12 January 2010

The Old Man

From Time on this day in 1953:

FOREIGN RELATIONS: Between Old Friends

Entering the Verandah Grill of the Queen Mary, the old man walked slowly, his shoulders stooped by his 78 years.

Pink-cheeked, beamish, the inevitable cigar in his hand and the dignity of greatness about him, Winston Churchill faced some 200 newsmen panting to know just why he had made the wintry Atlantic crossing, in such a hurry, to visit with Dwight Eisenhower.

Carefully, artfully, the Prime Minister stressed the casual nature of it all. It just happened, he said, that he was on his way to a holiday in Jamaica to "soak up some sun and some warmth—naturally I looked in to pay my respects to the President and President-elect . . . It's just a meeting of old friends," he insisted. "We've met perhaps a hundred times before . . ." No, he couldn't say what he and Ike might talk about. "I've no idea. It's to be just a private, informal conversation between old friends." Would he, perhaps, ask for more U.S. aid? "Trade, not aid," answered the Prime Minister, "is the wise policy." The old man suddenly turned sharp when a reporter recalled that recently the Prime Minister spoke of the chances of war subsiding: "I made no such statement. I said the chances of war have receded. There's quite a difference." Churchill said that resistance to Communist aggression in Korea was "the greatest event of the last five years." It had done more than anything else to improve the prospect for world peace. Then he slipped in some British caution: "And there are worse things than a stalemate. A checkmate, for instance." He still thought the free world's center of gravity lay along the frontiers of the Iron Curtain in Europe—"although I may be biased in my views."

Turning to the future of the Korean war, Churchill said it would be "a great pity for the U.N. armies—or the U.S. armies—to go wandering all over this vast China, and a great pity to make any indefinite extension of the war. At the same time, we must go on and hold our position. It doesn't follow that there will be no improvement. There's an old German saying—'The trees don't grow up to the sky.' "

Twenty minutes of question & answer done with, Winston Churchill cherubically faced the TV cameras. "Truly wonderful," he said, lifting his fingers in the old V-for-Victory sign, "to think that every expression of my face is being viewed by millions of people ... I only hope the raw material is as good as the method of distribution."

That evening, at the Manhattan home of Old Friend Bernard Baruch, the Prime Minister had his visit with Old Friend Eisenhower. The President-elect dropped in on the way home from his Hotel Commodore headquarters. Eisenhower, who had last seen Churchill in London during his May 1952 farewell tour as NATO commander, said to the Prime Minister: "You look much better than when I saw you last."

Ike went on home to dress for dinner. He was soon back again. There were no immediate communiqu├ęs on what the two old friends said to each other.

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