’m not saying this is Churchill, this is what I surmise about Churchill, and I think I can prove it, and in fact, my publisher will be very glad if I mention that I’m late with the book about Churchill. And when it comes out, it’s going to make this argument. We should be very strong, and we should be very careful how we use the strength. And that means we shouldn’t aim for two much. Like we’re trying to make a democracy out of Iraq, and maybe that’s going to work. But we should have known before we started that, that that’s really hard. And this thing in Syria, that we’re just going to bomb some people to make a statement, but with a purpose to leave everything the same after we’re over? One needs to know exactly what you get for that. And you know, like in the Second World War, we were attacked by Japan and Germany, attacked by Japan, and then Germany declared war on us. And what we did was we leveled the places, both of them. I mean, if you look at a picture of a Japanese or a German city in 1945, they are scenes of rubble. Now then we moved in there, and we built democracies that are friends of ours today. And we got something for that, right? That was good. And sort of the American way of empire, it’s like South Korea, you know? They elect themselves a parliament or a house of commons or a senate and a house of representatives, and the next thing you know, they’re buddies.
LA: Well, are we going to get that in the Middle East? How hard is that to get in those places?
HH: Very hard, but I want to conclude by reprising for you what I read last week. I want to play for you the Churchill speech at Harvard 70 years ago last week, four paragraphs.
WC: Twice in my lifetime, the long arm of destiny has reached across the oceans and involved the entire life and manhood of the United States in a deadly struggle. There was no use saying we don’t want it, we won’t have it, our forbearers left Europe to avoid these quarrels, we have founded a new world which has no contact with the old. There was no use in that. The long arm reaches out remorselessly, and everyone’s existence, environment, and outlook undergoes a swift and irresistible change.
HH: So Larry Arnn, this is really a question, though, do we get to choose?
LA: Well, that’s right, and of course, one of the lessons from Churchill is you want to work as hard as you can to be in a position to choose. And so yeah, we have to be a great global power. I’m for that. But we have to have a strategic sense about how and where we go. For example, I think we’ll put up on the website for people to go who go to www.hughforhillsdale.com, to the Dialogues, we’ll put Churchill’s 1946 Iron Curtain or Sinews of Peace speech, he called it, because it’s a tour de force. And what he says in there is that our strategic objective is the well-being of every home in every land. But how are we going to pursue it? He says…and then…so that’s a really grand and very universal…and then he tailors it down into a practical policy. And what it comes down to is we are going to pick strategic points, and we, and that means the free people of Great Britain and the United States, are going to join together and have a strategy to exercise our influence as economically as possible to save the world.
HH: More on Winston Churchill next week and for the weeks thereafter. Dr. Larry Arnn, thank you. www.hughforhillsdale.com.
End of interview.