Saturday, December 06, 2008

The Churchill Series - Dec. 5, 2008

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

Historian John G. Plumpton - - -

Churchill made frequent comments about history and its importance.

Some were pragmatic and should be heeded by many contemporary political leaders: “A good knowledge of history is a quiver full of arrows in debates.”

Others are more profound: “Everyone can recognize history when it happens. Everyone can recognize history after it has happened; but it only the wise person who knows at the moment what is vital and permanent, what is lasting and memorable.”

But Churchill is often criticized for having a too romantic view of history - views strongly influenced by his upbringing.

“History, for Churchill,” said the great Cambridge historian, J.H. Plumb, “was not a subject like geography or mathematics. It was a part of his temperament, as much a part of his being as his social class and, indeed, closely allied to it.

It became a part of his politics, his diplomacy, his strategy and his tactics. I think it is extremely difficult for anyone not born into Churchill’s world or time to realize what a dominance the past had over all his thinking and action.

And one should recall that for Churchill the past was very personal. Think merely of Blenheim Palace where he was born.”

We cannot all be born in Blenheim – nor can we all have Churchill’s talent for the resplendent phrase, but we all can, through a deeper and more thorough knowledge of history, have a better understanding of what is vital and permanent, lasting and memorable.

Churchill’s romantic view of history led him to this conclusion:

“History with its flickering lamp stumbles along the trail of the past trying to reconstruct its success to revive the echoes and kindle with pale gleams the passions of former days.”

Let me suggest that this is not enough. The passions of former days will be kindled only if they are relevant to each and every generation.

Thus it is our responsibility to our children, and our children’s children, that while the lamp of history may flicker, it must not go out.

Plumpton's entire address is here. (Scroll down)

Have a nice weekend.