That Churchill Quote

Lately, I’ve been seeing this posted around blogs and facebook:

It was once suggested to Winston Churchill that he cut funding to the arts to pay for Britain’s war, to which he responded “Then what would we be fighting for?”

It’s a great quote.  I’ve seen it a few months ago from some American artists, when funding for the arts was being threatened in the US.  I’m hearing it now, in Canada, after the funding cuts to Summerworks, which may herald a significant cooling in the government’s funding of the arts.

But did Churchill ever say that?

Back in August of last year, when the quote was first making the rounds on Twitter, I came upon this post, which asks:

“There are a number of versions of this story quoted around the internet—some adding blasphemies or swearing to the Chuchill response—but none are traceable to an actual source or date.  I am trying to determine whether Churchill actually said this and, if so, under what circumstances.”

In the comments from this post, there are people who say that it sounds like him, but that there may be no reference to this in any speech, biography or recorded writing.

If Churchill did say it (and I really do want to believe that he did), then its great that its being used by artists to support arguments for the continued funding of the arts.  But if Churchill didn’t say it; if the quote is pure fiction or wishful thinking, then using it does no favours to the arts community.  Using a made up quote to back up the argument will merely serve the opponents of arts funding, they’ll be able to discount the argument being made if the quote is false.

Does anyone know if that quote is real?  Is there a source for it?

If its not, maybe we need to rethink using it so frequently in our defense of arts funding.  There are plenty of good reasons to continue funding for the arts without resorting to pithy quotations.



  1. If you made up a name, would it be any less of a good statement in support of the Arts? So what if it isn’t an attributable quote?

  2. Craig said “So what if it isn’t an attributable quote?” Because such an attitude inherently advocates fabricating quotes by reputable people to support your opinion/cause/belief. In other words, you advocate lying to people to sway them to an opinion you want them to have.

    There’s a handy, concise term for that: propaganda.

    “Propaganda is to a democracy what the bludgeon is to a totalitarian state.” ~ Noam Chomsky

    “Whoever is careless with the truth in small matters cannot be trusted with important matters.” ~ Albert Einstein

  3. According to V&A Museum, a council of prominent individuals was created to garner support for the arts in WWII England. Its membership & personal donations apparently grew such that the government took note (or, more likely, was approached by council members) and began financially aiding it in 1940. Maybe the “quote” grew out of that.

    Regardless of whether or not Churchill made the comment, the fact remains that the government began assisting the arts financially during wartime. It certainly speaks of the confidence the government had in its future!

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