Hope. History is quirky, life undependable, but hope is worth having. Many years ago, I found myself in England, enjoyed cycling, so cycled to Blenheim Palace, where Winston Churchill was born. A lavish spot, he was in line to inherit it, until luck put a “spanner” (wrench) in the works, as they say, and he did not.
If he had inherited Blenheim, he would have become “the 10th Duke of Marlborough,” not a commoner. For sure, this would not have changed his love of scotch and cigars, but would have changed history. Lords do not serve in the House of Commons, from which all prime ministers are chosen.
Churchill, his mother American, was am ambitious young man. Left to his own devices, he joined the Army at 21, got to India, Sudan, and South Africa, was captured in the Boer Wars, escaped, later ended up “head of the Admiralty” or Navy in World War I.
After the tragedy at Gallipoli, variously described as a rout and stalemate, arguably no fault of Churchill’s, he was demoted. He reclaimed his commission, joined the troops in the muddy trenches.
A few years later, somehow back from oblivion, this commoner got reelected to parliament, became the Treasury Secretary, or Chancellor or the Exchequer, and got the British currency back to maximum value.
All that would never have happened if, as once wished, he has become inheritor of Blenheim Palace and a Lord. In 1940, he ascended to Prime Minister, not milk toast but determined to rebuff the Germans.
Fascinatingly, Churchill was neither popular nor viewed as sufficiently coifed for establishment conservatives, although half his family was near royalty and he was born in a palace. Far from it, his scotch, cigars, blunt talk, and belief in freedom, never appeasement, thoroughly irked them.
Still, when the chips were down, France crumbling, Nazis rising, all Europe trembling at Hitler’s rise, Churchill did not trembling. His unapologetic, freedom-first, delightful wit and courage, shined.
Terrifying his wife Clementine, he would slip out to the war room nights, go RAF bases under attack, place himself in harm’s way for the troops. More than once he narrowly escaped death, unphased.
In dark times – times as dark or darker than ours – Churchill, the half-American, never lost hope, never lost stamina, or focus, even when depression knocked.
Incredibly, when terror was afoot, thousands of bombs falling, he kicked into high gear, pulling his nation to their “finest hour,” which also became his finest, all about courage.
All this is offered as my memory drifts, in these tough times, to that cycle – many years ago – up to Blenheim Palace. Seeing where he was born, I cycled another 15 miles to where he was buried.
To my utter surprise, the man who saved the Western World, who never gave up on freedom, never lost faith in the power of goodness to prevail over evil, never stopped believing good men and women will always outpace, in power, strength, and grace, detractors – had no grand affair for a stone.
In the shadow of a little church, churchyard where stones tipped this way and that – as they do all across America for good people – his stone, laid flat and joined by Clementine, lay quiet, nothing regal, no airs.
These days, as I ponder the challenges we face, I am fortified by this half-American who showed us how it is done, this living and dying business, this fight to the death for freedom business, wholly unrepentant, an unstoppable warrior..
I am fortified by the power of ideals to gain flight, good to come from what no one expects.
Churchill might have been a Lord, might have died in a dozen places, been outfoxed by appeasers, lost to history, been overwhelmed rather than undaunted, but that is not what God wanted.
I get up mornings, drink strong coffee, read, think, write, and within me somewhere refortify the will to fight, spiritually, politically, as needed in other ways. Memories sometimes flow back from that cycle to Blenheim and Bladen, because I drink from a mug with a quote on it.
The quote is from Winston Churchill, simple, direct, uncompromising, one that lifts me even now, as I think about the strife, cross currents, political and physical conflicts that swirl. Churchill, despite all, never lost his hope – ever, ever, ever. He was realist, also an idealist, a wit that did not quit.
The quote? One that fortifies, centers, educates me, and causes thought as his life does? Just this: “All great things are simple, and many can be expressed in a single word: Freedom, justice, honor, duty, mercy, hope.” Hope. May we never lose it, or the power it possesses to turn the future our way.
Robert Charles is a former Assistant Secretary of State under Colin Powell, former Reagan and Bush 41 White House staffer, attorney, and naval intelligence officer (USNR). He wrote “Narcotics and Terrorism” (2003), “Eagles and Evergreens” (2018), and is National Spokesman for AMAC.