I’ve been getting a lot of tweets and emails from neo-Nazis and neo-fascists lately. To be fair, I said that Nazis and fascists were bad, so I was kind of asking for it. But the thing that I’ve found most interesting amongst the mountains of hate are all the fake quotes that racists send me, purportedly by famous historical figures. Especially Winston Churchill.
Fake quotes were around long before the invention of the internet, obviously. But the web has allowed for quicker and easier dissemination of bullshit that fits with our particular worldview. In the case of Nazis and fascists, it’s a worldview that includes Winston Churchill as a lover of Nazis.
Gandhi never said, “an eye for an eye will make the whole world blind.” The chairman of IBM never said, “I think there is a world market for maybe five computers,” back in 1943. And Walt Disney never said, “If you can dream it, you can do it.” But they all make us feel good and smart in one way or another.
And when it comes to fake Churchill quotes, it makes the neo-Nazis and the neo-fascists feel like they’ve got an unlikely ally in the guy who helped defeat their wretched forbearers.
I’ve collected nine fake quotes that some people have attributed to Winston Churchill. Not all of them involve Nazis, and Churchill certainly said some deplorable and racist things in his lifetime (like, “I am strongly in favor of using poisoned gas against uncivilized tribes.”), but he never said any of these.
According to numerous neo-Nazi websites, Winston Churchill later regretted his role in taking down the Nazis. The real enemy? The Soviet Union.
This quote was sent to me recently:
Germany’s unforgivable crime before the second world war was her attempt to extricate her economic power from the world’s trading system and to create her own exchange mechanism which would deny world finance its opportunity to profit. We butchered the wrong pig.
The claim made here by neo-Nazis is that Churchill didn’t want to go to war with Germany and was forced to do so by shadowy financial figures (read: Jews). With “butchered the wrong pig” we’re meant to assume that Churchill would’ve preferred fighting the Soviets. But the quote is completely fake.
This quote appears to have been invented in 2001 and inserted into the foreword to a new edition of a book first written in 1938, Propaganda in the Next War. Since the book is out of copyright and the original author is dead, the new foreword could’ve been written by any lunatic with an account on a self-publishing site.
All we know for sure is that the quote doesn’t appear anywhere before 2001.
Did Winston Churchill really say that “The Fascists of the future will be the anti-fascists”? Definitely not.
A similar quote is attributed to Huey Long, a populist Senator from Louisiana, in books and magazines of the 1930s, and 40s: “When fascism comes to America it will be called anti-fascism.” Long was assassinated in 1935 and it’s unclear if he said this, or if it was invented after his assassination. But Churchill never said it.
This quote often appears online as something that Churchill allegedly said about tough times. But he never said it. In fact, the first time it was attributed to Churchill was 1995.
So we can’t blame the internet for inventing this one. But we can certainly blame the internet for helping spread it around here in the 21st century.
4. If you’re not a liberal when you’re 25, you have no heart. If you’re not a conservative by the time you’re 35, you have no brain.
This quote has been butchered repeatedly over the decades. And has about as many purported authors as variations. But one thing we know for sure is that Churchill never said it.
As British historian Paul Addison from Edinburgh University pointed out to the Saturday Evening Post, “He’d been a Conservative at 15 and a Liberal at 35.” So if Churchill ever said anything close to this he had a rather dim view of himself.
So where does this quote originate? The website Quote Investigator traces it back to a French book from 1875 by Jules Claretie. The rough translation? “He who is not a républicain at twenty compels one to doubt the generosity of his heart; but he who, after thirty, persists, compels one to doubt the soundness of his mind.”
This is perhaps one of the more popular quotes attributed to Churchill in recent years. But even if he said it, and I’ve found no reliable evidence that he did, many other people said versions of it before him.
Before the turn of the 21st century, the quote was more often attributed to Mark Twain. For some reason, sometime in the late 1990s and early 2000s there’s a shift and many quote books start attributing the saying to Churchill.
The Mark Twain version of the quote often uses “boots” instead of “pants,” but either way, Twain was far from the first to express this sentiment, if he did at all. The most common date ascribed to Twain using this quote is 1919. Twain died in 1910.
There are dozens of instances of this quote popping up in the 19th century, as Quote Investigator helpfully lays out. And the sources are all different, as you can see.
In 1840, one publication attributed it to Thomas Jefferson: “falsehood will travel over the country, while truth is pulling on its boots.” While a magazine from 1846 called it a Chinese Proverb: “Error will travel over half the globe, while truth is pulling on her boots.”
But the oldest version might come from as early as 1787 in a collection of sermons written by the British clergyman Thomas Francklin: “Falsehood will fly, as it were, on the wings of the wind, and carry its tales to every corner of the earth; whilst truth lags behind; her steps, though sure, are slow and solemn...”
Whoever said it first, it wasn’t Churchill.
6. A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty.
This quote might sound good, but if you’ve ever read Churchill, it definitely doesn’t sound like him. And there’s a good reason for that. He never said it.
The book Churchill by Himself: The Definitive Collection of Quotations cites this one in the section of false attributions. It might look good on a Napoleon Hill coffee mug or something, but it’s not from Churchill.
Despite being a popular meme on Facebook, there’s no evidence that Churchill ever said this. Much like so many Gandhi quotes, it appears that people just like putting Churchill’s photo next to this particular phrase in order to give it some kind of authority.
What did Churchill actually say about taxes? “Taxes are an evil—a necessary evil, but still an evil, and the fewer we have of them the better,” Churchill reportedly said in the House of Commons on February 12, 1906.
So Churchill may not have been a fan of taxes. But saying they’re a necessary evil is definitely different from saying that there’s “no such thing as a good tax.”
While this quote certainly looks good on your Facebook wall, there’s no evidence that Churchill ever said this about having enemies. A version of this quote originated with Victor Hugo in his 1845 essay, Villemain.
From Victor Hugo:
You have enemies? Why, it is the story of every man who has done a great deed or created a new idea. It is the cloud which thunders around everything that shines. Fame must have enemies, as light must have gnats. Do not bother yourself about it; disdain. Keep your mind serene as you keep your life clear.
It’s a powerful idea. But Churchill never uttered it.
This quote appearing to show Churchill’s disdain for democracy is a favorite on political subreddits. But you’d be hard pressed to find a source for this that predates the year 2000. And according to the International Churchill Society, he never said it.