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 -- all of the British people were being subjected to unimaginable risk and threat.Facts: Churchill scholar Richard Langworth on April 30th:
And then the reason was that Churchill understood, you start taking short-cuts, over time, that corrodes what's -- what's best in a people. It corrodes the character of a country.
While it’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.Breakdown: Ben MacIntyre in the May 1st Times of London:
The word "torture" appears 156 times in my digital transcript of Churchill’s 15 million published words (books, articles, speeches, papers) and 35 million words about him--but not once in the subject context. Similarly, key phrases like "character of a country" or "erodes the character" do not track.
The diligent American press corps immediately set out to find out which article the President was referring to. The Huffington Post duly tracked down a posting by the British-born journalist Andrew Sullivan on The Atlantic website entitled "Churchill v. Cheney". Sure enough, that article quoted extensively from an article I had written back in 2006, about Colonel Robin "Tin-Eye" Stephens, the monocled commander of Camp 020, Britain’s wartime interrogation centre, who banned violent interrogation techniques against captured spies.Inapplicability: Jonah Goldberg on National Review Online May 1st:
In two small steps, through the magical Chinese whispers of the internet, a three-year-old article and a hitherto obscure British intelligence officer had morphed suddenly into US government policy.
Along the way, the facts had altered slightly. The 500 enemy spies processed through Camp 020 had become 200. Stephens’s prohibition on torture had been transformed into official Churchillian policy.
Macintyre doesn’t mention Churchill. That’s all Sullivan, who writes: "Churchill nonetheless knew that embracing torture was the equivalent of surrender to the barbarism he was fighting."Irony: President Obama summoned the late Prime Minister's purported wisdom in April despite having banished him, according to the February 14th Telegraph (U.K.):
Typically, Sullivan’s emotions are getting ahead of his facts. Churchill’s preference for humane treatment of German POWs under the Geneva Conventions had more to do with ensuring reciprocity from enemy armies. Al-Qaeda isn’t a signatory and isn’t interested in such reciprocity.
A bust of the former prime minister once voted the greatest Briton in history, which was loaned to George W Bush from the Government's art collection after the September 11 attacks, has now been formally handed back.Consequences: From Ben MacIntyre's same May 1st London Times story:
The bronze by Sir Jacob Epstein, worth hundreds of thousands of pounds if it were ever sold on the open market, enjoyed pride of place in the Oval Office during President Bush's tenure.
But when British officials offered to let Mr Obama to hang onto the bust for a further four years, the White House said: "Thanks, but no thanks."
But in a wider sense, Mr Obama was right: Churchill presided over a military machine that generally regarded torture as unnecessary, unethical, unproductive and un-British. He never exactly said "we don’t torture", but he did not need to.Conclusion: Chief Executives, especially Harvard-trained lawyers, shouldn't invent spurious precedent. The press excoriated the previous President for what they insisted--falsely as it turned out--was a similar error. In reality, professional progressive protesters elevated policy disagreements into spurious proof "Bush lied".
With an Administration aligned with the media's agenda, the standards were relaxed. Journalists now report Obama's wrongs as cosmically correct. It was deployed in March, when the President pushed bogus bankruptcy statistics. Similarly, last week, mere forceful assertion fixed fabrication. Both times, the press treated Obamessiah as having ascended to infallibility.
Now, the voters shall be healed!
(via Scott Johnson at Powerline)