An outsider’s view?

In my first few posts here I have, I hope, made it clear that to me America is a special place.  At the start of his war memoirs, General de Gaulle wrote: ‘All my life I have had a special idea of France’. The same was true with Churchill and Britain. What both men had in common was that in some ways they were ‘outsiders’.

De Gaulle was a devout Catholic and a career soldier in a France where both sets of people – Catholics and soldiers, were viewed as outsiders. The Third Republic was secular in its outlook, and indeed, in 1905, brought in legislation to confiscate Church property; the Republic also distrusted soldiers; a devout Catholic soldier was an object of suspicion. Churchill, although we tend to think of him through his father’s line as being an aristocratic insider, wasn’t really. He was, of course, half-American, and his father, being the younger son of a Duke, inherited little money. The young Winston was a failure as a scholar and thought fit only for the army – the last resort for a penniless aristocrat: the bright younger sons became lawyers; the devout ones became vicars; the dim ones became cannon-fodder. The young Churchill did not go to University, and when he became a politician, found the only other MPs who had not gone to University were elderly businessmen and Trades Unionists.

Outsiders can, of course, end by hating the society which made them that; or they can end, as Churchill and de Gaulle did, by seeing their country more clearly than those who take it for granted because it is in their blood and bone, so to say.

This meant that when, in 1940, most of the British political establishment thought the country was doomed, Churchill dissented. The image of Britain he had in his head was that which came out of his mouth in the ‘Finest Hour’ speech. Read it, listen to it, and it is nonsense at one level. He really has no ‘plan’ for how Britain will win the war, or even how it won’t lose it; but that’s not its point. Its point is to paint a vision splendid of what Britain stood for in the world, and to say that vision could not go down to a monster like Hitler.  He spoke to a frightened nation – and he gave it strength.

De Gaulle did the same in his speech of 18th June (Waterloo day!). He told those French who could listen that although France had lost a battle, it had not lost the war, and that he,  an unknown junior Colonel turned politician would carry the flag of France forward. To the sensible folk who listened, this, too, was nonsense. As the traitor Pierre Laval said before they shot him in 1946, who but a fool could have believed that Britain would win? Well, sometimes the ‘fools’ know better than the wise men.

In this case, in 1940, the ‘fools’ were two men whose status as outsiders had made them think hard and fast about their countries. They saw beyond the tawdry politics of the day to the reality of what France and what Britain were, and could again be.  The Bible tells us that without vision, the people perish – in 1940 two men stood forth in Europe with a vision sharpened by their status as outsiders – sometimes that difference of perspective makes for a better vision.

About JessicaHof
Anglican Christian, survivor, grateful.

12 Responses to An outsider’s view?

  1. It is sad that a Churchill, de Gaulle, Thatcher or Reagan come along so infrequently. For all they do during their moment on the stage, it is quickly forgotten and put to bed without a bit of recollection until another crisis erupts. The foolishness of the average populace is ever a marvel to me as is the wickedness of the corrupt leaders that fill the gaps between those shining examples of our best and our brightest.


  2. i think that year in St. Louis, made you far more American than you realize, dearest friend. I can’t speak for others but when I’m with you, I feel very much as I would with any of my countrymen. But you absolutely bring a fresh and wonderful perspective on America to us.


  3. Another thing that crosses my mind. Someone, and I’m not sure it wasn’t Churchill, once described the run up to the First World War as “a time of Great events and Small men”. I think we are in another of those times, and they rarely turn out well.


  4. Mr. V. says:

    Churchill has ever been one of my heroes of the Twentieth century.

    “We shall go on to the end. We shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be. We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender.”

    Potent words. And he meant them. I shudder to think what our current ‘leader’ would say if he had to lead in such a moment in time.

    Something along the lines of

    “We shall bow in subjugation and greet our conquerors with complete obedience and trust. We shall kneel in the streets, we shall kneel in our homes, we shall kneel in the fields, we shall kneel in our cities, we shall continue to kneel until our new masters bid us rise.”


  5. Pingback: Happy Birthday, Mr. Lincoln | nebraskaenergyobserver

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