Fact check: Trump says his deception on the coronavirus was Churchillian. Churchill scholars say he’s wrong

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Trump insisted he was hiding the extent of the coronavirus problem because he did not want to cause public panic. In a rally speech in Michigan, he suggested it was the same foremost calm strategy that he claimed was employed in World War II by Winston Churchill, the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom who led his country to victory over the Nazis.

“As the British government advised the British people in the face of WWII: stay calm and carry on. That’s what I did, ”Trump said.

He continued, “We have to be calm, we don’t want to be crazy fools. We have to lead. When Hitler was bombing – I don’t know if you know – when Hitler was bombing London, Churchill, the great leader, often went to a rooftop in London to talk. And he still spoke calmly. He said, “We have to be calm. “”

CNN contacted seven historians who have studied Churchill. They all said Trump’s comments were in part or in whole wrong.

Let’s break Trump’s claims down piece by piece.Message from Churchill

Trump compared his deliberate downplay of the coronavirus problem, in what he said was an attempt to keep people calm, to Churchill’s approach to communications during the Nazi bombing of the UK.

Facts first: Five of the seven historians made about the same point: Churchill was generally outspoken about the dangers posed by the Nazis and the hardships the British people could face – using the truth about mortal danger, rather than dishonest joy. , to try to rally the public to action and courage. The British government had a wartime censorship system, and there is examples Churchill hiding specific bad news from the public, but Churchill did not try to downplay the global threat like Trump did.

Richard Toye, professor of history at the University of Exeter and author of books on Churchill, said Trump’s interpretation of Churchill’s words and deeds is “deeply dishonest.”

“Churchill never downplayed the threat posed by the Nazis. He has consistently maintained that the war will last a long time and that while victory is certain, it is not clear how and when it will come, ”Toye said.

In Churchill’s famous first speech as Prime Minister in the House of Commons, the 1940 “Blood, Labor, Tears and Sweat” speech, it was clear that there would be hard times ahead: “We have before us a most serious ordeal. We have before us very long months of struggle and suffering. ”

In another famous 1940 speech, the “It was their finest hour” speech, he said he saw no reason to “panic”, but warned that “the very survival of Christian civilization” depended on the impending Battle of Britain, and from that failure would mean the whole world, “including all that we have known and healed,” sinking “into the abyss of a dark new age. ”

“Speech after speech, rather than omitting the threat, as Trump does, he explicitly warned of the Nazi danger. He had warned of danger throughout the 1930s, when he was in the wilderness, and he never deviated, ”said Nicholas Shakespeare, a novelist and biographer who wrote a book on how of which Churchill became Prime Minister. He said: “Churchill’s language was practically the opposite of calm. He was meant to embolden and stir and strengthen and uplift and unify. ”

Steven Fielding, professor of political history at the University of Nottingham and co-author of a book on the mythology around Churchill, said that “Trump is slightly right,” given the censorship system, “but essentially wrong and selfish, “noting that when Britain faced the threat of an invasion in 1940,” Churchill did not pretend that things were other than they were. ”

Historian Andrew Roberts, visiting professor at King’s College London and author of an acclaimed 2018 biography of Churchill, said Trump’s comments were “generally correct” because “Churchill advocated calm during the Blitz” and since there are “dozens of examples” of Churchill hiding bad news during the war.

Churchill and the rooftops

Trump said Churchill “would often go to a rooftop in London and talk.”

Facts first: Churchill would sometimes go to the rooftops to observe the Nazi bombing raids, but “he was not speaking from the rooftops,” said Allen Packwood, director of the Churchill Archives Center at the University of Cambridge. (All other experts have said the same.)

“The man who actually spoke from the rooftops of London was the great CBS correspondent Edward R. Murrow, who, with permission from Churchill, occasionally broadcast from there during the German bombing raids,” Lynne Olson said, the author of books on wartime Britain.

Keep Calm and carry on

Trump suggested that “Keep Calm and Carry On” was a British government slogan during World War II.

Facts first: The Churchill government did not use this expression. The “Keep Calm and Carry On” poster that has become popular in recent years was created during the tenure of Churchill’s predecessor, Neville Chamberlain, but it was not actually issued – because of internal concerns that he “seriously misjudged the mood of the British people,” Fielding said, or “because he was seen as condescending to the public,” said Richard Overy, professor of history at the University of Exeter. widely written on air warfare in World War II.

Packwood said Churchill “would have supported” the poster’s message; Toye said he generally captures what the government “wanted the citizens to do during the Blitz.”

Overy, however, said: “Churchill was all for steadfast resistance and sacrifice. Calm was not something he wanted. Olson said: “The truth was, Churchill didn’t want his people to be calm: he wanted them in a fighting mood – ready to fight the Germans wherever they might appear. “

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