Thursday, May 21, 2009

The Churchill Series - May 21, 2009

Readers Note: This last series post is a repost which I first published on July 24, 2006. You'll all quickly see why I believe it's a very fitting post with which to end the series.

I thank you for your interest in the series and for all the generous and informative comments you've made.

I've especially appreciated learning that some of you became interested in Churchill as a result of this series. I hope you'll now stay with him. He's not only a great statesman to whom we owe so much. He's also a wonderful companion with whom to share life's journey.

Again, thank you, and all the best,


Today marks the four-month anniversary of the Raleigh News & Observer’s publication of the story that first identified the Duke Men’s lacrosse team as suspects in a gang-rape investigation. In its story, the N&O repeatedly told readers the woman was “the victim.” It never once used the conditional qualifier “alleged.”

The N&O’s Mar. 24 story was the first of many biased and inflammatory news stories and columns the N&O produced. They cast the accuser as a victim and framed the lacrosse team as made up of three brutal rapists and their teammates who stood by indifferently while the woman was raped, and then later refused to help police identify their rapist teammates.

Those N&O stories encouraged a rogue DA, intimidated a university to silence in the face of injustices, and created enough hysteria that otherwise reasonable people approved the felony indictments of three obviously innocent young men.

The post which follows recounts events that occurred in England more than a century ago. Those events and the events of the last four months contain some remarkable similarities, including the struggle to correct injustices.

This post is meant as a gesture of support for all the Duke lacrosse familyies who've endured so much pain and injustice since Mar. 14; and as a tribute to everyone working to right the wrongs of the Duke lacrosse hoax.

A special word of tribute goes to the members and coaches of Duke's Women’s lacrosse team who, in the face of foul criticisms, said what many now know to be true but are still afraid to say: “Innocent.”


In May 1902, the first of a series of arson fires broke out at the Royal Military College, Sandhurst.

After the fifth fire, the Commandant issued an order: If the guilty were not identified within forty-eight hours, every cadet housed in barrack “C,” where the fires had occurred, would be dismissed for a term unless he could prove he wasn’t in the barrack “C”area at the time of the fire. The cadets, twenty-nine in number, included three who had already been investigated in connection with previous fires and found innocent.

The order also said that if the arsonist(s) was not identified, three aged servants in “C” barrack, all former career soldiers, would be summarily dismissed.

No one came forward. After endorsements by the Army Commander-in-Chief, Lord Frederick Roberts, and the Secretary of State for War, the order took effect: The cadets were sent down; the servants dismissed.

The order’s injustices might have gone uncorrected but for the actions of a handful of members of the House of Commons, and later, a few members of the House of Lords, including Lord Roberts himself.

The Commons members, mostly young and sitting in their first Parliament, began interviewing the cadets and servants, documenting violations of due process and publicizing the case’s many injustices.

One of the members wrote the Times of London. He told readers, “All the cadets I have seen strenuously deny any complicity with the offences.” He said the cadets' and servants’ treatment was a travesty which violated “three cardinal principles of equity:”

“that suspicion in not evidence; that accused should be heard in their own defense; and that it is for the accuser to prove his charge, not for the defendant to prove his innocence.”
The member's letter drew a quick, sharp rebuke from the Reverend Frederick Westcott, headmaster of one of England’s leading public schools. Westcott told Times' readers soldiers had to learn the lessons of group punishment:
“The innocent, doubtless, suffer with the guilty; but then they always do. The world has been so arranged.”
The member, in his first Parliament and representing the Oldham constituency, immediately replied to Westcott in another letter to The Times.

The member’s biographer, Sir Martin Gilbert, tell us about the reply and some of what followed :
“Has it indeed?” Churchill asked in his reply on July 8.

No doubt Westcott had taken care “that the little world over which he presides is arranged on that admirable plan, but it is necessary to tell him that elsewhere the punishment of innocent people is regarded as a crime, or as a calamity to be prevented by unstinting exertion.”

So long as the “delinquencies of a schoolmaster” were within the law, Churchill added, “the House of Commons has no right to intervene, but when a Commander-in-Chief and a Secretary of State are encouraged to imitate him, it is time to take notice.”

Churchill wanted to discuss the Sandhurst punishments in the Commons. But [Prime Minister] Balfour…refused to allow time for any such debate [so] Churchill [arranged to have the matter] raised in the Lords.

During the debate there, the Commander-in-Chief, Lord Roberts, agreed that each individual case would be investigated and that no innocent cadet would lose a term of study.
Lord Roberts did review each cadet and servant's case individually. No arsonist(s) was ever identified. Twenty-seven of the twenty-nine cadets elected to return to Sandhurst. The three servants were reinstated. The Commandant was dismissed because of "the general disorderliness" at Sandhurst.

It's right to end this post with Churchill’s words, a gift to us across the century:
“that suspicion in not evidence; that accused should be heard in their own defense; and that it is for the accuser to prove his charge, not for the defendant to prove his innocence.”
Accounts of the Sandhurst events can be found in many, but not all, Churchill biographies. For this post, in addition to Martin Gilbert’s
Churchill: A Life, I relied on Randolph S. Churchill’s Winston S. Churchill, Young Statesman:1901-1914, and Ted Morgan’s, Churchill, Young Man in a Hurry: 1874-1915


Anonymous said...

If only those i charge at Duke, the DPD, and the Durham prosecutor's office had only heeded Churchill's words - what a difference it would have made. Two young men would have been able to finish their college degrees at the university that they chose as seniors in high school to spend the four most important years of their young lives. A third young man (and his family and friends) would have been able to revel in the accomplishment that graduation brings and the job that he had been offfered. An outstanding coach and his family would have continued to live their lives among friends and colleagues in a house that they loved. Members of a lacrosse team would have enjoyed their season togther on the field - perhaps winning the NCAA championship for that year. A troubled young woman might have gotten the help that she so desperately needed as her life spun out of control through the use of drugs and alcohol. The families of the three men would have enjoyed the spring, summer,fall and winter of 2006-7 with their concerns only those that each family has of the ordinary kind that affects each and every one of us.
However, that was not to be as Churchill's admonition was unheeded by those who were charged with the sacredness of the law and the freedom of the university. Brodhead, Steel, Nifong, Himan, Gottlieb, Levicy, Meehan, the potbangers, the Gang of 88, the media likes of Selena ROberts, Duff WIlson, Nancy Grace, the Durham City Council and its mayor - all weighed in with a verdict of guilty with no evidence because it "had to be". If RCD were innocent - they would have to prove their innocence andin a difficult, if not downright hostile environment. But, there were those who knew that the charges were baseless, that a travesty of justice was being played out and they rose to shout this out. Elmo the cabdriver refused to be cowed - even as the state tried to force a change in his story by using all of its powers to deny him his freedom and right to live in the US. The families stood by their sons declaring that the government had picked the "wrong families" to cross. The lawyers worked unceasingly to hoist the prosecutor, the sane nurse, and the DPD on its own petard. Ands then there were the blogs and the bloggers (DIW, JinC, Liestoppers) who followed the case, pointing out the inconsistencies and illegalities of the state's case and documenting the antics of those at Duke, the DPD, and of course Mike Nifong (and who still stay on the case - recording every instance and rebutting the claims of those who maintain that "something must have happened". How Churchill must be rolling in his grave that some 107 years later after the Sandhurst incident, that so little has been learned.

Anonymous said...

"Goodbye and good riddance," is what the evildoers will say. Congratulations on a superb blog and the tremendous impact you've had is what everyone else says. We'll miss you J-in-C, and look forward to seeing you around the ether. Best of luck in all of your endeavors! MOO! Gregory

Anonymous said...

JOhn . Good work.If you're ever in the South Bend area ,please contact me.And It's nice to meet anoither WSC enthusiast.

Anonymous said...

JOhn . Good work.If you're ever in the South Bend area ,please contact me.And It's been nice to meet anoither WSC enthusiast.

Anonymous said...

JinC -
If your travels ever bring you to southwestern Ohio, please do not hesitate to stop for a midwestern welcome. Our door is always open and the wine is ready to be poured.

Thank you again for many hours of thoughtful ommentary.

Jim in San Diego said...


You deserve immense credit for your public service.

By publishing this blog, you are immediately ahead of the 99+ % of us who do not take the initiative to actively work on issues that we know need intense attention.

You have provided some of us the opportunity to comment with you, even when we did not agree with your point of view.

You give no reason for leaving, and you owe none.

But, this service you have provided is so rare, so unusual, and so necessary to counterpoint the propaganda and cynicism of so much of our "news", some of us wish you would change your mind.

"Say it ain't so, Joe". But, best of luck to you and thanks.

Jim Peterson

Anonymous said...

This blog has been in my daily reading for the last 2 years. I will miss it dearly as you share many of the same political views I do. I'd love to know what your daily reading list is.

I hope that once things settle, you will blog again.

Anonymous said...


'til we meet again.


William L. Anderson said...


Thanks for your unwavering attention to integrity and the lack thereof in official Durham and at Duke University. You also were unwavering in holding the N&O to the lies that it told when it jump-started the hoax/frame.

Best wishes to you.

Anonymous said...

I debated where to post this but since Churchill was the British prime minister during WWII, I thought that this was probably the best place.

Churchill must be rolling in his grave at the snub given to Queen Elizabeth, the official head of state of the British government as well as a WWII vet. The commemoration of the Normandy invasion in which many Americans and British as well as some French participated in and lost their lives will not include the Queen - she was not invited by either the US president or the French premier both of whom will be in attendance. That the British head of state was slighted is bad enough but that it is a British head of state who actually served in the war (unlike the other two heads of state neither of whom have ever worn the uniform of their respective country)is appalling. It is obvious from this, as from other missteps taken by the Obama administration, that the ages old Anglo-American alliance is seen as something no longer important. It is a sad day indeed when the efforts of the British servicemen and women (as well as the countless sacrifice of the British civilians who endured horrific bombing) who alone bore the brunt of opposition to the Nazis following the capitulation of the French in June of 1940 until the American entry into the war after the attack at Pearl Harbor is so denigrated. Even Charles DeGaulle at his most obfuscatory, would have never countenanced such a slight.

JWM said...

Dear cks,

Thanks for calling the snub to my attention. I hadn't known of it.

John Burns is the NYT reporter I most respect and he wrote the Times' story.

I won't have time to get you the London material and suggestions before next Monday.

Please check back here then.

And please let me know you've seen this.

Thanks for speaking up at other blogs for good and holding some folks to standards.


Anonymous said...


Saw your note. Thank you for the kind words. Civility should always be the order of the day - you have always set the example for that.