Ending the Churchill idolatry

There is this weird phenomenon in America of excessive admiration of Winston Churchill. We see this with the reaction to the bust of him that Biden has moved out of the Oval Office, that threatened to create another kerfuffle like when Barack Obama moved it.

It had once been a transatlantic art scandal — or at least various actors of questionable intent would have you believe it was.

Overheated, confusing and laden in the end with blatant racism, the case of the White House bust of Winston Churchill still persists.

President Joe Biden has removed it from the Oval Office after four years standing sentry under his predecessor, who thought he looked something like the wartime prime minister.

An Oval Office redesign brought in new busts instead: Latino civil rights leader Cesar Chavez, Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., Robert F. Kennedy, Rosa Parks and Eleanor Roosevelt.

For some reason, people seem to think that Boris Johnson’s views on this issue matter.

Downing Street has said it is up to Joe Biden how he decorates the Oval Office, after it was reported that a bust of Winston Churchill, lent by the UK government, has been removed.

[Boris] Johnson’s relaxed attitude is in marked contrast to his criticism of Barack Obama, when the former president moved the Churchill bust aside.

Writing in the Sun in 2016, Johnson, then London mayor, and the author of a Churchill biography, called Obama’s decision a “snub,” suggesting it may have been because of “the part-Kenyan president’s ancestral dislike of the British empire”.

A bust of Mexican American labour rights leader Cesar Chavez was visible in pictures of Biden signing executive orders on Wednesday.

Johnson’s remarks about Obama, made during the buildup to the Brexit referendum, caused a furore. It subsequently emerged that Obama had simply moved the bust of the wartime leader – a loan from the UK government – to a spot in his personal residence.

When Theresa May rushed to Washington in early 2017 to be the first world leader to visit Trump in the White House, he swept her into the Oval Office to show that Churchill had been restored to prominence.

Some of us from the former colonies see Churchill as a racist imperialist and I personally think Cesar Chavez, Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., Robert F. Kennedy, Rosa Parks and Eleanor Roosevelt are far better choices to be surrounded by.


  1. Bruce Fuentes says

    Agreed. Churchill is not a person that should have in presence in our White House, not just the Oval Office.

  2. kestrel says

    My take: when you spend your time worrying about how other people decorate their home and workplace, it’s high time you got a life. Maybe you can find one for sale on eBay. And if someone put something in their house that you don’t like, or took something out that you think they should put in their house; and if that’s the worst thing that ever happened to you? Holy cow are you ever lucky. Quit whining and get over it.

  3. kestrel says

    I will clarify, just in case: my comment is aimed towards people expressing horror that someone moved a piece of art in their workplace.

  4. komarov says

    My take-away is that Johnson doesn’t want any more press at the moment. Given how things are going I would have expected him to jump at the distraction and happily blow it out of proportion.

  5. cartomancer says

    Many of us from England itself think he was a big old racist, imperialist and champion of establishmentarian inequality too. He provides one useful function, though -- he marks out anyone found proudly hero-worshipping him as someone to avoid.

  6. springa73 says

    It’s interesting that this topic should come up, since when I was younger I was a big Churchill fan. Then, as I gradually learned more about his career as a diehard imperialist and his actions against independence movements in Ireland, India, etc., as well as his strong anti-labor union stance and what could charitably be called his mixed record as a military planner, my enthusiasm disappeared. There are still some things he did that I can respect, but there is too much of a bad legacy to say that I admire him.

    More generally, over the years I have gradually reached the conclusion that it is a mistake to hero-worship any historical figure, or indeed, any present day figure.

  7. moarscienceplz says

    I’m just amazed to find out T**** has even heard of Churchill. Did Diet Coke print a mini bio of him on one of their cans?

  8. morsgotha says

    Speaking as a brit, he did many admirable things, but we immediately voted him out of office once the war was over.

    I don’t get the hero worship of the bad ol’ edwardian imperialist.

  9. says

    After the way he prolonged his horrible cock-up at Gallipoli, I am amazed any Briton or British Colonial would give him the time of day. But, might makes right and the imperial propaganda machine sprung into action and made it a gloriously tenacious bit of bravery, like they did when thousands of Britons marched into machine-gun fire in the Somme, and charged the guns at Balaclava. Churchill deserves a special place in the annals of military stupidity but instead he’s been turned into a symbol of resolve. Ugh.

  10. garnetstar says

    I wholly agree with kestrel @2, 3. *Especially* when you are a country’s leader meeting with another country’s leader, if you have time to fret about the decor rather than focusing on what you’re there to discuss, then you’re not working hard enough, and should resign and let somone who knows what’s important do the job.

  11. mnb0 says

    Typical how people think symbolic actions like this worth discussing, but not the question whether JoeB will change America’s Yemen policy. Perhaps they think busts more important than Yemenite lives. And mind you, there might be good news, news that may make a difference for actual people instead of symbols of the past.


    I suppose American liberals have their own version of MAGA and America First.

  12. sonofrojblake says

    American “liberals” -- or as we’d call them in England, “conservatives” -- have their own version of a lot of things.

    Echoing springa73, @6: “when I was younger I was a big Churchill fan. Then, as I gradually learned more about his career…”

    That’s the thing -- as a kid you’re presented with a caricature, a fat bloke with a cigar making a V sign and leading the country, nay, the WORLD to victory against Hitler. And then you gradually learn more about his career.

    A request to Americans in general -- yeah, end the Churchill idolatry. While you’re at it, bear in mind that the British public put their hands in their pockets and made sure “Ding Dong the Witch Is Dead” was top of the charts in Scotland and #2 in the UK overall the week Thatcher died -- maybe stop idolising that venomous old hag too?

  13. jrkrideau says

    Now, the bust is gone again.
    Trump stole it?

    BTW, what happened to that bust of Abraham Lincoln?

  14. eliza422 says

    I wasn’t aware that as an American I was idolizing Churchill…is that really a thing here? I really have to get out more (post-pandemic, of course).

    Where do Churchill fans hang out?

  15. Rob Grigjanis says

    eliza422 @14:

    Where do Churchill fans hang out?

    Mostly right wing publications and think tanks stink thanks, I imagine. The same ones who idolize Maggot Thatcher.

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