November 30, 2009
I never wanted to be a fly on the wall. I saw the original Sci Fi cult classic, The Fly, and it gave me the creeps. A scientist was trying to enter his newly-invented transporteryou know, like the ones later made famous on Star Trek. He thought to have himself broken down to his atomic particles and reconstructed later, elsewhere. Except a fly got into the ointment. Our scientist friend came out, uh, changed.
I never wanted to be a fly on the wall, but I do admit Id like to have had Inspector Walter Thompsons job. Inspector Thompson spent nearly twenty years guarding the life of Winston Churchill. The Scotland Yard policeman got an unparalleled opportunity to observe greatnessup close and personal.
A friend just gave me a copy of Assignment: Churchill, Walter Thompsons fascinating 1955 memoir. Thompson describes himself as tough as a telegraph wire as a young police officer. He had to be. Many a time, he waded in to hostile mobs and menacing would-be assassins.
One of eleven kids born in a London slum, Tommy Thompson dropped out of school at age 8 to help support his family. If this is how English grammar school dropouts can write, I suggest all English lads be put out at eight.
Thompson hilariously describes how he and Winston rode camels in Egypt with the great Lawrence of Arabia in 1921. On a camel, Thompson says, theres nothing to reach for but the sky. And the line leading to the ring in the camels nose has the same effect as a bell rope in a dead castle. Later in that same trip, Winston, the most garrulous of men, enters Jerusalems Garden of Gethsemane. There he remains, silent, for hours.
Thompson claims what no other writer Ive ever read claims about Winston Churchill: that he was a practicing Christian. Thompson, clearly a believer himself, says that Churchill loved all the simple people. And he hated every form of unfairness.
Winston was a terrible pilot, Thompson said. He mastered every part of the new art of flying except takeoffs and landings. His driving was little better. Thompson describes Winstons attempt to jump the queue trying to catch a ferry at Dover. He drove up on the sidewalk. The English Bobby who collared the Chancellor of the Exchequer (Britains No. 2 political post) and forced him back into line, leaned into the car and said very quietly, very icily: Sir, you will try to keep it in the road, wont you?
How to square Winstons hatred of unfairness with such antics? Well, he once had to make up with a valet who had quit in a huff. You were rude to me, Winston complained, knowing he had no time to find another. Mr. Churchill, you were rude to me. Unrepentant, Churchill answered impatiently: I know. But Im a great man.
Thats not as bad as it sounds to our American ears. Great men in England are men who have the care of the state in their hearts. They are expected to lay down their own lives unhesitatingly for the protection of the Realm. This Churchill did not once, but many, many times.
Back to that fly. We all know about perversions of science. Those transporters in science fiction movies rely on the belief that man is nothing more than an accidental collocation of atoms. Those science fiction writers are brute materialists.
It was such men that Churchill had in mind when he warned, in 1940, that if the British failed to stand up to Hitler, then all that we have known and loved would sink into the abyss of anew dark age, made more sinister and perhaps more protracted by the lights of perverted science.
We see just such perverted science today when people argue that we can cure all disease by scavenging the bodies of embryonic human beings for their stem cells. We see the perversion of science when people like Princetons unethical bioethicist Peter Singer argue for killing handicapped children up to one year of age.
It is just such brute materialists, I fear, such purveyors of perverted science who will be named this week to President Obamas new bioethics advisory commission.
Churchill, in his long career, went from being one of the Queens cavalry subalterns fighting Islamist dervishes in the Sudan to summit meetings at Potsdam, in defeated Germany, where atomic weapons were first discussed. He never lost sight of mans spiritual nature. From London, he spoke to our University of Rochester (N.Y.) on 16 June 1941:
The destiny of mankind is not decided by material computation. When great causes are on the move in the world, stirring all mens souls, drawing them from their firesides, casting aside comfort, wealth and the pursuit of happiness in response to impulses at once awe-striking and irresistible, we learn that we are spirits, not animals, and that something is going on in space and time, and beyond space and time, which, whether we like it or not, spells duty.
We are spirits, not animals. And it is our duty to resist the abuses of perverted science. I thank God for the life and work of Winston Churchill, born this day in 1874.