Over the weekend, retired American astronaut Scott Kelly apologized on Twitter for having quoted Winston Churchill.
And Yes I am serious. That happened.
“One of the greatest leaders of modern times, Sir Winston Churchill said, ‘in victory, magnanimity.’”
I guess those days are over. There is no need here to offer context for his tweet because the ugly response Kelly received wasn’t about the quote. It was about the man he quoted, Winston Churchill, who said some nasty things about many non-Caucasians around the world.
Churchill was a son of British aristocracy not a son of God, apparently. But he was more instrumental than other human beings in stopping Hitler from conquering the world and creating a Nazi Empire that would last a thousand years.
Churchill was the first major political figure to sound the alarm bells about Hitler when many others didn’t take him seriously. And it was Churchill who, as prime minister, inspired Britain to keep on fighting, even after many other countries had surrendered to or joined with Hitler and his agenda. I am painfully aware of this because I was born in one of those countries that not only ended up in his grasp but had many thousands enthusiastically doing Hitler’s bidding.
It’s still politically incorrect today in some quarters to tell the truth that there were many people in Europe outside of Germany who were seduced by Hitler. But none of them included Winston Churchill. He was not impressed, would not roll over, and would not surrender.
Without apology, Winston Churchill, in one of his many national broadcasts, told the British people on June 4, 1940: “we shall defend our Island, whatever the cost may be, we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender.”
These words inspired me as a child. I have always been aware that without inspiring words like these, my family and many others would have been eradicated from the earth.
Yes, Winston Churchill expressed attitudes about various people that were popularly held at the time. And I believe that if he were alive today, he wouldn’t say those things.
But imposing current social values on history is the most worthless enterprise pseudo-intellectuals practise. The only reason they have any societal impact is because history is a pariah in schools today and popular culture today.
Anything older today than this morning’s toast is toast. We measure things and people in terms of before iPhone or after iPhone.
I am not proud of the old quotes that are out there on what Churchill said about people in India and Afghanistan, about African Americans, about Muslims. Go down the list of people who were looked down on by educated Caucasians and you will find Churchill being a product of that time. None of those quotes evoke the greatness of the man. And if that body of quotes was the total contribution of Winston Churchill, I wouldn’t be talking about him right now.
John A Macdonald founded the country I love. I don’t love what he said about our indigenous peoples and I don’t love that he was a believer in and instrumental in the creation of residential schools. But I don’t wish to attack his statue and attempt to eradicate his name from Canadian history.
Thomas Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence, founded the University of Virginia and became a president of the country he helped create. He was a brilliant writer and inventor and gardener. He was even a masterful dancer.
But Jefferson’s most important legacy was his deep understanding of human liberty, why it was the greatest animating force for human creativity and happiness and why it was important to protect a free people from the greatest threat to human liberty, the power of government.
Nobody in the English language was more eloquent on freedom of speech, and the potential of government to extinguish that freedom. I adore almost every word of everything Thomas Jefferson wrote. I feel liberated from all that’s oppressive or even annoying when I engage his high candlepower mind.
Yet did I mention that Jefferson was a slave owner and had a mistress named Sally Hemmings who was one of his slaves, a house slave as opposed to a field slave?
Do we need to trash great figures of history to stop talking about their contributions and only their deficits? Should I apologize for being grateful to Churchill for saving the world, to Macdonald for helping to create Canada, and to Jefferson for his contributions to the preservation of human liberty?
Should I be free to speak my mind about these men or should I be forced to apologize for publicly admiring human beings of great accomplishment who also had flaws? Should I be forced to saddle the greats of history with the values of the present, and then declare them unfit for human inspiration?
If Jefferson were with us right now, he might say that human liberty is being threatened by the tyranny of political correctness and unless the people resist, the tyrant will defeat them.
Charles Adler hosts Charles Adler Tonight on Global News Radio and is a columnist for Global News.