Monday, 25 May 2009

SILLY HISTORY LEGENDS 2




Churchill, badass, slightly crazy, drunken wit. Hell of a speech giver. Front runner for best modern War Leader and greatest English PM awards.

In his first run as English PM he saved Britain, the free world and made some horribly tough decisions. He made his deal with the devil, allying with the Soviets, had to make the awful decision to scupper the French fleet to stop the Germans capturing them (an insane and bold decision that paid off) but the most common one brought up, often mentioned in tv shows and the odd book, is the Coventry dilemma.

For those not in "the know", the coventry dillema goes that after we broke the Enigma code (the secret german code that helped us win the war, you know, watch the movie) one of the earliest messages was the news of an imminent bombing raid of Coventry (11/4/1940.) Giving Churchill a problem, arranging a large scale evacuation would save many lives... but it would tip his hand, showing the Germans who would notice the lack of people and industry and whose agents would surely hear of it.. that the code was broken, perhaps losing the one advantage we had.

So Churchill took the dark path and did nothing, Coventry took heavy losses, civilians died. But we kept the code cracking a secret and ultimately that let us win the war and save the world, etc.

Good story, often trotted out in tv shows to illustrate the very textbook definition of making the hard choice, the immoral choice that in the end turns out to be right. The needs of the many outweight the needs of the few and beautifully illustrates what a good, dark leader Winsto was.

All good apart from the fact it isnt true. We did crack the code before the Coventry raid, true, but only generally. We didnt for instance know KORN stood for Coventry at the time, we did infact get some intelligence a heavy bombing raid was coming... but nobody had any idea where and the best guess of the time was that it would be London (somewhere impossible to shut down or large scale evacuate more than was already done during the war) and nothing could have been done to save Coventry, really.

It is even reported Churchill cancelled a trip out of London, not wanting to be "hiding" out in the country when it was bombed and awaited it on the night, scanning the sky for the bombers arriving before news arrived Coventry was attacked.

The origin of this myth isnt clear, but like most conventional wisdom it gets repeated around so much its hard to know who is getting it from where. It certainly got a boost when it was brought up again in "Bodyguard of Lies" by Anthony Cave Brown, published in 1976, who said "It was a tragic decision for Churchil to have to make".

So, cool story, but didnt happen. Look up the French scuppering or pick up a good Churchill bio in general if you want to hear some hardcore stories that did happen. Churchill has enough of a badass drunken, train riding, war winning life that adding stories isnt neccesary.

Hitler knows that he will have to break us in this Island or lose the war. If we can stand up to him, all Europe may be free and the life of the world may move forward into broad, sunlit uplands. But if we fail, then the whole world, including the United States, including all that we have known and cared for, will sink into the abyss of a new Dark Age made more sinister, and perhaps more protracted, by the lights of perverted science.

Let us therefore brace ourselves to our duties, and so bear ourselves that if the British Empire and its Commonwealth last for a thousand years, men will still say, 'This was their finest hour.'


- Churchill Badassery

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