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Dr. Larry Arnn On Winston Churchill’s Wilderness Years

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HH: It’s Hugh Hewitt with what is for many of you the favorite hour of the week when it comes to radio, the Hillsdale Dialogue, which I conduct with either Dr. Larry Arnn, president of Hillsdale College, or one of his many wonderful colleagues there. Everything you need to know about Hillsdale is at All of the Hillsdale Dialogues are available at And you can also access them via the website, at There’s a button. Dr. Arnn is back with me as we continue our series on Churchill, a leader for times like these. And today, we’re going to be covering his wilderness years. But before we do that, Dr. Arnn, how are you? Good to talk to you.

LA: I’m very well. How are you?

HH: I’m good, and an extraordinary week. And it’s a week that you may have been thinking about when you addressed the House Republican Conference earlier this year and told them they would be well-served by a return to regular order. Is that in fact what we see here happening, and why I think the media, whatever the Beltway media thinks, this is breaking the GOP’s way?

LA: Yeah, well, you know, first of all, I don’t know whether I think that or not. I think we don’t know about whose way it’s breaking. But I think they have done what they should do up to now, and that is they should pass a budget that reflects what they think is right for the country. and I also think, you may remember, that I said about second order, that the second thing that happens is you reach a compromise, because the Senate should also pass a budget that they like. And that’s the way the American people find out what their options are. But the way the government proceeds, finally, is that they pass some bill that’s in between the two.

HH: And that’s why I think it is breaking the Republicans’ way long term. My view of this is that data points register, and over time, they congeal into a narrative that generally is believed to be true. And a few of those data points, let me play for you them. Here’s cut number 10, President Obama from earlier in the week.

BO: If we, Steve, when you say what can I offer, I shouldn’t have to offer anything. They’re not doing me a favor by paying for things that they have already approved for the government to do. That’s part of their basic function of government. That’s not doing me a favor.

HH: And then, here’s Harry Reid from the day after the President’s comments.

HR: Understand we’re dealing with anarchists. They hate government. And who is the worst part of government from their perspective? It’s people that work for the federal government, whether waiting on table, whether part of the FBI, it doesn’t matter what it is. We are going to do everything within our power to protect federal employees. And I say this without any qualification or reservation. We are not going to do anything other than wait for them to pass our CR, because otherwise, government’s going to shut down.

HH: Now Dr. Larry Arnn, when the president of the United States, and his principal ally on the Hill say such inflexible, extremist things, I do not think they can possibly emerge from the conversation looking better than they began.

LA: Yeah, that’s right. The country is very partisanized, right? And so in the end, it has to come to some resolution. So right now, all the conservatives, like you and me, love the fight that’s going on from the point of view of the House of Representatives. And all the liberals love the fight that’s going on in the Senate. And the people in the middle, what they probably think is this is just a big ol’ mess, and they can never do anything right, and it’s causing us some inconvenience. And you know, so the point, yeah, Harry Reid said that, but let me say, I’m a little more interested in the Obama quote, because let me say something about that.

HH: All right.

LA: Obama said they voted it, and now they won’t pay for it. Well, the truth is the they who voted it are a very different House of Representatives than the one who voted, because the House of Representatives has changed drastically. What, did they pick up 80 seats?

HH: Yeah.

LA: And so that change is important, and Boehner should talk about that. He should also make the point, here’s what I would say if I were John Boehner today. I’m Larry Arnn, and I’ll say it. One, we are obliged to pass budgets that reflect what we think is best for the country. Two, no Congress can commit the ones that come later to spending, because to say that is to say that Americans in previous years can commit Americans in this year. So we’re not obliged to pay for this thing. Three, we understand that we don’t get to decide this thing by ourselves. We’ve got some things we want. And they must have some things they want. If they will pass a bill, we will pass a bill, and we will meet in conference and talk about it. Now I’ll go on to add, here’s what I would do. I think the best single thing that can be done, probably the best single thing to do is to defund it. And I think that probably is not going to be the outcome of this. But I think a really great thing to happen and to talk about, and to attack on, is this exemption of Congress and its employees, and I think executive branch people, too, from Obamacare, because I think that raises the issue, doesn’t it? Obamacare is going to deliver into the hands of a bureaucracy the control over many things. I mean, this college is going to be devastated by Obamacare, although we’ll find a way through, right? And so they should talk about the fact that they’re building a class of people who are above all this and gain power from it. And that’s the message that people will understand for sure.

HH: Yes, and I think that it is emerging very slowly that that was the most impressive bit of legislative maneuvering of the week, to offer up the exemption talk, because it’s easily and quickly grasped by just about anyone. Oh, they got a special deal? I didn’t get it? Why? And the chaos of the rollout of Obamacare, you run a very complicated information delivery system. My goodness, you send out a couple million Imprimus every month, and you’ve got all the Hillsdale Dialogues and the Hillsdale courses, and people have to sign up. It’s a pretty complicated structure, but it’s complicated. The government can’t run things like this. It’s nimble at Hillsdale College. You can tell your minions to go and change something, and they will change it.

LA: Yeah.

HH: But you can’t do that in the government. This can’t possibly work.

LA: Well, you know what the difference is between Aristotle’s Ethics and Obamacare?

HH: No.

LA: They’re both difficult to read, but the difference is the Ethics is worth reading. And you can, in fact, read it.

HH: Let me play for you the worst quote of the week. It’s another Harry Reid quote in an exchange with Dana Bash from Wednesday, cut number 3:

DB: If you all talked about children with cancer unable to go to clinical trials, the House is presumably going to pass a bill that funds at least the NIH. Given what you said, will you at least pass that? And if not, aren’t you playing the same political games that Republicans are?

HR: Listen, Senator Durbin explained that very well, and he did it here, and he did it on the floor earlier, as did Senator Schumer, and it’s this. What right to they have to pick and choose what part of government’s going to be funded? It’s obvious what’s going on here. You talk about reckless and irresponsible? Wow. What this is all about is Obamacare. They are obsessed. I don’t know what other word I can use. I don’t know what other word I can use. They are obsessed with this Obamacare thing. It’s working now, and it’ll continue to work, and people will love it even more than they do now by far. So they have no right to pick and choose.

DB: But if you can help one child with cancer, why wouldn’t you do it?

CS: Why pit one against the other?

HR: Why would we want to do that? I have 1,100 people at Nellis Air Force base that are sitting home. They have a few problems of their own. This is, to have someone of your intelligence suggest such a thing maybe means you’re irresponsible.

DB: I’m just asking a question.

HH: So he insulted Dana Bash. He said why would we want to do this? And he didn’t provide a compelling argument, Larry Arnn. I just don’t think they’re used to argument.

LA: Well, first of all, what right have they? Members of the Congress don’t have special rights. What they have is authority. And the particular authority that they have is precisely to pick and choose what the government does. That’s what they do.

HH: Yeah.

LA: And that’s what we elect them to do, and that’s what they’re judged for doing. So that is ridiculous.

HH: It is ridiculous (laughing)

LA: (laughing) I mean…

HH: It is just absolutely, but that’s why I love this debate so much, and I want to get your reaction before we move on to Churchill after the break. This, unlike the shutdown debates of the past, is about how government functions. It’s about what they’re supposed to do. I think it’s great that the entire country is focused on different assertions of authority by different people arguing over things that matter. It’s good to have that conversation.

LA: Yeah, and they’re making a point. As I say, I think the Republicans need eventually, right, the government has got to operate, because we require to have government in the Declaration of Independence. The first charge of the king, against the king, is he has refused his assent to laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good. So it’s shrewd and good of them to offer to fund thing by thing. Wholesome and necessary laws should be funded, right? And they should keep that up. But it’s also true that they’ve got to make a point, and they’re making one.

— – – –

Churchill: I would say to the House as I said to those who have joined the government, I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears and sweat.

Obama: Steve, when you say what can I offer, I shouldn’t have to offer anything. They’re not doing me a favor.

HH: We’re talking about Winston Churchill, for whom we played some of his most stirring rhetoric right there. We’re going to talk about the wilderness years. And then we contrasted that with President Obama. Do you think that President Obama has ever read a biography of Winston Churchill, Larry Arnn?

LA: Well, if he did, it was a bad one.

HH: (laughing)

LA: (laughing)

HH: Well said. It is remarkable how his tone is almost always wrong, and Churchill’s, at least in a crisis, was always right. But Barack Obama never had a wilderness years, and this brings me to today’s Hillsdale Dialogue. Dr. Larry Arnn and I for the last few weeks have been talking about the career of Churchill. And when last we left, he was leaving the government in 1929. And he was entering into a long period of exile from authority and responsibility for reasons which I’ll let Dr. Arnn explain. But if you haven’t heard the original hours of these Hillsdale Dialogues, they’re all available at, or at He left the government. And why did he leave the government, Larry Arnn? And why did he fall into such disrepute?

LA: Well, the conservatives lost an election in 1929, and the socialists came in, in coalition with the liberals. And so he was, the conservatives were out of office, and Churchill became, then, a member of the shadow cabinet. And that’s what he left, then, after that. And he left it over three issues. He disagreed with arrangements they were making in Egypt that he thought surrendered British treaty rights there, and also control of the Suez Canal. And then he disagreed very strongly with an idea of dominion status and eventually home rule for India, which he opposed very strongly. Churchill lost both those things. And then in January of 1933, Hitler became chancellor of Germany, and there had been an active policy of disarmament pursued by the government in ’30 and ’31. And he began to call for rearmament. And so in due course, the socialist government didn’t last very long. They formed a national government, because the Great Depression, and really the conservatives were controlling it. Stanley Baldwin, he eventually became prime minister, was succeeded then by Neville Chamberlain, and they followed a policy of appeasement of Hitler. And Churchill argued that they were dilatory in arming, especially airplanes, because Hitler was, against the Versailles Treaty, Hitler was building a very large air force, and Churchill believed, and was later proved right, that that was a fundamental change in things, because the British Navy was not the main safeguard anymore. And so Churchill went into the wilderness, and that means he was to the right of a conservative government, and he had very few friends.

HH: Now when we talk about wilderness periods, it is a cliché almost to say that they are, you can find them in the lives of any great man, or great woman, typically, for a long period of time. But what do we mean by a wilderness period?

LA: Well, there were, you know, he was out of power. He was outmaneuvered, and it had very heavy personal costs for him. Churchill lost a very great deal of money. He got to a point of high wealth for him in 1929, and he went on a lecture tour across America. And he stopped in New York in September of 1929, and invested it in the American stock market.

HH: Oh.

LA: And then he did the same thing again in ’36, when there was another great crash. So financially, he had problems. He made his living by writing books and by writing articles for the press. Along the way, the Conservative Party central office began to press publications not to publish Churchill, and they cut his income. He was saved by many good-hearted people, and a certain man, a Hungarian Jew by the name of Emery Reves, who had built a publishing empire. And he marketed Churchill’s articles all over the world. The Conservative central office also attempted to get his constituency, which he’d held since 1924, Epping, later changed to Woodford, they moved the district a little ways, they got him to deselect Churchill, so he would be out of the Parliament. And local people, a man named Sir James Hawkey, and a sweet little woman whom I met, who gave me the letters that Churchill wrote to her to thank her.

HH: Wow.

LA: Would go to these central offices, to these local constituencies, and argue them to keep Churchill. And that was won by narrow margins. And Churchill was once hit by a taxi in ’33, I think, in New York, was nearly killed, long recuperation. He contracted typhus later and nearly died. He was going broke, and he was isolated. There’s a man named Henry Strakosch, who was a Jew from Germany, who was giving Churchill information about Hitler’s industrial policies, and how they contributed rearmament. And at one point in 1938, Churchill was about to leave politics, in ’38, you know. And the Munich Agreement was in late ’38. In March, ’39, Hitler violated it, took the rest of Czechoslovakia, having promised he wouldn’t, and the war started in September, ’39 when Hitler attacked Poland. So at late as ’38, Churchill was preparing to leave politics, because he couldn’t make a living. And this guy, Strakosch, bought all of Churchill’s stocks for what Churchill had paid for them, which would be illegal in America today. And all Strakosch wanted Churchill to do was keep going. And later, he sold them back to Churchill, in about 1950, after the recovery. But he helped to save Churchill’s career.

HH: Wow.

LA: Churchill had an incredibly difficult time in the 30s, and he was carrying on with a few friends a battle, an isolated battle. And it’s a brilliant story, because it shows you the power of human speech. Churchill, for a period of time, until about 1936, the House would not pay any attention to him. And it’s very embarrassing when that happens, because the activity of British government used to be, and to some extent still is, they are in the House of Commons. And when it fills up, it’s packed. And it’s standing room only. And he’d always commanded large crowds. But then as he began to get, because he would keep on with this when he was just isolated and ridiculed and suffering for it…I’ve got to tell you this story.

HH: 30 seconds to the break. Do we have time? I don’t want you to break it in half. Let’s hold it until after the break.

LA: After the break.

— – – – –

HH: Dr. Arnn was beginning a story about those years when they wouldn’t even listen to him.

LA: There’s a man named Runciman, and there was a man, he was a functionary in the Baldwin Cabinet. And there was a man named Ralph Wigram, or Raife Wigram, as they say in England. And he was the head of the central office in the Foreign Ministry, and that part deals with Germany. And he started giving Churchill papers, because he was inspired by Churchill’s bravery and standing up against this appeasement. And a lot of people started doing that. And all of a sudden, Churchill had information. And his speeches in the House became very interesting. And it started becoming crowded again. Every time he would stand up, people would rush in. And the government was under pressure from the power of this one man. So Runciman went to see Raife Wigram’s wife in the daytime when he would be away at work. And he happened to know that they had a child with a mental disability. And he told her, having coffee with her tea, with her in the afternoon, that if this kept up, and he kept talking to Churchill, and of course, it wasn’t proof that he was doing it, but everybody knew it, that Wigram might be transferred to someplace where the medical care was not very good. So he threatened his wife, you see. And Wigram kept on. He died shortly after. And so that was a very dramatic story. Churchill, they brought a question of privilege against his son-in-law, Duncan Sandys, for revealing confidential information. And they made vibrations they might do that against Churchill. Churchill replied, I am the senior privy counselor, which is an ancient title meaning privy to the secrets of the king. And he used that archaic thing to say I have a right to this information, and the public has the right to know it. And so step by step, he turned things around so that now the official policy of the government was we’re going to rearm. And then the debate became pressure on whether they’re really doing it or not. Along the way, Churchill built a national organization which now that I think of it, Hugh, you should build. I will help you. It’s called The Focus. And he tried to include people from all parties and all stripes to focus upon the most urgent danger, which was saving the country from the threat of Hitler. And it got a lot of traction, and Churchill would draw large crowds from people of many stripes. And so he managed to build a movement. And a lot of the weapons that were built, and there weren’t enough, but there were a lot more than would have been built without this campaign, he had something to do with that in the 30s. and above all, what it did, and you know, Churchill was very fond of the British Constitution, and he knew both how to respect it and how to use it. And in his opinions, the British Constitution is an activity that happens in the House of Commons. And so of course, he was writing in the press all the time, too. And so he was reaching people, and demanding time to debate in the House so people could hear. And it was hard to say no to those demands.

HH: But they did, and when we come back from break, well, we have time between then, everyone in the media was against him as well. I want the audience to understand. The editor of the Times actively cooperated with Baldwin to shut him out of the Times. The BBC would deny him time in the radio. The Republicans often complain about the MSM being against them, but it was nothing like the blackout Churchill struggled against.

LA: Well, yeah, you know, there’s a lot more ways to reach people now than there were then. But it’s also true then as now. Churchill was up against a weight of established opinion that seemed to have overwhelming numbers behind it. And he was discouraged, you know, Churchill was, there is a, in 1939, Churchill was made first lord of the admiralty when the war broke out. They had to have him back in the government, because public opinion was with him. And he would stop at lunchtime and dictate passages to The History Of the English-Speaking Peoples, because had a progress payment coming when he finished certain chapters. And the bank manager would stop by every week and see how he was getting along, because he had a big overdraft.

HH: Wow.

LA: So that was a very courageous thing. And Hugh, you have to read. You know, you played a part from Churchill’s most famous speech. That was given on May 12th, 1940 when he became prime minster. But after the break, I’ll tell you what some of his speeches were like.

— – – –

HH: When we went to break, you were promising us sort of a glimpse of what the wilderness years speeches were like, Dr. Larry Arnn.

LA: So this is in 1938 at the time of the Munich Agreement, when Chamberlain had waved the paper that people have probably seen on videos, saying peace in our time. And that was a great relief, because they were expecting war to break out. And everybody was proud of Chamberlain, and he was at the height of his popularity. And Churchill gave this, one of my favorite speeches he ever gave, on October 5th, 1938. Here’s a passage. “The Prime Minister desires to seek cordial relations between this country and Germany. There’s no difficulty at all in having cordial relations between the peoples.” Now I want you to think of, by the way, of Iran while I read this. “Our hearts go out to them,” the Germans. “But they have no power. Never will you have friendship with the present German government. You must have diplomatic and correct relations, but there can be no friendship between the British democracy and the Nazi power. That power, which has spurned Christian ethics, which cheers its onward course by barbarous paganism, which vaunts the spirit of aggression and conquest, and which derives strength and perverted pleasure from persecution, and uses, we’ve seen, with pitiless brutality, the threat of murderous force. That power cannot ever be the trusted friend of the British democracy.”

HH: Wow.

LA: Now that’s plain, right?

HH: Yeah.

LA: And Churchill was a very shrewd man, but he believed that you oriented yourself by the people who respect, the nations that respect the rights of their own country. And it’s amazing to me, I will tell you, that we have had a succession of presidents who do not talk enough about the way people are treated in these tyrannical regimes that mean our harm.

HH: Yeah, now Larry Arnn, one of the key things of the wilderness years is how one conducts themselves, how they carry themselves, and what their families and friends do. And we’ve got about six minutes here. Just give us a glimpse into the support structure around Churchill in those years.

LA: Well, Churchill had a very good marriage with rockiness in it sometimes, and some of those times were under the stress of the 30s. Churchill had four children, one of them died young. They all had their problems. In the 30s, Randolph, a very brave soldier in the Second World War, and a remarkable man, Churchill’s first biographer, did something that I criticize to this day. He ran twice for public office in constituencies where he would take votes from the conservative and maybe elect the socialist. And of course, Churchill was blamed for that as disloyal to the party. And I’ve always thought Randolph shouldn’t have done that. Now having said all that, Churchill had a lovely home, he loved it, he worked 20 hours a day. And you know, Churchill wrote 50 books, including many of them in this decade. And some of his very best ones, The Marlborough, His Life And Times, is written in this decade of the 30s while he was in the wilderness. And those books are great achievements. And Churchill, you know, he had secretaries to help him, and people showed up. There’s a nice man named Wing Commander Torr Anderson, who showed up at Chartwell to tell Churchill the condition of his air squadron, later married Churchill’s secretary. There was a man named Desmond Morton, who was in charge of industrial intelligence for the British government, and he was a neighbor of Churchill’s. And he walked over one day and brought some papers. And so there were people step by step, and one by one, and then ten by ten, and then more by more, would rally to him and help him. And he won their trust by standing up when it paid nothing.

HH: And how did he keep the black dog off? There’s a debate about whether he was often under the influence of the black dog, or gloominess. But how did he keep that at bay when he kept losing? I mean, then there was the abdication crisis, and he picked the wrong side on that one, too.

LA: Yeah, he did. That’s right. Edward VIII, who turned out to be a band man and Churchill trusted him, and he shouldn’t have done that. The answer about that is Churchill was an extremely brave and determined human being. And he had the bravery of the battlefield. And he had the moral courage of the cabinet room and the Parliament. And so he, the black dogs came on him, he would say, and that was, by the way, a common expression in those days. So it sounds very dramatic now. People used to say that a lot more than they say it now. And what we know about him, we have Churchill’s calendars, diaries. We have all of his letters. He preserved them. We know what he was doing all the time. He was an incredibly productive man. And he was hilarious. He was very funny, including in the 30s. and his speeches are witty, and there are hundreds of stories about his dinner conversation, and how much fun it was, and how great it was to go be with him. You should try to form a picture of a man with a very large and capacious soul.

HH: And let me ask, conclude this edition of the Hillsdale Dialogue, when the lady who defended him in Epping brought you those letters, what’s that like to be handed original documents about the century’s greatest man?

LA: I was a Rotary fellow, and I happened to be assigned, by pure chance, to a Rotary club in Churchill’s constituency. And so the next thing you know, I didn’t even know what was going to happen to me as a Rotary fellow, except they were going to give me money to study in England. And this club that Mr. W. E. Buxton was my counselor, a really great man, and they and he and others in the club kept finding people who knew Churchill for me to meet.

HH: Wow.

LA: And I find myself in the home of this little old lady. And she tells me who she is a little bit, and says she has these letters. And she showed them to me, and I said oh, dear, I said you must know James Hawkey. And she said how do you know that name? And I said well, I know a little bit about Churchill. I’m working on the biography. And so we talked, and she met him many times, and he, and Clemy, Clemy more than he, I think I have six letters, and I think two of them are from Churchill, and two of them are from his wife, would write and thank her. And she told me what it was like, you know, and going to these meetings and standing up for him. And at the end, she said I want you to have these letters. And I said oh, no, ma’am, I said you must give these letters to your family. And she said I don’t have any family. And I said well, you could sell them. She said if you had them, would you sell them? And I said never. She said that’s why I want you to have them. And I own them today.

HH: Wow. Larry Arnn, great story. Terrific end to this week’s Hillsdale Dialogue. Next week, the war years. Don’t go anywhere, America, except to,, or the button is available at

End of interview.


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