During World War II, Britain’s Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, saved the free world with his inspirational speeches and by refusing to hand Britain over to Hitler, even though some members of the royal family and Parliament wanted to surrender their country. If Churchill had allowed England to submit to Germany in 1940, the course of the war would have been very different. The Allies would not have had a base to mobilize more than three million troops for the eventual invasion of Hitler’s Europe, several million more people would have been killed and the war would have lasted many more years than it did. (I think that the second most influential man was Harry Truman who, by ordering the use of atomic bombs on Japan, saved the lives of more than a million U.S. troops that would certainly have been lost by invading Japan. The Japanese had already demonstrated that they were prepared to fight to their deaths).
Churchill was a devoted public servant who held many different positions in Great Britain, including Prime Minister. In his early years he was a brave soldier and war correspondent in several different countries. His pivotal role in World War II is widely recognized. He was the first world leader to warn publicly of the Communist threat in 1946, and he coined the term “Iron Curtain.” He received the Nobel Prize in literature in 1953 for his books on history and his “brilliant oratory in defending exalted human values.”
His Incredible Career
He was born into an aristocratic, wealthy family and his early years showed very little to predict future greatness. He was often sick as a child, and had a lisp and a stammer. In his early years at school, he was bullied by classmates and despite his obvious brilliance, he was a poor student. When he was 14, the assistant master at Harrow sent a letter to Churchill’s mother, Lady Randolph, saying that he was forgetful, careless, and always late. However, he read everything he could get his hands on and had extraordinary ability to remember everything that he had read. He learned how to quote famous people and used other people’s quotes effectively for the rest of his life.
After finishing his schooling he joined the British Army and was sent to India, the Anglo–Sudan War and the Second Boer War and wrote books about these battles. He was first elected to Parliament in 1900 at age 26, and later became First Lord of the Admiralty. During World War I, he directed British soldiers in the Gallipoli Campaign. In the 1930s, he called for rearmament to counter Germany’s threat to England and the rest of the world. At the start of World War II, he again became First Lord of the Admiralty and then Prime Minister. After being a major reason for winning World War II, the British voted him out of office. He was an exceptional historian and also wrote a novel, two biographies, and three volumes of memoirs. He was also a prolific painter about whom Pablo Picasso remarked, “If that man were a painter by profession, he’d have no trouble in earning a good living.” At age 76 he was reelected Prime Minister and helped back a coup in Iran. At age 81 he resigned as Prime Minister but stayed in Parliament until age 90. He was given a state funeral after he died from multiple strokes the following year, at age 90.
Dreadful Lifestyle and Multiple Health Problems
More than any other single person, Churchill saved the free world from the deranged lunatic, Hitler. He worked all the time and had to sleep in a different bed every night because he was afraid of being assassinated. In the end his enemies didn’t kill him, he killed himself. He spent the last years of his life suffering from clots that cause heart attacks and strokes, and permanent lung damage from his constant cigar smoking. He was massively obese, with well over 250 pounds packed into his 5’6″ frame, and got virtually no exercise. Churchill is often cited as an example of living to an old age in spite of his horrible lifestyle, but while he lived to 90, his last 30 years were miserable. He suffered from:
• Atrial Fibrillation and a Probable Heart Attack: Nothing Churchill tried got the U.S. to join him in fighting Hitler until the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. Churchill rushed to Washington to meet with President Roosevelt. On December 22, 67-year-old Churchill complained of prolonged severe debilitating chest pain, but because of his need to get the U.S. to join Great Britain in its war with Germany, Churchill did not see a specialist until he was back in England on February 10, 1942. His cardiologist, Dr. Parkinson, told Churchill that he had not had a heart attack (J Royal Soc of Med. 2017;110(12):483-92). However, tests at that time were crude and not capable of diagnosing many cases of heart attacks. The extensive location and persistence of his pain, his repeated clots and atrial fibrillation make it very likely that he had actually suffered a heart attack. Atrial fibrillation is an irregular heartbeat that can cause clots that cause strokes. Today most patients with atrial fibrillation are prescribed anti-clotting medications to prevent strokes.
• Pneumonia: Although he was a very sick man throughout World War II, Churchill traveled more than 100,000 miles during the war to meet other leaders of the free world. In Tunisia, December 1943, he developed a bad cold and an X ray diagnosed pneumonia which was treated with the antibiotic, sulphadiazine (J Royal Coll of Physicians, Edinburgh. 2017;47:288-95). In London, at age 69 (February 16, 1943), he was again diagnosed with pneumonia and given the antibiotic, sulphathiazole, and a barbiturate sleeping pill, quinalbarbitone 100 mg (J Royal Coll of Physicians, Edinburgh. 2017;47:388-94). In Morocco, August 31, 1944, at age 70, he developed a very high fever, shortness of breath and coughing that was again diagnosed as pneumonia. At that time, 20 percent of people over 70 who suffered from pneumonia died. His lungs were so badly damaged by his smoking that every time he traveled in a plane during World War II, he had to wear an oxygen mask just to be able to breathe. He got around the mask by adapting it so he could smoke through it.
• Strokes: From ages 77 to 81, in his second term as Prime Minister of Britain, he was so sick that often he had to run the government from his bedroom. He had suffered what was at least his second stroke at age 75 in 1949 and another one while running the government at age 79 in 1953. While paralyzed on one side and at risk for suffering another stroke that could kill him, he conducted bedroom cabinet meetings and the pubic was not told that he had had another stroke. They were told that he suffered from exhaustion. He left office in 1955 and died from another stroke in 1965.
• Bipolar Disorder: His private doctor, Lord Moran, noted that Churchill suffered from depression, mania, and thoughts of suicide characteristic of manic depression. Churchill described himself as suffering from periods of “black dog” depression: extreme fatigue, fear of being killed, loss of interests, difficulty concentrating and lack of desire to eat; and outright mania: inability to sleep, uncontrolled need to do something while awake, a quick temper to argue with everyone, a feeling that he was better than everyone else and his opinions were always right. He responded to pressure by drinking alcohol and smoking cigars, and he smoked and drank the most when he was under the incredible pressure of the World War II years. Alcohol and tobacco had a lot to do with his probable heart attack at the White House in 1941, his multiple pneumoniae during World War II, and his multiple strokes that finally killed him at age 90.
Churchill saved the lives of millions of people, but his own lifestyle made him miserable for the last 30 years of his life and eventually killed him.
November 30, 1874 – January 24, 1965