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The Cult of Churchill

Jacob Heilbrunn remarks on the unveiling of a new Churchill bust at the Capitol:

At a moment of polarization, he is the one thing its politicians seem able to agree on. He has literally become an idol.

The postwar American admiration for Churchill has gone from being an understandable respect based on a wartime alliance to a strange, posthumous cult of personality. So we are treated to the usual exaggerations and flattery that such cults require. Heilbrunn quotes John Boehner saying that Churchill was “the best friend America ever had.” When we compare what Churchill did for the U.S. with what other allies have done in the past, it’s clear that this isn’t true. Louis XVI was arguably the best “friend” America ever had, but it’s doubtful that there will be any similar celebrations in his honor.

I suspect that many Americans still venerate Churchill so excessively in part because WWII was the last and perhaps only foreign war that the U.S. fought in the 20th century that is considered a success. Because Churchill remains the best-known and most easily recognized allied leader from that war, celebrating him is also a celebration of the allied war effort. That said, effusive gushing over the career of a die-hard colonialist is still a very odd thing for American representatives and officials to be doing in the Capitol nearly fifty years after his death.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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