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Post Winston Churchill and Ernie Banks
Created by John Eipper on 01/24/15 2:38 PM

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Winston Churchill and Ernie Banks (David Duggan, USA, 01/24/15 2:38 pm)

I hate to distract WAISers from weighty concerns over the existence, character and purpose of the Divine, or the prospect of an afterlife, but today (24 January) marks the 50th anniversary of the death of Winston Churchill. Also, Chicago Cubs' Hall-of-Famer and Mr. Cub, Ernie Banks, passed away yesterday, on 23 January 2015. More than any two people from different realms of accomplishment, these giants have inspired and motivated me in my 63 years.

Ernie Banks: Any Midwestern kid growing up in the 1950s idolized Ernie: the ultimate "let's play two" backbone of the "lovable losers" on Chicago's Northside, about a mile from where I live. A two-time MVP shortstop, he had good range and a better than average arm, but distinguished himself defensively by almost never being out of place for a ball hit into the hole between short and third. He won the Gold Glove for fielding prowess in 1960. Perhaps not as daring in diving for balls hit up the middle as his cross-town counterpart and fellow hall-of-fame shortstop, Little Luis Aparicio, Banks more than made up for his defensive shortcomings with uncommon-for-a-shortstop offensive production. His 512 home-runs were the most for a player with more than 1,100 games as shortstop until a juiced Alex Rodriguez did it in 2007, while playing 3rd base for the NY Yankees, his third team. Banks never put on anything but a Cubs' uniform after the team bought his contract for $10,000 (90 years after the end of slavery) from the Kansas City Monarchs, where he played with Cool Papa Bell and Buck O'Neill, who later played for and coached the Cubs. Banks was the Cubs' first black player, and in those Mayor Daley years, he largely defined race-relationships in relatively placid Chicago: an accomplished black man playing on Chicago's largely white North Side, not making waves even if he was backing losers. (For the uninitiated, that's a reference to the Chicago Democratic Machine's maxim: "Don't make no waves, don't back no losers"). His lifetime .274 batting average is perhaps a bit below average for hall-of-fame shortstops (above Aparicio and the Wizard of Oz, the Cardinals' Ozzie Smith; below Cal Ripken), but his home-run total, and slugging percentage (.500) are tops, and his RBI total is third.

In the 1950s, Chicago was a White Sox town, thanks to Mayor Daley and a pretty good team headed by Aparicio and his double-play counterpart Nellie Fox, with mound stalwarts Early Wynn and Billy Pierce. The hitless wonders made it to the World Series in 1959, losing 4-1 to the Dodgers. But I grew up north of Roosevelt Road, the mythical divide between Cubs fans and Sox fans, and as a Little Leaguer probably broke out in tears when I didn't get No. 14 for my jersey (I got 24, Willie Mays' number, teaching me that perhaps second best isn't all that bad). I saw Ernie play live perhaps half-a-dozen times and can still remember his defensive stance before each pitch: he would position himself depending on the count, flex his knees slightly, raise his glove to where the sun would affect his view of a ball hit in the air, then lower both hands between his knees. No glove on the knee for Ernie. At the plate, he was a model of concentration: knees slightly flexed, weight evenly distributed on his feet, bat perpendicular to the ground, gripping and re-gripping the handle with effortless dexterity. His swing was quick (supposedly his wrists were larger than Muhammad Ali's), and his home runs were not the moon shots typical of today: more like line-drives that barely cleared the left-field ivy-covered brick wall in the power alley 368' from Wrigley's home plate.

Ernie had a listed phone number, and owned a Ford dealership on Chicago's South Side, where he lived in an early-integrated neighborhood, Pill Hill, named for the doctors who worked nearby at the now shuttered South Chicago Community Hospital. As a birthday present one year in the 1950s, I wanted to call Ernie, but I was too chicken. Some 55 years later, I met Ernie at a very cold Christmas tree lighting ceremony at Wrigley, which I attended as president of my neighborhood association. A friend of mine danced with him at his 80th birthday party at Harry Caray's restaurant, named for the Cubs' Hall-of-Fame broadcaster (and former Cardinal radio announcer). Even if Ernie never got to play in the postseason, he lived a full life, dying the day before his 84th birthday. Having met him, I can die happy. May he rest in peace.

Winston Churchill: does anyone growing up in freedom not bear a debt of infinite measure to the man who single-handedly saved Western Civilization from the forces of evil and darkness? He puts renaissance men to shame with unparalleled accomplishments in three fields of human endeavor: military tactics, statecraft, and writing (Nobel prize in literature). Sure he had his dark moments, but he was able to salve those through his painting; when one of his works comes up for auction, it regularly fetches high-six figures (in pounds, not Euros or dollars). As a would-be writer, I can only marvel at his productivity, craft and accomplishment. A decade or so ago, I debated with a minister who was the more important historical person since the Norman Conquest: Winston Churchill or Martin Luther. With due deference to the man who ushered in the modern age with his "Here I stand" defiance of papal power, Churchill's "We will never give in" address to Parliament, combined with his other accomplishments gives him the nod.

Of course, I never met Churchill, but he gave his most famous address not uttered in England to Westminster College in Fulton, Missouri, five years before I was born. Ousted as Prime Minister, he returned to the land of his mother's birth and two-thirds of the way through an address principally on American military ability, and the special relationship among English-speaking peoples, he offered almost as a throw-away line: "From Stettin in the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic, an iron curtain has descended across the continent." You can watch his funeral procession, set to the haunting strains of Sebelius' "I Vow to Thee, My Country," at http://98.139.236.92/search/srpcache?p=churchill+funeral+video&ei=UTF-8&hsimp=yhs-001-spart=mozilla&u=http://cc.bingj.com/cache.aspx?q=churchill+funeral+video&d=4507861655683993&mkt=en-US&setlang=en-US&w=Y1NEOIOTYX4B8ExRHO8nHbBfKZXHCB1n&icp=1&.intl=us&sig=ub.IuYp5hCy4dUaQNzcvRA--

In honor of Winston, I would probably do so, but I have already shed enough tears today over Ernie.

JE comments:  A beautiful tribute to two titans.  I encourage WAISers to invest five minutes in the above video.


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  • Churchill's Funeral (Paul Preston, -UK 01/25/15 3:49 AM)
    I am very grateful to David Duggan (24 January) for directing us to the very moving footage of Churchill's funeral. However, I feel that I should point out that the music heard in the YouTube clip was by Gustav Holst and is the central theme in the fourth movement, "Jupiter," of his suite The Planets. The hymn, "I vow to thee my country," is usually referred to as the "Thaxted Hymn," a reference to the beautiful village of Thaxted in Essex where the great composer lived. The words of the hymn were written earlier by the British diplomat, Sir Cecil Spring-Rice.

    JE comments:  Holst's Planet suite and I go way back to high school band, but I never knew he was English.  I assumed Swedish or even German.  It turns out that his father was a bit of both, together with Latvian, but Holst was born in the UK.  He even removed the original "von" of his surname as a patriotic gesture during WWI.


    I am presently halfway through Paul Preston's latest book The Last Stalinist, so I learn something from Paul just about every day.  Maybe I could gift Paul a tiny nugget in return:  in addition to being an accomplished music educator, Holst was a professional trombonist.  (I played trombone in high school, and even played Holst on the trombone, but I would never call myself a "trombonist.")

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  • Churchill as Moral Leader (Robert Whealey, USA 01/25/15 4:22 AM)
    I will also give Winston Churchill my endorsement. When lecturing about World War II, I would conclude that "Winston Churchill was the greatest leader during the Second World War. Better than FDR."

    David Duggan's claim that Churchill was "the greatest Brit since 1066" is a bit far out. My mentor A. J. P. Taylor was a great debunker of all diplomats and politicians as "frequent cheaters." Cynics would say a diplomat is paid to lie for his country. Politicians' reputations go up and down as new events unfold.


    Truman got only 25% favorable rating in the polls when he fired MacArthur in April 1951. He gradually recovered his reputation as Johnson and Nixon floundered in Vietnam. Napoleon was considered a war criminal in 1815, but his reputation recovered in the Second Empire 1851-1870. He then faded again during the Hitler era. Truman's reputation is also beginning to fade, when more and more Jewish historians uncovered the imperialist aggression of Israel in 7 or 8 wars beginning in 1948 and peaking (so) far in 2014 with the 2014 Gaza war.


    I have already said that MLK was America's greatest moral leader in the 20th century.


    JE comments: This has turned out to be MLK and Churchill week. We have put MLK under the microscope, so might Sir Winston be due for a reappraisal? Consider Gallipoli, as well as his strident opposition to Indian self-rule. How about this WC screamer: "It is alarming and also nauseating, to see Mr Gandhi, a seditious Middle Temple lawyer, now posing as a fakir of the type well known in the East, striding half-naked up the steps of the Vice-regal palace, while he is still organizing and conducting a campaign of civil disobedience, to parley on equal terms with the representative of the King-Emperor" (quoted in David Reynolds, The Long Shadow, 2014, p. 115).


    Churchill--racist, elitist, imperialist? Note the contempt with which he portrays the notion of civil disobedience. He also drank more in a day than most of us could in a year.


    WAIS is all about presenting dissenting interpretations, even when they are unpopular.


    A request for Robert Whealey:  could you tell us more about studying under the great revisionist/gadfly historian, A. J. P. Taylor?


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    • Churchill as Moral Leader (Eugenio Battaglia, Italy 01/25/15 10:16 AM)
      In response to the various eulogies in favor of Churchill, let me repeat the following:

      On 12 May 1919, when Churchill was Secretary of the Colonies, he wrote: "I cannot understand this prudish sentiment about the use of gas. I am strongly in favor of the use of poisonous gas against 'uncivilized tribes.'"


      He approved of using gas to suppress the struggle for freedom and independence by the Iraqis/Kurds in 1920.


      Another consideration: When Churchill entered WWII, the UK had a great empire dominating half the world.  When he

      "won" the war, the UK was practically a second-class power, far behind the US and the USSR.


      Finally, he held a high opinion at first of Mussolini, but did his best to have him killed so he could not speak about their past deals.


      JE comments: How can I say this diplomatically? The more I read about Lincoln, the more I like him.  I have the opposite view of Churchill.  I admire him more in the abstract.  But let me be clear:  the world will forever be in Churchill's debt for standing up to Hitler when no one else would.

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