Conservative responds to calls for transperency with wartime Churchill quote

To the Expositor:

What to do, what to do.

It seems like everytime I turn on the TV news, or pick up a newspaper, Canadians are clamouring for more ‘accountability’ or ‘transparency’ in what their elected officials are up to (see, for example, The Manitoulin Expositor edition of May 29, 2013 letters to the editor by Ron Osawabine and Larry Killens). Together with the call for more ‘openness in government,’ these seem to be the key buzz words and catch phrases that are all the rage in politics at every level now.

All of this hue and cry about openness in government, brings to mind a story about Winston Churchill, the great wartime leader of Britain. Wearing two hats in his dual capacity as both Prime Minister and Minister of National Defense during the war years, Mr. Churchill would stand up each week in the British parliament, and give the members of His Majesty’s government—and hence the public at large—a general summary of major developments or events relating to the war effort over the past seven days. But with typical Churchillian bravado, the prime minister would knowingly interlace his speech with wildly inflated numbers of enemy tanks destroyed, enemy aircraft shot down, and enemy submarines (more commonly known as “U-Boats” in those times) sent to the bottom of the sea. All of this was justified in his own mind, to maintain morale among the British people in those desperate times, and to hide the fact that ultimate victory was by no means certain.

One day in 1942, a young officer from the Royal Navy who was assigned to Mr. Churchill’s headquarters breached the touchy subject of these inflated figures as they related to U-boat sinkings on the North Atlantic. As gently as he could, the young man told the prime minister that if someone who listened to the news regularly on BBC radio (“the Beeb”) had a pencil and paper handy to keep a running tab on the number of U-Boats claimed to have been sunk, they would quickly conclude that the Germans could not possibly have that many submarines available for sinking. The navy man went on to tell Mr. Churchill that his real concern was that if members of the public somehow became aware of these deliberately falsified numbers, it could undermine their faith in the credibility of what His Majesty’s government was telling them about the progress of the war in general—or anything else for that matter.

The prime minister looked at the young officer menacingly, as if the man were some kind of errant child. And then taking a sip from a large water glass filled with his favourite whiskey, Churchill growled: “You sink U-Boats on the North Atlantic. I’ll sink U-Boats in the House of Commons.”

Brad Middleton