As times have been pretty tough for America, humanity and myself personally, I felt it was necessary to bring some wisdom from a man who faced great personal defeat quite often and rallied the British people to stand up and live “their finest hour” in the face of Nazi aggression, even as the horizon brought nothing but dark clouds and whirlwinds to come. It is also especially relevant as we are fresh off the heels of an ‘intimate history’ with the Roosevelts, it seems only appropriate that we examine another great man of the twentieth century, another in our “Triggers of the Atom Bomb” segment, a man who was often right in the face of wrong and also wrong quite a bit, yet somehow managed to be remembered fondly (a pretty difficult trick to master): the one, the only, the Sir Winston Leonard Spencer-Churchill.
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Before we get started I want to mention that I admire Churchill the man, but not his politics, Churchill would become a staunch conservative and anti-socialist, all while being a man of great privilege. His life was still no cakewalk, but rich-people problems are not the same and he was generally pretty disconnected from that unlike his friend and counter-part Franklin D. Roosevelt.
Churchill was connected to the Sarah Churchill line directly to the infamous Duke of Marlborough who revolutionized warfare during Queen Anne’s War with France. That’s like being related to George Washington and Hannibal in one punch. His father was also a great man rising to be Chancellor of the Exchequer and needless to say, Winston found himself living in a pretty large shadow. He struggled to live up to the name, served in the British Army, then got into politics, changed parties (from Liberal to Conservative) and would often be seen as a true rouge, therefore untrustworthy. He still rose, very high in the Government ministry, then engineered the Gallipoli Campaign during World War I against the Turks, a disaster of epic proportions that cause him to enter his “wilderness” period.
Helpful tip #1 – Being Right is More Important than Honesty
Churchill was a determined and stubborn man. While he never would have any, and I mean ANY, success at military strategy, he became very pragmatic, very practical. His crazy innovations in both World War I and World War II both proved to be abject failures that caused senseless suffering, pointless deaths and stretched valuable military resources from the front lines in World War I to the Ottoman Empire and to Italy (“the soft underbelly of the Third Reich”) while not adding any real value in the long run of success. However, History will remember him for being right about Adolf Hitler, right about standing up and rallying the British People and right about his friendship with FDR, which brought first weapons, then an entire military force to his cause from a country that was 80% opposed to fighting in Europe, and still opposed after Pearl Harbor until Hitler declared war on the US. That’s a pretty big thing to be right about and he and FDR led the charge that saved the free world from the tyranny and despotism of Hitler’s very own brand of fascism. So all is forgotten.
“It is a fine thing to be honest, but it is also very important to be right.”
What it means to me is that you have to be pragmatic in life, deal with things that are not always true to yourself, but if you have an over-arching goal and you believe in your heart of hearts that it is true, it is a noble pursuit. Just don’t be surprised if you really do turn out to be wrong. Stubborn resolve can only get you so far.
Helpful tip#2 – When in doubt, press on
There was a point in World War II when even FDR had grave doubts about British resolve. Even if he loved Churchill, his top military brass was telling him the British were weak and would be crushed by the Nazi’s, yes, even 5 star General Marshall, leader of all US military operations encouraged FDR to go after the Japanese first. FDR overruled Marshall and sent him a letter signed “Commander-in-Chief” to do it. Why? Because Churchill had convinced him that the Nazi’s were the gravest threat and was vital to American interests. While, this proved accurate, you can imagine the hell that Churchill must have been in, promising the British people a long slog, but a victory, promising that things would turn around and everywhere around you is defeat after defeat after defeat. Soon after the bombs started falling, he had to abandon 10 Downing Street for a bunker deep in underground London. All the while the only hope of your salvation is a country that consider’s you dog meat for the Nazis and Stalin to the East (a person Churchill would come to hate). That isn’t just hell, it’s hell and you are in charge of getting out of it.
“If you are going through hell, keep going.”
What this quote means to me is that often when times are at their darkest, never fear, for things usually do get better. Miracles can come slowly and evolve over time but they do happen. In Britain and Churchill’s case, it was the so-called Miracle at Dunkirk, which was a propaganda line designed to distract from the disastrous French campaign. The British were surrounded at Dunkirk by Field Marshall von Runstadt who wanted to attack, Hitler overruled him, suspended Operation Sea Lion (the military invasion of Britain) in favor of an air campaign for what appears to be his belief that the British were Aryans after all and would soon join his great struggle to bring hell to every corner of the Earth. He was wrong and it proved a fatal blow in the long run. Britain would come out of its hell and bring the ‘Whirlwind’ to the Germans instead.
Helpful Tip #3 – Failure isn’t Failure
So after a string of failures at the hands of both the Germans and the Japanese, Churchill stubbornly pressed on like a card player at a poker table who was deep in debt. Yet he knew he still had a few good hands left to play. The Italians attacked in North Africa and were easily beaten, then Rommel came and brought the Africa Corps, the campaign in Greece also went south. Just as things were at their bleakest, Gen. Montgomery repelled a German invasion of Egypt, then won a major battle at El Alamein and they soon broke through, taking Tripoli in Libya. Soon after, the Americans began arriving and Operation Torch began kicking the Germans out of North Africa. The Nazi’s also lost the entire 6th Army at Stalingrad. Burma in the East had gone in favor of the Brits and the American Navy won at Midway, and the Marines had taken Tarawa and Guadalcanal. The tide had changed.
“Success is going from failure to failure without the loss of enthusiasm.”
This is probably one of the most useful tips on this list. Successful people fail all the time. It isn’t the success that makes you successful, as much as it is the perseverance, the hard work and the belief in your ability to succeed.
Useful Tip #4 – Understand Your Own Weaknesses
After the war ended, there was an election in the United Kingdom, one which Winston Churchill expected to easily win. He had been the man who brought them victory after all, yet the Tories were defeated and Churchill was sent packing. Why? Well the British people subscribed to this very same view that Churchill himself said:
“Those who can win a war well can rarely make a good peace and those who could make a good peace would never have won the war.”
If we look at this through the context of Churchill, this is especially relevant. The British had decided that all they fought for must amount to something. They wanted a National Health Service (which is the envy of many nation’s, especially us), voting rights for all women (it had been restricted) and they wanted a system that was both more fair and more just economically and socially. They put the Labor Party in power to do this because the Conservatives were opposed to most of these things and seemed out of touch. Thus, they loved Churchill for his winning of the war, they just didn’t want him to lead the peace. However , the post-war period was rough and the Empire had begun to crumble under the crippling debt of winning it. Bombs, tanks, planes, ships all cost money, especially when American isolationists demanded cash payments at first and demanded payment after. There were fuel shortages, rationing continued and life would not ever return to Edwardian standards. This would lead to the British putting Churchill and the Tories back for another round and mark the last great triumph of Churchill’s long life of comebacks.
Churchill was a huge drinker, a lively man, though often quite melancholy (probably why he drank). He had a sort of forced optimism though that seems to fit his character. You can really see it during his periods of failure. I think most people, especially a drinking man like Churchill would have given up at a young age. Yet he found in him the strength to press on. This is consistent with the Roosevelts as well. Press on because things will get better. If they don’t, then they don’t and we’ll deal with it then, but it makes no sense to cry doom and gloom now because what’s the point?
“I am an optimist. It does not seem too much use being anything else.”
I like this quote and it touches my life personally as I imagine it does a great deal of others as well. Tragedy is a part of life, there just isn’t enough good fortune to go around (which is why I believe in a level playing field) so we all need to find a way to press on. Sometimes life is fair, most of the time it isn’t, every move is a roll of the dice. Yet as it has been determined even on the quantum level that luck is impacted by positive feelings, you have more of a reason than ever to believe in this pragmatic optimism. What else are you gonna do? Believe you are going to die tomorrow and the whole world is going to explode? If you believe that, you won’t get anything done!
Throughout Churchill’s life there were massive defeats, His early failures as a school child, his inability to win his parent’s respect, a speech impediment, problems getting his military career going, early political failures all which led to more successes further up the ladder, tempered with more failures. How? Because he was never idle. he picked himself up, dusted himself off and kept going. Each failure in his life is generally met with another bold action. When he failed in politics, he re-joined the British Army and headed for the Western Front. While it is important to note, he was a man of great privilege and not be asked to run across No Man’s Land into enemy machine guns, he still tried to be in the action.
“I never worry about action, but only inaction.”
It may sound a little funny that a man known for his portliness and excessive drinking was a man of action but action comes in many forms. Churchill was a doer. Like many people who are successful in this world, this is the secret to their success. Never give up, never back down, never be idle. Always move forward.
The thing about Churchill that he was such a failure, that he was a massive success! He learned the hard way every time and came out smarter, stronger and more resilient with new found skills that only a person who has tackled the issue would know. Perhaps this is one of Churchill’s most enduring qualities.
“Difficulties mastered are opportunities won.”
Churchill’s many failings tough him that once you find a way to make it work, you have learned a new skill. This is absolutely brilliant. When you fall down when you first learn to walk, you aren’t failing, you are learning to walk. Every opportunity in life brings the same opportunity, we just tend to see it differently.
Useful Tip #8 – Believe in Democracy
This isn’t a tip to personal success as much as it is a tip to all of our success. In both the British and American democracies as well as all around the world, there has been a trend against the will of the people. Rich people are buying the governments off and turning these representative democracies into plutocracies (corrupt rich people running the show). When Churchill made this statement, he was talking in response of the other direction, the rise of communism. However those days are long gone, it still works, we need to be resilliant and engaged in our governments, for the literal definition of political power is knowledge of government. The more you know, the more power you have. If you right it off, the less power you have. If you believe in doom and gloom than get ready for the coming wars that will happen if we allow the billionaires to take over completely. It is late in the day, so you had better get moving. If you believe in Democracy, then you believe in the people. It isn’t perfect, it is often annoying but that’s not what is happening lately. Our blood and sweat has made a lot of people rich, they are using that money to make us weaker. That is what is happening. While I don’t mind a little socialism mixed in, I like a stiff bump of capitalism as well to get the heart rate flowing, what binds it together is democracy.
“It has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all the others that have been tried.”
Even a Tory like Sir Winston Churchill agrees, the voice of the people, the vox populi, if you will, may be noisy, may be annoying, may even be counter-productive, but what’s the alternative? Fascism? Stalinism? Maoism? Chinese Capitalist Elitism? No my friends, the most successful and happy countries (the US is not on this list of happiness anyway) is a system of Social-Capitalist-Democracy.
It only works if you care enough to be involved.
So there you have it. 7 Tips for a successful life from the great Sir Winston Churchill, who would not only outgrow the shadow cast upon him, he will be remembered as one of the great names of the British Empire, rivaling the Duke of Marlboro (though not in military strategy, that’s for sure), in greatness. While following these rules will not ensure success, it may help you find it.
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