Thursday, July 03, 2008

The Churchill Series - July 3, 2008

(One of a series of weekday posts on the life of Winston S. Churchill.)

If you were to pick words to describe Churchill, one of the last would surely be "passive." Churchill didn't care for passivity in himself, and his biographer Martin Gilbert tells us he refused to accept it from his generals :

Anything that smacked of passivity on the part of his army commanders incurred Churchill's wrath. Learning at the beginning of November 1941 that nothing "large" was being planned against the German and Italian forces in the Western Desert by [General] Wavell's successor, Churchill wrote to his former Boer War adversary, General Smuts, then a respected voice in Allied military circles: "I dread the idea of this long delay when, as we know for certain, the enemy is hard pressed for supplies and would be greatly embarrassed by making exertions."

He continued: "In war one cannot wait to have everything perfect, but must fight in relation to the enemy's strength and plight. I am appalled at the proposal to remain passive all this time, when the golden opportunity many be lost."

Later, Churchill was to summarize this failing in a terse comment: "The maxim 'Nothing avails but perfection' may be spelt shorter - 'Paralysis.'"
The passages I just quoted are found on pg. 56 of Gilbert's book describing Churchill's war leadership which, most appropriately for the passages we've just read, is titled Continue to Pester, Nag and Bite.