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Cometh the hour

10th May 1940: Winston Churchill (1874 - 1965) leaving a cabinet meeting at 10 Downing Street after his appointment as Prime Minister. With him are Air Minister Sir Kingsley Wood (1881 - 1945, left) and Foreign Secretary Anthony Eden (1897 - 1977, right). (Photo by H. F. Davis/Topical Press Agency/Getty Images)

Brent Cameron is a Senior Advisor with Concierge Strategies, and a local councillor in Ontario, Canada. The second edition of Brent H. Cameron’s book, “The Case for Commonwealth Free Trade: Options for a new globalization” is available now on Amazon worldwide.

Just before the outbreak of the Second World War, the London publishing house of Thornton Butterworth released a 350-page book titled “Step by Step”. Its content consisted of 82 newspaper articles published between 1936 and 1939. The subject matter was largely on the topic of foreign affairs, the focus being on the dangers presented by the Nazi regime in Germany, and the author was a marginalized – often dismissed and derided – Conservative MP named Winston Churchill.

At the time, Churchill was dismissed as yesterday’s man, and yet this collected work marks him as a ‘man of tomorrow.’ How else can one characterize an individual whose commonality lies not with his contemporaries, but with those who have the benefit of historical hindsight? Indeed, one of the earliest of the articles, originally published on October 30th, 1936, bore the prescient title of “Gathering Storm” – the title of his future book, and an almost eponymous moniker for that entire period of global affairs.

Conventional wisdom at the time of the publishing of the original articles – and the book – held that the future of the Conservative Party was to be found in the figure of Lord Halifax, that Mr. Hitler could be bargained with, and that “Winston” was an eccentric who kept odd hours, drank too much and prattled on a great deal over a potential conflict that no right minded person had the stomach for.

Today, there is an International Churchill Society with chapters spanning the globe. There are statues of the man in cities around the world. In my little corner of Canada, I am within a forty-minute drive of a “Sir Winston Churchill Public School” and thousands of commuters travelling from Toronto to Hamilton will pass under a large green sign labelled “Winston Churchill Boulevard”. This says nothing of the experience of millions of people in Britain who stare at his visage every time they pull a five pound note out of their wallet. Consider that eminent historian (and CANZUK supporter) Andrew Roberts’ remarkable biography, “Churchill: Walking with Destiny”, spent weeks on the New York Times Bestseller List decades after the man’s passing.

Lord Halifax, by contrast, experienced his highest amount of public attention in the present day via his character (played by Stephen Dillane) in the movie “Darkest Hour”, as a foil and a rival to Churchill. Even in that movie, Churchill (portrayed by Gary Oldman) wins the day – and subsequently the Best Actor Oscar.

Whatever his faults or eccentricities, Winston Churchill knew three things – not perfectly, but exceedingly better than any of his contemporaries.

One, he knew the times he lived in. He recognized his surroundings and the events that were shaping them. Second, he knew his history, and that it was not the first time that humanity was forced to confront evil. Thirdly, he knew himself – at least to the extent he knew what he could do and must do.

In the military, they speak of something called “situational awareness”. The American scientist and engineer Mica Endsley had defined it as “the perception of environmental elements and events with respect to time or space, the comprehension of their meaning, and the projection of their future status.” It would be fair to say that Churchill possessed a significant degree of situational awareness, and exceedingly more than his contemporaries. But what of today? Who among our current leaders possesses this quality – an enhanced awareness of the situation we currently face?

If you read news articles, blog posts, tweets, or watch your nightly news casts, you are treated to a plethora of content by latter-day Lord Halifaxes. They are a dime-a-dozen, either blind to the cause of our difficulty or fearful of what committing to do something about it means. The Churchills of our day exist, but they are too easily drowned out by those lacking the qualities that our times demand.

The landscape is dominated by those incapable, or unwilling, to understand the times we live in, the historical record of what we have endured, or their own role in what is required. It is the pernicious nexus of naivete, fear and corruptibility where far too many find a comfortable home.

After a litany of transgressions – from the flood of poisonous fentanyl into our communities, to the oppression and torture of its own citizens, to the suppression of rights and liberty in Hong Kong, to the sabre-rattling at neighbouring countries in the region, to the ethnic cleansing taking place among the Uighur population, to the current pandemic that has claimed lives and wrecked economies on a global scale – if you still cannot bring yourself to acknowledge the evil that China’s Communist rulers present, you are either lacking in conviction, or have been seriously corrupted and compromised. Either way, you disqualify yourself as someone with the moral authority to lead.

If you are fearful of speaking out against a brutal totalitarian regime today, how will you summon the courage to do so when they have become even stronger and more strident? Those who lack the courage in the midst of all that has happened, all that has been said, and as the world hides away at home in fear of a deadly virus that regime did little to warn us about, lack courage and integrity at a foundational level.

History has shown that denial and wilful obfuscation do not make the problem go away. It only serves to inflate the cost of the remedy.

Winston Churchill did not create the conditions that led to the rise of Adolf Hitler and his murderous cabal. He did not create the vacuum of moral authority that allowed the Nazis to become stronger. He did not start the Second World War. But he chronicled Hitler’s rise and empowerment. He sounded the alarm on the mounting danger. And while Churchill did not start the Second World War, his leadership was instrumental in us winning it.

The events of 1939 and thereafter are as much a testament to the failures of many, as they are to the triumphs of others. Churchill’s glory, ironically, was in defeating a pernicious force that had been emboldened by the very same contemporaries who had written him off as a relic. It is also clear that those who possess the “situational awareness” to lead in our time will do so by first overcoming the obstacles put in place by their less-worthy predecessors.

There is an adage that “Cometh the hour, cometh the man.” For all the Lord Halifaxes in our midst, we know that there are also Churchills in the waiting – those who know the past, know the present, and know what the times demand of them.

The hour is here, so let those men and women come forward – and let us join them.

About Brent Cameron

Profile photo of Brent Cameron
A writer and commentator on Commonwealth trade issues, Brent Cameron is the author of 'The Case for Commonwealth Free Trade' (2004, 2018) and numerous essays and articles. He is also a member of the Advisory Board of Commonwealth Exchange, a London, UK-based research group. Cameron worked as Telecommunications Coordinator for the Federal Ministry of Labour in Ottawa, Canada before joining SES Canada Research (now Nanos Research) as a Research Associate. He also worked as an assistant to former Ontario MPP Harry Danford, Member for Hastings-Peterborough and Parliamentary Assistant to Ontario's Minister of Agriculture and Rural Affairs. Cameron was a member of the Advance Team for Prime Minister Brian Mulroney during the 1988 Canadian federal general election. During the 2007 Ontario Referendum on Electoral Reform, he acted as Coordinator for the 'No MMP' campaign for eastern Ontario (excluding Ottawa). Cameron has also served as a member and contributing columnist on the Community Editorial Board of the Kingston (ON) Whig-Standard newspaper. He holds an honours degree in politics from Queen's University and a Certificate in Municipal Administration from St. Lawrence College (Kingston, ON). In 2014, Brent Cameron was elected to the municipal council for the Township of Central Frontenac, in southeastern Ontario, Canada, and serving as Deputy Mayor in 2017.

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