Michael A. Stusser asked:
Sir Winston Churchill
Born November 30, 1874
Died January 24, 1965
Prime Minister of England when it really counted, Sir Winston led the Brits to victory over the evil Nazi Empire in World War II — no easy task, especially when many thought the British would wave their white hankies, grab a pint, and call it quits.
Churchill gained fame as a reporter during the Boer Wars and World War I, attracting a large audience with his top-notch writing, and serving in nine British regiments. Using the publicity from his high-profile exploits, Winston won a seat in the general election of 1900, the first victory in a political career that would last sixty-two years.
Churchill lost elections as a Liberal free trader and Independent anti-Socialist and won under the Conservative label of â€œConstitutionalist.â€ The public gave him more lives than a cat, and he proved his political mettle time and time again with leadership, patriotism, and fresh ideas.
On one issue, Churchill never wavered: the growing threat of an aggressive Germany. Opponents accused him of warmongering, for promoting disarmament, but his instincts were dead-on. In 1940, at the age sixty-six, Churchill was finally appointed prime minister. He forged a fierce union during World War II by teaming with Franklin D. Roosevelt and unlikely ally Joseph Stalin to fight the Nazi war machine.
Churchillâ€™s public broadcasts and fiery oratory kept spirits high during the Blitz bombings, and his popularity allowed him to survive several confidence votes in Parliament.
Youâ€™d think Churchillâ€™s position as prime minister would be safe after leading his country to victory, but noooo. The masses loved him as a war leader, but failed to see him as leader of the party; two months after VE-day, Churchill and his Conservative cause was out the door.
Bouncing back as usual, he got the top spot in 1951 and remained prime minister until 1955, when strokes forced him from office. In 1953 he received the Nobel Peace Prize for Literature, along with being knighted by the queen. He died in London in January 1965, and anyone who was anyone came to the great statesmanâ€™s funeral.
Michael Stusser: Sir, youâ€™re in your . . .
Winston Churchill: Jammies! PJs! Bloody well right. Manâ€™s got to be comfortable — and in my right hand is a fine glass of bubbly. Care to join?
MS: Champagne? No sir, itâ€™s not even . . .
WC: Itâ€™s cocktail hour somewhere, my dear man.
MS: Would you say you had a drinking problem?
WC: All I can say is that I have taken more out of alcohol than it has taken out of me. Truth be told, I watered my whiskey — just wanted the Ruskies to think I could drink them under the table.
MS: And your interest in cigars. Where did that start?
WC: Havana, 1895. Went down there to see some live military action and got hooked on Cubans! We pretty much lived on cigars and oranges — beeâ€™s knees!
MS: Think you were addicted?
WC: I had my oxygen mask outfitted so I could smoke while air-borne. If thatâ€™s not addiction, I donâ€™t know what is. Now letâ€™s begin this blasted tÃªte-Ã -tÃªte, shall we? What say I talk and you listen?
MS: Go right ahead, sir.
[Churchill works furiously, scribbling notes onto a pad.]
WC: One moment, son, Iâ€™m just preparing my impromptu remarks. There we are. And letâ€™s begin.
MS: Maybe you can talk a bit about your upbringing.
WC: Happy to. My father, Lord Randolph Churchill, was a politician as well. Fancy itâ€™s in our blood. Royal blood, I might add — my pops was a descendant of John Churchill, the first duke of Marlborough, and he had some successful wars indeed, taking it to Louis XIV of France. Aces!
MS: Right. Um, not to be indelicate, but itâ€™s been speculated that Lord Churchill was not actually your . . .
WC: We did not have the sort of relationship that father and son might want, and for reasons I cannot explain. In terms of who did what to whom in the boudoir, I will not be going there.
MS: Your mother?
WC: The lovely Jennie Jerome, from New York City. Lady Randolph. Her pappy was filthy rich, though we earned our own loot. They put me up in boarding schools — itâ€™s how we did it back then, and even though my mum rarely visited, I worshiped her, really did. Thing is, I was quite the underachiever in school. Lazy, total lack of effort, not my cup of tea. Took me three blooming tries to pass the entrance exam to the Royal Military Academy.
MS: Well, you made up for that, sir.
WC: Damn right. I was a helluva writer as well, did you know that?
MS: Yes, you wrote —
WC: Penned dispatches from Cuba, India, and campaigns in the Nile. Could have avoided politics altogether, and made a good go of it living by the pen. But I got the fever, in 1900, I did. Maybe it was because my father was such a prominent politico, but I felt I had to run for Parliament, and eventually won a spot with his old slogan, â€œTory Democracy.â€ Got a nice ring to it.
MS: Probably helped that you were loaded.
WC: Loaded? As in drunk on a bender?
MS: No, loaded, as in rich.
WC: Youâ€™ve got the wrong man, Iâ€™m afraid. Though I may have had an aristocratic birth, I didnâ€™t inherit a pot to piss in. My mum spent whatever loot there may have been. In fact, the reason I wrote my historical pieces was because I needed the coin. The writing allowed me to be my own man as a politician.
MS: Were you always a great speaker?
WC: Heavens, no. I worked at it. Had a speech defect that held me back a bit.
MS: Youâ€™re kidding.
WC: Not at all; had a bit of a lisp. I was fine for set speeches — good as they get — but in the impromptu, I had to be careful. Practiced like the dickens.
MS: Iâ€™ve heard about a conversation you had with Nancy Astor about womenâ€™s rights that turned nasty. Was it true?
WC: Oh, Lady Astor was a beauty. She was visiting Blenheim Palace and we disagreed a bit on things, to the point where she told me that if she were my wife, sheâ€™d put poison in my coffee. And I told her that if she were my wife, Iâ€™d drink it!
WC: She went on to become the first female MP in the House of Commons, by the way. Fancy that!
MS: You were often accused of crossing party lines for political gain.
WC: And both sides of the aisle hated me with equal vigor. What really mattered was my popularity with the regular blokes.
MS: Back in 1920, you had a bit of trouble in Iraq.
WC: Doesnâ€™t everybody? I really thought we could just pound away at them from the air, but the uncivilized bastards are impossible to get at.
MS: What was the best decision you ever made?
WC: Marrying Clementine Hozier. No question about it — after taking on the ball-and-chain, I was a winner no matter what happened. We went on for fifty-seven years. Hereâ€™s to beating the average. Cheers!
MS: What about your best political decision?
WC: So many to choose from — but probably putting [friend and industrialist and newspaper baron] Lord Beaverbrook in charge of air-craft production in 1940. He was a fabulous businessman, and that allowed us to gear up in a hurry, donâ€™t you know, with both engineering and production.
MS: It helped that you had the best pilots in the world.
WC: Righto — when I said, â€œNever in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few,â€ well, the â€œfewâ€ were the Allied fighter pilots, god bless â€™em.
MS: When did you firs
t start worrying about the Germans?
WC: Oh dear, early, early in the game. Back in 1911, if Iâ€™ve got my years right, the Germans sent a gunboat to Agadir [a Moroccan port to which France had claims] and I knew then that if push came to shove, weâ€™d have to be at Franceâ€™s side. I star
ted getting the navy ready, lickity-split, then got the cabinet to shell out the largest naval expenditure in British history.
MS: Not to sound morose, but you were kind of made for World War II.
WC: I was ready, of that thereâ€™s no doubt. Iâ€™m old school when it comes down to values and what we Brits stand for. One of the last believers in Whig history.
MS: Forgive me if Iâ€™m not up on obscure English history.
WC: Itâ€™s the belief that we British have a unique greatness — imperial destiny! This wasnâ€™t a time to sit back and have a spot of tea; we needed action, Jackson! And I thrived on the conflict, loved a challenge, daresay even a crisis. Tests the soul, challenges the olâ€™ noggin. September 3, 1939, the day England declared war on Germany, Neville Chamberlain put me in my old naval post and the word went out to the fleet: “Winston is back.” Back, baby!
MS: â€œI have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears, and sweat.â€
WC: My first speech as prime minister .
MS: Pretty inspiring.
WC: That was the idea. We were about to take on the enemy full force — needed balls the size of battleships.
MS: Before the Battle of Britain.
WC: Spot-on. Thatâ€™s when I said, â€œWe 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.â€ Bracing ourselves for our finest hour, and, as it turned out, it truly was.
MS: The turning point?
WC: Our bravery throughout. But it helped to be fighting an uneducated, maniacal tyrant.
WC: Daft dolt forgot about winter! Went into Russia in 1941 and simply forgot that it got blooming cold as the queenâ€™s bum on a sleigh ride over there — freezing temps, snow. Ha! I never made a blunder half as bad!
MS: When the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor [December 7, 1941], you immediately went to Washington, D.C.
WC: Everything was changed that day. Roosevelt and I pooled all we had for the common good — military and economic resources, even combined chiefs of staff and command. We were in it together, and not a minute too late.
MS: Describe your relationship with FDR.
WC: Asked her to marry me, she turned me down flat.
MS: No, that was actress Ethel Barrymore. I asked about Franklin D. Roosevelt.
WC: Oh! Righto! Well we were mates, but, more importantly, we understood what our countries needed. I remember after he was re-elected in 1940, we started our joint effort.
MS: â€œGive us the tools, weâ€™ll finish the job.â€
WC: And this was before Pearl Harbor, remember, that we had a lend-lease program going. Iâ€™d give him a ringie-dingie on the olâ€™ tellie and heâ€™d lend — not give us, mind you — military supplies and such. Key being, â€™course, that we didnâ€™t have to send him a million pounds every bloody time we needed ammo.
MS: Were there disagreements?
WC: Stalin was the problem, all right? Today every one knows he was a mass murderer, but I tell you I had a feeling. FDR thought he could handle him — thought he could keep him from taking Poland or the Czech Republic. I was way ahead of everybody on that one.
MS: Modest, too.
WC: Ultimately, I called FDR the greatest American friend weâ€™d ever known. But Stalin I could never relate to. Too many awkward pauses. Bloody bonkers.
MS: V-day musta been incredible, huh?
WC: As I rode around London I was proud, but I also had foreboding feeling in my belly.
MS: About having to rebuild?
WC: No, about the Soviets with Stalin at the helm.
MS: Youâ€™re like a broken record with that . . .
WC: He was an aggressive Ruskie if ever there was one, and I warned anyone whoâ€™d listen that the Communists were bad news.
MS: Right. The iron curtain speech. Did anyone listen?
WC: Not so much.
MS: You werenâ€™t treated so well after World War II. In fact, itâ€™s been said that the great man who led the nation at war was not the man to lead it in peace.
WC: Bollocks! The Labour Party coined that little slogan and it worked like a charm. In my not-so-humble opinion, the reason we lost was due to the Conservative Partyâ€™s record ten years prior, with nitwits Baldwin and Chamberlain, and I never had a bloody chance.
MS: Were you bored after the war?
WC: Bored and brimming with ideas, chappie. My ideas on the European Common Market were ahead of their time, and much needed. Itâ€™s not always easy being a visionary, my boy.
MS: What vision do you have for the world today?
WC: Same vision I had: We need a world government, my friend, a League of Nations. One that is made up of irresistible force and inviolable authority for the purpose of securing peace and preventing war. With it, there are no limits to the blessings which all men enjoy and share. That, and we need to prevent the Iron Curtain from taking over the entire world.
MS: Uh, the Cold Warâ€™s over. The Soviet Union kind of went bankrupt and faded away.
WC: Really? Well thank goodness for that. Too much vodka and missiles, not enough chow on the table, eh? Knew it!
MS: Sir, this has been a most interesting interview.
WC: Remember that all the great things are simple, and many can be expressed in a single word: freedom, justice, honor, duty, mercy, hope.
MS: Well said, sir. Iâ€™m afraid weâ€™ve run out of —
WC: A few closing words are in order. First, I am prepared to meet my Maker. Whether my Maker is prepared for the great ordeal of meeting me is another matter.
MS: Well you oughta —
WC: And lastly, remember, many forms of government have been tried, and will be tried in this world of sin and woe. No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all wise. Indeed, it has been said that democracy is the worst form of government — except all those others that have been tried from time to time. Letâ€™s move this into the parlor room, shall we? Iâ€™ll tell you about my escape in South Africa, keep the chin wag going a spot longer.
MS: Thanks for your time, sir. I think I need a nap.
Copyright Â© Michael A. Stusser, 2007
The above is an excerpt from the book The Dead Guy Interviews
by Michael A. Stusser
Published by Penguin; September 2007;$14.00US/$16.50CAN; 978-0-14-311227-3
Copyright Â© Michael A. Stusser, 2007
Michael A. Stusser is a Seattle-based writer and game inventor. His “Accidental Parent” column (ParentMap magazine) recently won the prestigious Gold Award from the Parenting Publications of America. Stusser is a contributing writer for mental_floss and Seattle Magazine, and his work is frequently published by Law & Politics, Yoga International Magazine, and Go World Travel Magazine.
Stusser is also the cocreator of The Doonesbury Game with Garry Trudeau (winner for “Best Party Game of the Year,” GAMES magazine, 1994); EARTHALERT, The Active Environmental Game; and Hear Me Out.