Winston Spencer Churchill – select quotes

winston churchill

“What shall I do with my books?” was the question; and the answer “Read them” sobered the questioner. “But if you cannot read them, at any rate handle them and, as it were, fondle them. Peer into them. Let them fall open where they will. Read on from the very first sentence that arrests the eye. Then turn to another. Make a voyage of discovery, taking soundings of uncharted seas. . . . Arrange them on your own plan, so that if you do not know what is in them, you at least know where they are. If they cannot be your friends, let them at any rate be your acquaintances. If they cannot enter the circle of your life, do not deny them at least a nod of recognition.”

A baboon in a forest is a matter of legitimate speculation; a baboon in a zoo is an object of public curiosity; but a baboon in your wife’s bed is a cause of the gravest concern.
~ in regard to the growing German threat

Battles are won by slaughter and manoeuvre. The greater the general, the more he contributes in manoeuvre, the less he demands in slaughter.
~ Winston Churchill, The World Crisis, vol. 2

I would make them all learn English: and then I would let the clever ones learn Latin as an honor, and Greek as a treat.
~ in Roving Commission: My Early Life

Never believe any war will be smooth and easy or that anyone who embarks on that strange voyage can measure the tides and hurricanes he will encounter. The statesman who yields to war fever must realize that once the signal is given, he is no longer the master of policy but the slave of unforeseeable and uncontrollable events… incompetent or arrogant commanders, untrustworthy allies, hostile neutrals, malignant fortune, ugly surprise, awful miscalculations. … Always remember, however sure you are that you could easily win, that there would not be a war if the other man did not think he also had a chance.
~ as quoted in This Time It’s Our War by Leonard Fein

I think a curse should rest on me — because I love this war. I know it’s smashing and shattering the lives of thousands every moment — and yet — I can’t help it — I enjoy every second of it.
~ in a letter to a friend, 1916

It is a good thing for an uneducated man to read books of quotations. Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations is an admirable work, and I studied it intently. The quotations when engraved upon the memory give you good thoughts. They also make you anxious to read the authors and look for more.
~ in Roving Commission: My Early Life, chapter 9

I now began for the first time to envy those young cubs at the university who had fine scholars to tell them what was what; professors who had devoted their lives to mastering and focusing ideas in every branch of learning; who were eager to distribute the treasures they had gathered before they were overtaken by the night. But now I pity undergraduates, when I see what frivolous lives many of them lead in the midst of precious fleeting opportunity. After all, a man’s Life must be nailed to a cross either of Thought or Action. Without work there is no play.
~ in Roving Commission: My Early Life

It is better to be making the news than taking it; to be an actor rather than a critic.
~ in The Story of the Malakand Field Force

How dreadful are the curses which Mohammedanism lays on its votaries! Besides the fanatical frenzy, which is as dangerous in a man as hydrophobia in a dog, there is this fearful fatalistic apathy. The effects are apparent in many countries. Improvident habits, slovenly systems of agriculture, sluggish methods of commerce, and insecurity of property exist wherever the followers of the Prophet rule or live. A degraded sensualism deprives this life of its grace and refinement; the next of its dignity and sanctity. The fact that in Mohammedan law every woman must belong to some man as his absolute property, either as a child, a wife, or a concubine, must delay the final extinction of slavery until the faith of Islam has ceased to be a great power among men. Individual Moslems may show splendid qualities — but the influence of the religion paralyses the social development of those who follow it. No stronger retrograde force exists in the world. Far from being moribund, Mohammedanism is a militant and proselytizing faith. It has already spread throughout Central Africa, raising fearless warriors at every step; and were it not that Christianity is sheltered in the strong arms of science, the science against which it had vainly struggled, the civilisation of modern Europe might fall, as fell the civilisation of ancient Rome.
~ in The River War, volume II pp. 248–50

The late M. Venizelos observed that in all her wars England—he should have said Britain, of course—always wins one battle – - the last.
~ Winston Churchill, in a speech at the Lord Mayor’s Luncheon in London, on November 10, 1942

What is the use of living, if it be not to strive for noble causes and to make this muddled world a better place for those who will live in it after we are gone? How else can we put ourselves in harmonious relation with the great verities and consolations of the infinite and the eternal? And I avow my faith that we are marching towards better days. Humanity will not be cast down. We are going on swinging bravely forward along the grand high road and already behind the distant mountains is the promise of the sun.
~ in a speech in Dundee, Scotland, 10 October 1908

The truth is incontrovertible. Panic may resent it, ignorance may deride it, malice may distort it, but there it is.
~ in a speech in the House of Commons, May 17, 1916

One may dislike Hitler’s system and yet admire his patriotic achievement. If our country were defeated, I hope we should find a champion as indomitable to restore our courage and lead us back to our place among the nations.
~ in “Hitler and His Choice”, The Strand Magazine, November 1935

Britain and France had to choose between war and dishonour. They chose dishonour. They will have war.
~ to Neville Chamberlain in the House of Commons, after the Munich accords, 1938

I cannot forecast to you the action of Russia. It is a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma: but perhaps there is a key. That key is Russian national interest.
~ in a speech broadcast on October 1, 1939

I would say to the House, as I said to those who have joined this Government: ‘I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears, and sweat.’ We have before us an ordeal of the most grievous kind. We have before us many, many long months of struggle and suffering. You ask, what is our policy? I can say: It is to wage war, by sea, land and air, with all our might and with all the strength that God can give us: to wage war against a monstrous tyranny, never surpassed in the dark, lamentable catalogue of human crime. That is our policy. You ask, what is our aim? I can answer in one word: It is victory, victory at all costs, victory in spite of all terror, victory, however long and hard the road may be; for without victory, there is no survival.
~in a speech in the House of Commons, after taking office as Prime Minister, May 13, 1940

Nothing is more exhilarating than to be shot at without result.
~ Winston Churchill, in The Malakand Field Force

The Navy can lose us the war, but only the Air Force can win it.
~ Winston Churchill, to the War Cabinet, September 3, 1940

We shall go on to the end, we shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we 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, and even if, which I do not for a moment believe, this Island or a large part of it were subjugated and starving, then our Empire beyond the seas, armed and guarded by the British Fleet, would carry on the struggle, until, in God’s good time, the New World, with all its power and might, steps forth to the rescue and the liberation of the Old.
~ in a speech in the House of Commons, June 4,1940

We shall show mercy, but we shall not ask for it.
~ in a speech in the House of Commons, July 14, 1940

Upon this battle depends the survival of Christian civilisation. Upon it depends our own British life and the long continuity of our institutions and our Empire. The whole fury and might of the enemy must very soon be turned on us now. 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.’
~ in a speech in the House of Commons, June 18, 1940

The gratitude of every home in our Island, in our Empire, and indeed throughout the world, except in the abodes of the guilty, goes out to the British airmen who, undaunted by odds, unwearied in their constant challenge and mortal danger, are turning the tide of the World War by their prowess and by their devotion. Never in the field of human conflict have so many owed so much to so few. All hearts go out to the fighter pilots, whose brilliant actions we see with our own eyes day after day; but we must never forget that all the time, night after night, month after month, our bomber squadrons travel far into Germany, find their targets in the darkness by the highest navigational skill, aim their attacks, often under the heaviest fire, often with serious loss, with deliberate careful discrimination, and inflict shattering blows upon the whole of the technical and war-making structure of the Nazi power.
~ in a speech in the House of Commons complimenting the pilots in the Royal Air Force during the Battle of Britain, August 20, 1940

If Hitler invaded Hell, I would make at least a favourable reference to the devil in the House of Commons.
~ in a speech after the German invasion of the Soviet Union, June 1941

Never give in — never, never, never, never, in nothing great or small, large or petty, never give in except to convictions of honour and good sense. Never yield to force; never yield to the apparently overwhelming might of the enemy.
~ in a speech given at Harrow School, October 29, 1941

Now this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.
~ in a speech given after the British victory over the German Afrika Korps at the Second Battle of El Alamein in Egypt, November 10, 1942

I hate nobody except Hitler — and that is professional.
~ to John Colville during WWII, quoted by Colville in his book The Churchillians

From Stettin in the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic an iron curtain has descended across the Continent.
~ in a speech at Fulton, Missouri, March 5, 1946, regarding Soviet communism and the Cold War

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 other forms that have been tried from time to time.
~ in a speech before the House of Commons, November 11, 1947

No American will think it wrong of me if I proclaim that to have the United States at our side was to me the greatest joy. I could not fortell the course of events. I do not pretend to have measured accurately the martial might of Japan, but now at this very moment I knew the United States was in the war, up to the neck and in to the death. So we had won after all! … Hitler’s fate was sealed. Mussolini’s fate was sealed. As for the Japanese, they would be ground to powder.
~ in The Second World War, Volume III : The Grand Alliance, chapter 12

This was a time when it was equally good t live or die.
~ in Their Finest Hour, 1949

He has all the virtues I dislike and none of the vices I admire.
~ referring to Sir Stafford Cripps

There’s less to him than meets the eye.
~ referring to Clement Attlee

History will be kind to me, for I intend to write it.

I have always felt that a politician is to be judged by the animosities he excites among his opponents.

I like a man who grins when he fights.

If you are going through hell, keep going.

We shape our buildings. Thereafter, they shape us.

You can always count on the U.S. to do the right thing–once it has exhausted the alternatives.

Success is never final; failure is never fatal.

We shall draw from the heart of suffering itself the means of inspiration and survival.

Men occasionally stumble over the truth, but most of them pick themselves up and hurry off as if nothing happened.

The inherent vice of Capitalism is the unequal sharing of blessings; the inherent vice of Socialism is the equal sharing of miseries.

A fanatic is one who can’t change his mind and won’t change the subject.

Plans are of little importance, but planning is essential

I like pigs. Dogs look up to us. Cats look down on us. Pigs treat us as equals.

In time of war, when truth is so precious, it must be attended by a bodyguard of lies.

In war it does not matter who is right, but who is left.

Success is the ability to go from one failure to another with no loss of enthusiasm.

The biggest argument against democracy is a five minute discussion with the average voter.

The further back I look, the further forward I can see.

The nose of the bulldog is slanted backwards so he can continue to breathe without letting go.

There are a terrible lot of lies going around the world, and the worst of it is half of them are true.

This paper by its very length defends itself against the risk of being read.

War is mainly a catalogue of blunders.

We didn’t come this far because we are made of sugar candy.

When I am abroad, I always make it a rule never to criticise or attack the government of my own country. I make up for lost time when I come home.

When you have to kill a man it costs nothing to be polite.

It’s not enough that we do our best; sometimes we have to do what’s required.

A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty.

We make a living by what we get. We make a life by what we give.

You have enemies? Good. That means you’ve stood up for something, sometime in your life. ~ Winston Churchill

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