(One of a series of weekday posts on the life of Winston S. Churchill.)
Yesterday I posted from Churchill on Leadership: Executive Success in the Face of Adversity by Steven F. Hayward who made the point that while Churchill could certainly use strong words and imagery (recall “a whole circle of avenging nations will hurl themselves at the “jackal’s throat.”), he was also when need be a master at softening a message in order “to get the point across without giving offense or causing acrimony.”
Hayward gave as an example of Churchill's softening a message his reworking of a telegram to the dominion governments in 1940 regarding the status of the Duke of Windsor.
The government decided to send the Duke to a sinecure post at one of Britain’s overseas colonies. The Colonial Office drafted a message for Churchill to send. It began:
“The activities of the Duke of Windsor on the Continent in recent months have been causing HM[His Majesty] and myself grave uneasiness as his inclinations are well known to be pro-Nazi and he may become the center of intrigue. We regard it as a real danger that he should move freely on the Continent. Even if he were willing to return to this country his presence here would be most embarrassing both to HM and to the Government.”Churchill reworked the paragraph so that in final form it read:
"The position of the Duke of Windsor on the Continent in recent months has been causing His Majesty and His Majesty’s Government embarrassment, as, though his loyalties are unimpeachable, there is always a backwash of Nazi intrigue which seeks to make trouble about him. The Continent is now in enemy hands. There are personal and family difficulties about his return to this country."With all respect to Hayward, Churchill does much more than merely soften the paragraph he received from the Colonial Office.
Most importantly, Churchill changes the CO's version to such an extent that his version says the opposite of what the CO all but said about the Duke’s loyalties to England.
Churchill says the Duke’s loyalties are “unimpeachable” while the CO says his “inclinations are well known to be pro-Nazi.”
The CO sentence -- "We regard it as a real danger that he should move freely on the Continent." – can reasonably be interpreted to mean “real danger” of defection to the Nazis. That was a concern to some in the British government.
In place of the CO’s “We regard …” sentence Churchill writes: “there is always a backwash of Nazi intrigue which seeks to make trouble about him. The Continent is now in enemy hands.”
“Nazi intrigue” could also be interpreted to be suggesting that Edward might intrigue to defect to the Nazis, but it could at least equally be interpreted as suggesting that he could inadvertently be used for propaganda purposes or even perhaps kidnapped by the Nazis and taken to Germany.
The CO ends with: “Even if he were willing to return to this country his presence here would be most embarrassing both to HM and to the Government.”
Churchill ends with: “There are personal and family difficulties about his return to this country.”
Churchill’s substituting “difficulties” for “most embarrassing” certainly softens the last sentence.
But Churchill does something much more important with the CO’s last sentence: he removes the specific references to “HM [King George VI] and to the Government.” They’re replaced by the more ambiguous “personal and family.”
The King and the Government are no longer in the position the CO, inadvertently for sure, placed them in of telling the dominions they didn’t want Edward back in England because his presence there would be “most embarrassing” to the King and the Government as it surely would have been.
And did you notice that Churchill took the CO's "most embarrassing" assertion, stuck it at the beginning of the paragraph and told the dominions that it was Edward's presence "on the Continent in recent months[that]has been causing His Majesty and His Majesty’s Government embarrassment?"(Emphasis added)
Quite a switch, isn't it?
Churchill is such a rewarding person to study.