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Irons in the fire: Winston, Neville and stupid horses

Paul Marchant Published on 24 September 2015

Not long after I got out of college, I worked on an outfit whose owner loved good horses. More than the horses, though, he loved to trade horses. To that end, there was never a shortage of colts, knotheads and green horses to ride. I started a couple of geldings, but I really took a shine to a particular little sorrel mare.

She was stout-built, pretty and cowy, and I rode her every time I had a chance. I remember telling the boss that if he sold her, I’d have to go too. (By the way, I don’t work there anymore.)

She had a stupid side, though, and was prone to cause a wreck if my stupid side showed up at the same time her brains quit. Eventually, we sold the mare, and I turned my attention to other horses I’d been neglecting. As it turned out, a couple of the horses that I’d dismissed as nothing special turned out to be really special once they were given the right chance and proper attention.

I found out that I was wrong to label a horse as a failure and pigeonhole it into a spot it didn’t belong because it may have made a mistake as a 3-year-old colt.

Winston Churchill has always been one of my heroes. In my estimation he was, without a doubt, the greatest leader of the 20th century. I think there’s a good chance he’ll hold that title through the next century, too.

With all due respect to the current crop of presidential candidates, community planners and rotary club officers, we certainly haven’t been shown much in the first decade-and-a-half of the 21st century to give Winston much competition for the top spot.

If you’re in need of inspiration from a good quote, Churchill offered up a plethora of them. I get chills nearly every time I consider his speech to the House of Commons on Aug. 20, 1940.

In referring to the courage and valor of the pilots of the Royal Air Force during the Battle of Britain and the world’s indebtedness to those soldiers and airmen, he said, “Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few.”

That’s just one of Sir Winston’s gems, and it can’t truly be appreciated or understood without an understanding of the history behind it and the full context of the speech, but it’s a good place to start a history lesson.

Before World War II, Churchill was already an accomplished and respected statesman. However, his brilliance as a leader obviously wasn’t fully realized until he became prime minister in the midst of one of the darkest periods in history.

He was a poor student, and he had his share of detractors. He also may never have even had the chance to be prime minister were it not for one of the greatest perceived epic blunders in the history of diplomacy.

In the fall of 1938, Churchill’s predecessor, Neville Chamberlain, signed an accord with Nazi Germany, the result of which Chamberlain declared would bring “… peace for our time.” Chamberlain was, of course, wrong – and like Brett Favre replacing Don Majkowski, Churchill ended up with his job and history was made.

Neville Chamberlain’s place in history, to most people, is an ignominious spot. For the most part, though, I think his reputation as an idiot is undeserved. First of all, his missteps allowed Churchill to step in. It’s doubtful that anyone else had the moxie, audacity, courage and good sense to be able to accomplish what Churchill did.

Secondly, it is not widely recognized that Chamberlain later became a member of Churchill’s cabinet and was very instrumental in Winston’s success in unifying Britain and the ultimate defeat of Nazi Germany.

I think a lot can be learned from Neville Chamberlain’s story. Granted, signing a peace agreement with Uncle Adolf is like giving the deed to the ranch to PETA and Western Watersheds Project and expecting a friendly invite to the barbecue at the spring branding.

He did do what he thought was best at the time. More importantly, though, he recognized his mistakes and worked tirelessly (without much recognition for the good that he did) to make the world a better place.

I’ve had a few “peace for our time” moments, myself. Most of us probably have. When that happens, I try to find my inner Winston and sally forth. After all, if you don’t rise from your failures, how will you find the really good horses, and how will you save the world?  FG