Wednesday, 31 May 2017

Black Dog

Churchill is a difficult subject to write about. On the one hand, the written material relating to Churchill is voluminous in the extreme- much of it written by the man himself. On the other hand, at least in the English-speaking realm, Churchill has acquired an almost god-like status. A man of such prodigious gifts and achievements, that to criticise the man is to commit the gravest of heresies. And of course, there is an equal and opposite reaction from the 'left'. Criticism from this direction is generally farcical and so deeply rooted in socialist dogma and knee jerk rhetoric that the man transforms into a warmongering one-dimensional Imperialist monster.

It is the fate of Great Men to attract strong reaction. This does not detract from their status but reinforces and enhances their greatness. I have no intention of entering into the debate with regard to Churchill's moral status or innate qualities that could be construed as 'good' or 'evil'. Suffice it to say that I consider Churchill deservedly belongs to the pantheon of 'Great Men', with all the trappings that the designation entails; 'Great Men' are either saints or sinners depending on perspective and prejudice. They elicit extremes, especially among folk who have not read widely or wisely. No one as complex, indefatigable and talented as Churchill could be described as 'good' or 'bad', in any conventional sense. Remember Churchill's contemporary, Stanley Baldwin? No. Neither does anyone else- he was not a Great Man.

Today, I would like to briefly consider just a single piece of the psychological mosaic comprising the man: Churchill's well documented, 'Black Dog'. Churchill, throughout his life, experienced protracted bouts of melancholia during which he became mentally and physically inert. During these periods Churchill's fertile rampaging mind became stilled and his relentless energy deserted him. It has been suggested, from respectable and eminent psychiatrists/psychologists, that Churchill suffered from a serious mental illness such as major depression or bipolar disorder. Considering how difficult it is to make a diagnosis of the 'mind' when the subject is available for first-hand analysis on the couch, I suspect any retrospective and accurate psychiatric diagnosis is beyond retrieval. Churchill's personal physician, Lord Moran, noted Churchill's 'Black Dog' but refrained from labelling the man as frankly mad. And indeed would it have been scarcely credible for Churchill to have achieved his astonishing accomplishments over his long life if he had been seriously mentally ill?

It is noteworthy that Churchill's darkest melancholic episodes were linked to great political and personal upheavals (often one of the same) during his career. In the aftermath of the disastrous Gallipoli campaign of 1915, Churchill was dismissed, and rightly so, from his position as First Lord of the Admiralty. At this time Churchill suffered a deep melancholic episode. Not only did he suffer from a major political reverse, he also endured grave responsibility for sending many good men to their death on an ill-conceived, ill-planned and ill-executed campaign. A campaign nurtured by Churchill himself. Is it a testament to Churchill's humanity that he suffered an extreme reaction in the aftermath of Gallipoli? The reader must decide whether this is a valid viewpoint, or not. Consider the reaction of modern politicians under similar circumstances, especially in light of the fact that Western politicians invariably escape censure and punishment and prosper regardless. Tis also a testament to the resilience of Churchill, as a man, that he eventually recovered and went on to have a major influence on world events- the rest is history, go read.

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