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Sir Winston Churchill and the Indomitable Spirit

Why judgment should be withheld until the final act is done.

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In 1936, a not yet Sir Winston Churchill found himself at a dismal point in his political career.

Having publicly taken the side of King Edward VIII in the matter of abdication and a less than royal wedding to Wallace Simpson, he found himself to be a bit of a pariah - beyond the Pale as far as his former supporters were concerned.

He wrote: “I was myself so smitten in public opinion that it was the almost universal view that my political life was at last ended.”

This was not the first time he reckoned his goose was cooked.

Failure followed the man. His first attempt at non-military public service resulted in the loss of a parliamentary seat typically friendly to his Conservative party. Undaunted (a word I may overuse in this little post), he stood again for the lost Oldham seat and won. He didn’t fare well. His constituents deselected him (perhaps a British reader could enlighten us to what that means as he seemed to keep the seat despite deselection) but he carried on, stiff upper lip and all.

He returned to Parliament representing Manchester North West, was appointed to a cabinet post which apparently triggers a by-election (please help me British reader) and promptly lost. Never fear. He popped up again on behalf of the voters of Dundee, signaling to at least one casually interested reader of Churchill’s CV that, at least back in the early 20th century, Great Britain had very lax residency requirements for members of its legislating body.

He lost Dundee in short order, coming in fourth in the 1922 contest, blaming a mid-campaign appendectomy for his dismal showing. He found himself “without an office, without a seat, without a party, and without an appendix.”

He lost yet another election vying for a seat representing Westminster Abbey by a mere 43 votes, but undaunted (there it is again) he resurfaced under the shadow of Big Ben, this time in the service of Epping.

Such was the ebb of his fickle fortunes that he was appointed Chancellor of the Exchequer. As such he was instrumental in re-pinning the pound to the gold standard, a move that ushered in deflation, unemployment, and eventually, widespread strikes.

There were other indictments. He was possibly unfairly blamed for the capture of 2500 British troops in Antwerp. He was definitely instrumental in the disastrous military adventure in Gallipoli (which is a great movie starring a young Mel Gibson and undervalued Mark Lee by the same name). He may have recommended that Ghandi be bound hand and foot and trampled by an elephant ridden by the British Viceroy. None of that matters.

On May 10, 1940, or more precisely on 10 May, 1940, in the wake of Chamberlain’s resignation, George VI offered Winston Churchill the position of Prime Minister. He wasn’t the first choice. Looking at his resume you can see why. But he was the right choice.

The man who after failure and failure remained undaunted told a worried nation “I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears, and sweat.”

He did not defeat Hitler on his own. Generals made plans, privates carried them out. Allies lent hands. But there can be no doubt that the man who remained undaunted lifted the spirits of millions and led them in the face of the greatest evil mankind has ever faced to realize that though the nation of Great Britain and its commonwealth may last a thousand years, “This was their finest hour.”

We are not defined by our failures. We are defined by our successes, no matter how far in the future they may be.