I heard something interesting in one of the audio books that have graced my CD player with interest these past few years. The audio book was, I believe, Christmas in Washington, the story of the meetings between Churchill and Roosevelt shortly after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. I won't go into the details, but I found the book very interesting and very illuminating on a lot of points that I had either not understood or never fully comprehended. I am not going to go to great lengths explaining all those points, but I found it very illuminating.
In this book, the author makes mention of some basic backstory for the then-Prime Minister of Great Britain. The PM was a combat veteran, had been the First Lord of the Admiralty for part of World War I, and spent much of the inter-war years drinking his way through vain bids for advancement.
Had it not been for Adolph Hitler, Churchill would have been relegated to the dustbin of minor historical characters. However, when the appeasement policies of the previous British government towards Hitler failed spectacularly, the contentious, bilious, overbearing, but altogether indominable Mr. Churchill was thrust into the position of Prime Minister, because he was exactly the sort of person Great Britain needed at the time.
That much I knew. However, I was not aware of just how disastrous Churchill's inter-war years were. In fact, they were abysmal. Not knowing much about British politics in the 1920's and 1930's, I'm not even sure how he managed to remain in Parliament during those years when he was routinely almost wrecking himself and his career.
The sort of aimlessness that consumed Winston Churchill in his "wilderness years" has led some to conclude that Churchill suffered from depression. After all, he was largely listless and distracted during the period of peace in Europe. He switched parties frequently, he made bad decisions, he shot his mouth off in stupid ways, and he drank his way through all of it, essentially becoming a borderline alcoholic. However, the idea that Churchill suffered from depression is sheer idiocy.
At present, there is some idea out there that we need to diagnose great men with mental illness. I suppose it is a way to make them out to be inherently flawed, making them much more manageable for the average person. Or I suppose it is a way to make the rest of us feel better about not being great; after all, nobody wants to be depressed or manic-depressive or neurotic or obsessive-compulsive. Therefore, we don't have the feel bad about being small men, because if great men are all mentally ill, then they spend their entire lives wracked with tortured minds, so who wants to do that? Raising ourselves up is not nearly as easy as cutting others down.
Was Churchill depressed? Yes, I think I can say with assurance that he was probably pretty depressed during the inter-war years. But we had better consider the very strange idea that, just because someone is depressed, that doesn't mean they suffer from depression.
I remind you, through much of World War I, Winston Churchill was First Lord of the Admiralty. To rephrase that, Winston Churchill held the office of First Lord of the Admiralty through much of the most important war the world had seen to that point in history. Prior to that, he was living a life of danger in the backwaters of the British Empire, dodging bullets amidst a sea of new adventures. In fact, during World War I he even took a posting on the Western Front after he was ejected from his position in the Admiralty. And, mind you, he had previously seen combat in India, the Sudan, and in the Boer War, so he was not a starry-eyed adventurer-seeker who had not tasted real combat. Does that sound like the sort of man who would be happy sitting in a room and arguing about tariffs for hours on end?
This man was a great man dealing with small times. He had helped lead his country during the most important and dangerous time it had been through since the days of Napoleon. He was desperately trying to find something meaningful to do when the entire world was attempting to return to a meaningless time. All around him, men were attempting to forget the war and return to a simple past that they hazily remembered from beyond the boundary of a war that had changed everything forever.
So there was Churchill, stuck in a world of small concerns and small men, marginalized into a corner where he had nothing to do. Or at least nothing worthwhile. This was a man who had made decisions that affected millions of men—frequently to their detriment, it must be admitted—and now he was supposed to care if Lord Gumbucket of West Snotpockets has the economic conditions necessary to profitably increase his raw wool output by 4% over the next 10 years.
I think it serves as a testament to his resilience of character and love of politics for its own sake that he managed not to die of boredom.
It was thus that he found himself in the past, where men actually made big decisions that mattered to others. He wrote histories to while away the endless, worthless hours, attempting to escape into times that used to be important. His life and times and decisions were essentially meaningless and he knew it.
Is it any wonder that a man suffering through such depressing circumstances was depressed? Who wouldn't be depressed when they fully understood that nobody anywhere would ever give a shit about what they were doing at the time? And if it was taking all of that person's time and energy to attempt to accomplish some task that they knew was completely meaningless, wouldn't that be monumentally depressing?
It has been said that there is a mysterious ability for great men to show up just at the time when great events are happening. This is such a fundamental and enormous load of excrement that I can't understand how anybody would allow it to escape their mouths. Great men are all around us. They are in the factories, they are in the schools, they are at their desks, they are in the halls of power. And you know something? They are bored out of their fucking minds.
These are men who don't care that the Charleston is all the rage, or what other people think about someone who puts ketchup on their eggs, or who the beautiful heiress Eunice G. Pantaloon was seen with when she went to the new hotspot that everyone is talking about. They don't care that silver shoe buckles are now in, they don't care what Mrs. Preen said about Mrs. Pepperpot's muffler during tea, and they don't care what sort of dress Madame Gilda Pompadour was wearing to the society event everyone will be talking about until the society event occurring the following week. Furthermore, they don't care about waterskiing squirrels, the zany catchphrases of the day, or "funny" videos of people hurting themselves on bikes.
To my mind, I would expect that "great men in waiting" would be the men who are uninterested in of all this. They may try to care about such trivia, but I would not be surprised if a potentially great man finds that he simply cannot maintain interest in things of such little import. Yet things of little import are the concerns of the world when there is nothing to be concerned about.
This may come to a surprise to some, but some people are disappointed to discover that they are completely useless in this world. Some men aspire to more than a steady paycheck. Some men aspire to something other than earning a good living. There are some men out there who want to do something more. Though many of them fall off to the wayside in the course of their battles against mediocrity, some can't stop fighting. So, when great events come their way, they are ready; because they have been waiting for something, anything that would finally allow them to break free from the mundane and do something, anything that is actually worth two shits in this world.
I don't know that the mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation. But many of them lead lives of frustrated boredom and futility. The world is filled with futile, pointless tasks that don't really mean anything. Men who design new processes for more effectively personalizing ballpoint pens. Men who sit at machines cutting the excess plastic on newly formed McDonald's trays. Men who push the button that tells the robot to screw the lightbulb into the socket. Men who sit at a desk passing along forms and paperwork to the right person; who can then provide a response that is passed back to the person who submitted the paperwork. Some men can be content doing that. Some men would go crazy with boredom and frustration at the futility of it all.
But those men are often stuck there for lack of anything better to do. So they continue doing the meaningless and trying to adjust to a meaningless life. Is it any wonder they are depressed when facing a life of endless, pointless drudgery?
So to arbitrarily say that men who have faced depressing circumstances were depressed when facing those circumstances is idiocy. No, perhaps not idiocy. I suppose that is an oversimplification. No, it is the struggle of the mundane mind when faced with the great one. The mundane mind would not comprehend the desire of the great mind for doing great things because the mundane mind would not understand why someone else cannot happily focus on the mundane.