Monday, March 10, 2008

Personalities Shaping History, Winston Churchill

The story of India's struggle for independence captivated my imagination as a child. The narrative I was raised on gave satyagraha, or "civil disobedience"a central role in the struggle against British rule. Less emphasis was given in the narrative to the fierce indignation and violent backlash created by police violence against pacifist demonstrators.
Equally engaging to me is the narrative of Israel's struggle for statehood. One of the most chilling pictures during World War Two was that of British soldiers guarding the shores of the Holy Land to prevent the entry of Jewish refugees who were marked for death in Europe.
What leaves me with a feeling of being torn in my loyalties is the knowledge that Winston Churchill, a man I most admire, was Britain's prime minister during much of the time these dramas were unfolding. The vision of his courageous leadership when Britain was being bombed in 1940 was known to every schoolchild. My mother gave it a vividness in the retelling that was lacking in the history books.
How do I reconcile some of the historical grudges against the British for limiting our entry into the Holy Land during our darkest hours?
Although I am very interested in and ignorant of Churchill's direct role in the colonies and with the British Mandate, I sidestep the whole question by focusing on Churchill the man, and his personal struggles.
As a child, he was considered to be of sluggish intelligence. In the upper classes to which he belonged, the curriculum of the private schools was far too challenging to him. It was considered a disappointment to his family that he entered military school. Additionally, he suffered from speech defects that he struggled to overcome.
His performance in the Boer war earned him widespread acclaim in Britain toward the end of the nineteenth century. His insights into the dangers of appeasement and his political acumen left little doubt that his was a formidable intellect, regardless of its early lack of recognition.
Churchill struggled with serious depression for most of his life. These difficulties probably gave him the deep understanding of human nature that lend such resonance to his insights.
Even though he carried out a policy against Indian and Israeli independence, even though he had a Darwinist view of social progress that I find chilling, his success in overcoming his personal limitations inspires me to view my potential and that of those around me with greater optimism and creativity. In living his life and achieving his goals, on such a large stage, he gave much to the world.
He gave so much to the world with an intellectual profile that was under-appreciated in his generation. Perhaps there is a greater intelligence that creates different types of thinkers and different types of opportunities for them.
Despite his reputed Darwinism and secularism his life points to a moral lesson of our interdependence as a species, and a grand design somewhere beyond us all.
The best way to fight a political opponent is to learn from them the lessons that are theirs to teach. Not only in his writings but in his personal example, Churchill offers much to study.
Copyright 2008 by Magdeburger Joe

Please click on the title to this post to read some Winston Churchill Quotations.

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