New Yorker: Obama a Better Churchill than Churchill? (Or Bush)
By: Warner Todd Huston
Amy Davidson of the New Yorker should take up bowling or gardening because history doesn’t seem to be her thang, if you will. In the aftermath of Barack Obama’s own false historical reference, made during a Wednesday press conference, of famed WWII era English Prime Minister Winston Churchill, Davidson jumped to her keyboard to further garble history with an April 30 blog post on her Close Read blog at the New Yorker website.
On Wednesday, Obama made a reference to an “article” he was reading “the other day” wherein he discovered that during WWII Prime Minister Winston Churchill supposedly said “We don’t torture.” (Transcript of Obama’s remarks)The following morning, Davisdon praised Obama for his sentiment and waxed envious over the “very good” article from which Obama gleaned the tale.
There is only one little problem with the whole thing. Churchill NEVER said the line that Obama claimed he said. And further the “very good article” that Davidson praised was erroneous to say so. This means Obama was wrong, the article was wrong and so was Davidson’s blog post.
Not surprisingly the original article that so badly mussed up history was written by one of the worst hacks in journalism, Andrew Sullivan (whose factually incorrect piece can be seen at The Atlantic).
The truth of the matter is that the British government did employ torture in various instances in the modern era — we are talking WWII and later. She certainly did not make it a matter of routine, using it only occasionally and certainly not in every instance. But, use it she did all the while making appearances that it was a method that was unacceptable.
In one case, British Colonel Robin â€œTin-Eyeâ€ Stephens used procedures that many leftists would consider torture today. From starvation to sleep depravation, the Colonel used all methods short of physical harm. The Colonel also constantly threatened execution with his German prisoners as a mental attack. Worse for todayâ€™s leftists trying to cite the perfect interrogation techniques, he carried executions out with many of them. The truth is that Colonel Stephens did eschew the use of painful physical torture, but was not shy about psychological torture at all. Again, he did execute prisoners, a fact not lost on the ones that stayed alive in his care.
In another instance of British actions during WWII there was a detention center called “The Cage”. This facility has been investigated since the war and it has been revealed that physical torture of its inmates did occur.
What Churchill did know or not know about any of these incidents has never satisfactorily been ascertained. There is also nothing in the Prime Ministerâ€™s voluminous writings that would elucidate the matter. So, for Obama and Sullivan to have said that Churchill specifically argued against torturing POWs is simply incorrect.
In any case, here is what Obama said last Wednesday:
I was struck by an article that I was reading the other day talking about the fact that the British during World War II, when London was being bombed to smithereens, had 200 or so detainees. And Churchill said, “We don’t torture,” when the entire British â€” all of the British people were being subjected to unimaginable risk and threat.
And then the reason was that Churchill understood — you start taking shortcuts, over time, that corrodes what’s — what’s best in a people. It corrodes the character of a country.
And I am struck, Mr. President, with the fact that you are completely wrong about Churchill. Let us turn to Richard M. Langworth, prominent Churchillian scholar to hear some actual historical facts.
While itâ€™s nice to hear the President invoke Sir Winston, the quotation is unattributed and almost certainly incorrect. While Churchill did express such sentiments with regard to prison inmates, he said no such thing about prisoners of war, enemy combatants or terrorists, who were in fact tortured by British interrogators during World War II.
And where did Obama get this foolish notion of what Churchill said? The aforementioned hack Sullivan who states it as a fact in his Atlantic article — despite that no such quote exists — that Churchill “nonetheless knew that embracing torture was the equivalent of surrender to the barbarism he was fighting.”
Here is what Langworth says of Sullivan’s hackery on what Churchill “knew”:
“Churchill nonetheless knew” appears suddenly and with no evidence to back it up. Sullivan makes no other reference to Churchill, or to how he divined Churchillâ€™s views on torture.
As Jonah Goldberg says in his NRO piece, “Typically, Sullivanâ€™s emotions are getting ahead of his facts.” Simply put Sullivan has no facts at his command and merely makes up the whole Churchill “knowing” business. But it suits Obama fine, because facts aren’t necessary when you are The One. Isn’t it just like President Obama to just say a thing in his authoritative way as if it were true regardless if it is true or not? He loves making pronouncements regardless of the actual facts. And, in true lapdog fashion, Amy Davidson of the New Yorker laps it all up like cream.
So now we get to Davidson’s even worse garbling of history. Not only does she regurgitate Obama’s false historical reference, she compounds the abuse of history by saying that Bush was more like the spineless, tyrant appeasing Neville Chamberlain than Obama is!
For those unaware, it was English PM Neville Chamberlain that told the world that there was “peace in our times” after a pre-WWII visit to Hitler’s Nazi Germany. He signed all sorts of foolish treaties with the Nazis imagining that he had averted war with that belligerent state. The man was a fool, pure and simple. By the way, at the same time Chamberlain was saying how the world was finally at peace, Churchill was decrying Nazi aggressiveness and warning that England should prepare for war. We all know which of the two was right, Chamberlain or Churchill.
Here is Davidson’s uninformed foray into historical analysis:
Obama out-Churchilled Bushâ€”not bad, given Bushâ€™s constant and increasingly tedious invocations of the Prime Minister. (Obama may have been citing a very good Andrew Sullivan post.) Bush saw himself as a latter-day Churchillâ€”though thereâ€™s an argument that the better parallel is Neville Chamberlainâ€”and put his bust in the Oval Office, saying, â€œHe watches my every move.â€ Obama ditched it for a bust of Lincoln, which hurt British feelingsâ€”back in February, the Telegraph speculated that Obama was mad at Churchill because of the torture of Kenyans, including, perhaps, Obama’s grandfather, in the Mau Mau rebellion during his second premiership. So it took the British a few years to realize that Kenyans deserved to be treated like Germans. (And their treatment might not have been so lovely, as Politico points out.) Still, sentiment counts for something. And anyway, we can be better than Churchill.
Now I can agree with Davidson if she means Obama is like Ward Churchill. But Winston is right out.
In any case, aside from being a rather badly written paragraph technically, the references are all so far off from reality that they may as well be considered satire.
We’ve already discovered above that Sullivan did not have a “very good article.” But, it also absurd that Bush was “tedious” in his Churchill “invocations.” Yes, Bush referenced Churchill many times, but has anyone seen any other report that bemoaned Bush’s Churchill references until now? Was criticism of Bush’s “tedious” Churchill references ever a talking point in the past? Was it something often commented upon? Not really. But it does make a great hindsight jab for little Miss Davidson, doesn’t it? Suddenly, just because The Obammessiah mentioned Churchill, now Miss Davidson has an excuse to claim Bush was “tedious” when “invoking” Churchill. In truth, the only thing tedious here is Davidson’s uninformed and knee jerk Bush Derangement Syndrome.
Next, Davidson says, without bothering to elucidate, that “thereâ€™s an argument that the better parallel is Neville Chamberlain” instead of Churchill to compare Bush to. Just like Obama, Davidson just makes a pronouncement regardless of the facts. Could someone, anyone, tell us when Bush went around saying that there is “peace in our times” like Chamberlain did? Of course no one can. The claim is moronic.
Then, she pretends that Obama’s assertion that Churchill refused to torture Germans but didn’t mind torturing Kenyans is a factual statement. It is not. Yes Kenyans were horribly mistreated under Churchill’s tenure, but so were Germans. Yet, in neither case did the British government make hidebound policy that torture was a necessary aspect of their operations. It occurred, was looked away from, was not necessarily sanctioned, and used sparingly or in a quasi-legal manner. In fact, this is a common western reaction to torture. Nearly every western nation has done it and all are squeamish enough about it to sometimes equivocate about it while using it as little as possible. It is also salient that most western nations prosecute their own officials (or those down the ladder) over its use and this should not so easily be ignored. This is quite unlike third world nations such as China or Saddam Huessein’s Iraq, where physical torture is an official tool, one that even has official handbooks made to instruct government officials in its use.
Davidson ends her badly reasoned and historically illiterate segment with “anyway, we can be better than Churchill.” Winston Churchill had flaws, sure. What human being doesn’t? But if this little fool thinks we can so easily be “better” than one of history’s greatest leaders, if it is so easy for this opinionist to say that Churchill wasn’t worthy, it proves wholly that she knows nothing about Churchill, his times, or ours. Amy Davidson isn’t worthy to hold Churchill’s coat or to fetch him a nice cup of tea.
… and neither is Barack “I won” Obama.
(Harvardâ€™s Short bio on Amy Davidson)