The Pathology of Leadership – What happens when our leaders are not fit enough to lead?

Just over a year after the death of Sir Winston Churchill in 1965, his personal physician, Lord Moran, published Winston Churchill: the Struggle for Survival 1940 – 1960. Moran’s 800 page book was based on the diaries he had kept. Moran was vilified and excoriated for this; not only had be betrayed confidences, but he had broken the sacred bond of doctor-patient confidentiality. Some month later, when his critics had read the book, they saw that Churchill had been severely ill for periods during WWII with pneumonia, and had had significant episodes of depression, the ‘black dog’, and that is to set aside Churchill’s alcohol consumption; we would say today that Churchill was at times ‘not fit for purpose’. Moran also revealed that Churchill had had a major stroke in 1953, from which he made a slow and incomplete recovery. At this time a cabal of press barons conspired to prevent the news reaching the attention of the public. Is such secrecy acceptable today? Alarmingly, does it still happen?

Following Moran’s revelations, Dr Hugh L’Etang published The Pathology of Leadership in 1969, referring particularly to the health of Presidents of America and British Prime Ministers. L’Etang noted, in the period up to the publication of the book,

…since 1908 eleven out of thirteen British Premiers and six out of ten American Presidents have had illnesses while in office which have incapacitated them to some degree.

For instance, L’Etang described how Woodrow Wilson was an inflexible person, though his first term as President was largely uneventful. In his second term, Wilson attended the Peace conference at Versailles, where his mental rigidity was much more marked. Wilson had a severe stroke in 1919 after a number of prodromal episodes. He remained incapacitated, and for the remainder of his term of office, his duties were sustained by a triumvirate of the First Lady, Wilson’s physician and secretary.

Franklin Roosevelt is the only American to have won four presidential elections. By the start of his fourth term he was mortally ill from severe hypertension (raised blood pressure) and heart and kidney failure. At the Yalta peace conference in February 1945, when he, Stalin and Churchill were redrawing the map of post-war Europe, Roosevelt was easily outmanoeuvred by Stalin, while Churchill was strangely passive. Roosevelt died two months later; the severity of his illness had been kept hidden from the American public.

L’Etang continued his theme with Fit to Lead? published in 1980, which expanded on the material in his previous book, but included evidence of psychological stress and downright psychiatric illness.

A third book, Ailing Leaders in Power 1914-1994, was published in 1995. This is orientated more to a medical than a general audience, and discusses ‘top generals’ and others, with a distinct American slant. The release of medical information is now de rigeur in the US for senior positions, including Presidential candidates.

Anthony Eden, Churchill’s successor as Prime Minister in 1955 had had an operation to remove the gallbladder (cholecystectomy) in 1953. During this operation, Eden’s bile duct, the tube that drains bile from the liver to the bowel, was damaged. A second operation a couple of weeks later did not successfully repair the damage; Eden then went to the Lahey Clinic in Boston, the world centre for the repair of such problems. Despite a third operation, Eden suffered recurring episodes of infection in the bile ducts (ascending cholangitis) or Charcot’s Fever, typified by abdominal pain, fever and jaundice. During the Suez Crisis, Eden had such attacks, though between times he sustained himself with heavy doses of ‘benzedrine’, an amphetamine.

His successor, Harold Macmillan, noted in the last few months of his Premiership ‘a strange lethargy’. Macmillan had an enlarged prostate gland, and this produced back pressure changes in the kidneys, with a degree of kidney failure or uraemia, hence the dimming of his mentation. Macmillan then had an acute retention of urine due to his prostate, and underwent an emergency operation. Though always presenting an outward picture of unflappability, Macmillan could be very emotional in private. Thinking, wrongly, that he was dying he resigned office.

Ted Heath was diagnosed with hypothyroidism, underactivity of the thyroid gland, some years after he had left No 10. Often the onset of this is quite insidious, and the gradual changes in personality and mental ability can go unnoticed by those in close contact to the sufferer. It’s not clear if hypothyroidism was present during Heath’s Premiership.

Harold Wilson most unexpectedly announced his resignation as Prime Minister in 1976 when he was 60. It is very unusual for a premier to leave office entirely voluntarily. Wilson may have been influenced by his wife, who was disgusted with politics. But Wilson had noticed that his once very retentive memory was failing; those close to him noticed a significant reduction in his abilities. Though his family always denied it, it is clear that Wilson then had early onset dementia.

Margaret Thatcher was 62 when she won the 1987 general election. Her third term as Prime Minister wasn’t a success. The ‘iron lady’ who wasn’t for turning showed increasing rigidity in her thinking; she was contemptuous and rude to her ministers, would brook no dissent, and was apparently unaware of the great public dissatisfaction with the Poll Tax. Her daughter, Carole, confirmed her mother’s dementia in 2005; from the description it was then very severe. Whether she was so afflicted during her final premiership is uncertain.

There are many, many more examples of illness in leaders, not just locally but abroad. Common features include sociopathic or even psychopathic tendencies, severe mood swings, dementia, physical illness and decrepitude, and the ‘usual suspects’ of gluttony, tobacco, alcohol, medication and even syphilis. Further, many of the leaders were elderly. Though Blair, Cameron and Obama were young, more recent leaders in the UK and the US are distinctly older. Relative youth isn’t a guarantee that stupid mistakes won’t occur.

L’Etang wrote that the ill-health and incapacity of Presidents and Prime Ministers was ’horrifying’.

It’s well appreciated today that a gradual decline in mental abilities accompanies ageing. This can include increasing rigidity of attitude, the reduced ability to comprehend new information and to process it and some memory loss. For most of us this normal ageing process is accepted and unremarkable; but then, most of us aren’t Prime Ministers. We may have the destiny of, at most, a few people in our sphere of activities. Prime Ministers and Presidents have not only the destiny of their countries to think about, if they have the ‘nuclear button’ at hand, potentially the future of the world. (President Pompidou of France, a very unwell man, was unable to remember the 6-digit code, the ‘PIN’, for the nuclear option; he had to have it marked on a tag which he wore round his neck.)

In the British Civil Service, even ‘top mandarins’ are required to retire at 60. Their function is to advise ministers; it is the function of ministers to make decisions as executives, with the Prime Minister being the ‘chief executive’. There is no mandatory retirement age for ministers, for MPs or for Presidents.

If we can accept that the mental and physical prowess of our leaders is something of which we and they must be aware, what can we do about it? What is ‘best practice’ elsewhere?

Commercial aviation is often cited as having ‘best practice’. To become a pilot, the applicant must pass a stringent medical examination. His or her competence and fitness is then regularly assessed, yearly if below 40, and six-monthly if older. Fitness is assessed through medical examination, competence is assessed using a simulator.

Further, such pilots will be required to retire once they reach a certain age. For British Airways, this used to be 55. This has been increased to 60, and may be increased to 65. This change is not a reflection of better medical care or better health, rather it is driven by competitive pressures from a relative lack of pilots, and the usual pension deficits. The point though is not a quibble about an appropriate age, it is the recognition that beyond a certain point and age, any pilot’s critical faculties will fall short of what should be expected; and that this is an entirely normal feature of ageing, no matter how much we all may rail against it. We must all simply accept that for those in positions of executive power, there is an age at which they become a liability; they might well remain, but only in an advisory role. The House of Lords is the prime example of this, where the wisdom of the agèd can be of considerable benefit, for the members no longer have executive functions to sully their minds, and can therefore express a more considered opinion. (The composition of the Lords is another question entirely.)

‘Pilot error’ is held to be a cause of airline disasters. The ‘instance’ case is the crash of United Airlines Flight 173. The pilots noted that the sensors indicated that the landing gear had not properly deployed, though they had, and the sensors were faulty. While the pilots discussed how to manage this, the flight engineer told them repeatedly that the plane was running out of fuel; the pilots ignored this warning, and the plane crashed.

The particular significance of this, and the Tenerife disaster in 1977, the worst to date in aviation history, is that the pilots concentrated on what they thought was the job in hand and completely ignored warnings from other staff. After all, like Prime Ministers, pilots were at the apex of the command structure and didn’t need to heed what impertinent underlings said.

These two incidents provoked a major change in attitude, away from the adversarial and corrosive ‘blame game’, and to what’s called ‘crew resource management’. Now, if any member of a cabin crew is concerned that something is awry, he or she knows the ‘trigger words’ that will cause the pilot to stop and reconsider.

If only this had applied to Prime Ministers and Presidents in the past. Those around such people when their faculties were declining saw changes in personality and ability, even if they ‘saw but did not observe’. They discussed with others, and wrote in their diaries, and did nothing. Such important leaders, even today, are likely to surround themselves with sycophants, and people whose livelihood depends on ‘loyalty’. Who then will speak ‘truth to power’, or even tell the Emperor that he is bollock-naked? Who will speak out and risk being thought to be ‘unfit for their positions, stupid, or incompetent?’ Who will tell the king two days before their coronation that without an operation he will go to his own funeral instead?

For this requires a significant culture change, a change away from the idea the the leader can, through force of will or personality, overcome illness, stupidity and handicaps in a way that mere mortals cannot. Who will even recognise that a change in ‘culture’, the way we do things here, is necessary?

If things, people will say, were good enough for my grandfather, why do we need to change them? Perhaps: if Sir Edward Grey was your grandfather, a lazy man who despite Winchester and Balliol had very limited intellectual powers; a man whose blindness made it difficult for him to read state papers, a man who after the death of his wife had no interest in the future, a man who spoke no foreign language, perhaps if he hadn’t been Foreign Secretary at the outbreak of the Great War, that war could have been averted. Or, if you are American, perhaps your grandfather was Cordell Hull. He was known to be in poor health in 1941, and had diabetes and arteriosclerosis and liked his office kept at 90ºF (32ºC). He was American Secretary of State at the time of Pearl Harbour, and was then 69. He was ‘worn out’ by his exertions trying to reach a settlement with the Japanese.


  • aquifer

    We also have a long lengthening tail of doddery voters who will try to vote for people their own age.

    Give the vote to 14 year olds, they will consider anyone over 40 a coffin dodger.

  • Tarlas

    Britain’s elite have been sending their children to boarding schools for centuries. Psychotherapist Nick Duffell says these students actually grow up into terrible leaders

  • file

    I have been waiting for one of the cabal of local press barons to break the embargo about the real reason for Ian Paisley’s (RIP) sudden and unexplained absences during his career. If my sources are correct, he was a manic-depressive, and was in psychiatric treatment during those absences.

  • Granni Trixie

    I’m in awe of your extensive knowledge, Korhomme and found the above really interesting. Given what we eventually knew about Mo Mowlams brain tumour I have sometimes wondered if that impacted on the decisions she made and the way she is reputed to have conducted herself.

    But… although you make a strong case for being wary about the norms in systems which permit people to stay on in leadership roles and occupations beyond their set by date, it seems pander to ageism and assumptions about people with illnesses or possibly disability. And counters educational messages about keeping up intellectual and physical pursuits as we age.

    That said, there are some occupations (such as a pilot) where I suppose “safety first” should trump other considerations.

    As regards inflexibility/lack of adaptibility we have only to look at the DUP today to see these characteristics in relatively younger Leaders as with their older predecessors.

    Ofcourse the topic you write about also brings up ethical questions around privacy of the individual V the publics right to know.

  • Obelisk

    A fascinating summary made a touch more real by the fact that, like Ted Heath, I suffer from Hypothyroidism and the revelation it causes mental issues has triggered a bout of hypochondria.

  • Gopher

    “Churchill was strangely passive”

    In that time frame Churchill had flown to Greece which was in complete anarchy, contended with the fallout of Eisenhowers military limitations and Montgomerys ego, was having a full blown spat with his greatest commander Harris, handled De Gaullle who was about to down tools over a military disagreement with Ike, fight the Joint chiefs and Ernie King over British involvement in the Pacific. He was also in full blown disagreement with the Polish government in exile over being realistic and was virtually the only man alive who saw the post war world. To be fair to Churchill Yalta wernt exactly his fault, he had been trying to prevent it since Torch. Certainly Churchills powers were in decline but in the flower of his youth there was Gallipoli.

    Harry Hopkins and Sir John Dill both who were both terminally ill did not let that get in the way of helping to save civilization.

    If its a bad system and you have a defective leader you get big problems like in the case of Blair

  • Gopher

    I know Eton absolutely ruined Arthur Wellesley

  • Korhomme

    Thanks, GT!.

    I deliberately limited my choice of subjects to those where the medical details are pretty clear — generally meaning they were people who had been written about a lot, and who were dead. Mo Mowlam’s case is interesting; she also initially denied the extent of her problem. I guess it might take a few years, or more, before we can be sure whether her brain tumour affected her decisions or not.

    Your point about ageism is reasonable. I’d say that being PM or President isn’t like most ordinary jobs, where people can certainly carry on beyond the ‘normal’ retiring age — and this retirement age gets later all the time.

    It’s not that we can’t learn new things as we age, rather we learn more slowly, and perhaps we learn less. Compare politics to chess; the number of moves that we can see in advance in chess does seem to diminish with age, so all the grand masters are relatively young. Replace chess moves with all the strings of government and diplomacy, and I think it’s harder to be sure that all the permutations will be recognised and analysed.

    The ethical problems of keeping a politician’s health secret versus ‘protecting’ and informing the public have been much debated in the past; and, at least in the UK, personal privacy and libel is a major consideration. It comes down to, ‘should the doctor tell’?

  • Korhomme

    Thanks for the background. I’d agree that Churchill saw the ‘red menace’ very clearly; Roosevelt seems not to have grasped it. (There are persisting rumours that at the time of Yalta Roosevelt also had a cancerous illness, but this seems to be in the ‘not proven’ category.)

    I’m not so sure about Gallipoli, though. It might have been a good idea, but it failed. That was also said about Narvik, wasn’t it?

  • Korhomme

    I’ve not heard that, about bipolar disease. I have heard other rumours, and I can guess about one episode of illness, though to what extent these limited his powers I’m uncertain.

  • ted hagan

    Surprised there s no mention of Kennedy, who had many serious ailments and was permanently pumped up with heavy-duty drugs, and he was only in his 40s.

  • Korhomme

    Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon and the elder Bush all had problems. I left them out because I thought the post was already long enough; I concentrated more on UK leaders.

    Reagan had more problems beside his dementia.

  • ted hagan

    There was also the Dieppe raid, another failure. The Dardanelles wasn’t just a failure, it was very poorly planned.

  • Gopher

    In the case of Gallipoli, it might have been a good idea, but good ideas on the scale of Gallipoli require good planning and 10 times the resources to effect a decision on Asia Minor.

    Narvik again the idea exceeded the planning by a considerable margin but in Narviks favour the Allies could reinforce quicker than the Germans unlike in the Dardenelles and the risk the Germans took to get there in the first place consigned most of their Navy to the bottom of the fjords or shipyard hands.

  • Korhomme

    An interesting link, thanks. I’m very much in agreement with the emotional deprivation that such kids can be expected to suffer, and thus the lack of empathy that they manifest.

    Eton College, where Cameron and many of his government were, was founded four centuries or so ago with the specific aim of producing leaders for the country.

  • Korhomme

    Churchill was responsible for decisions which weren’t sensible, not just politically but domestically. The decision to revert to the Gold Standard wasn’t clever; Churchill bought Chartwell without bothering to inform Clementine; in the end he couldn’t afford it, so his chums bought it. He was allowed to life there until he died, when the property went to the National Trust. He made bad investments which, not so long before WWII, had made a substantial capital loss; again, one of the chums was persuaded by others to buy Churchill’s portfolio for what Churchill had paid for it. So, you might say he had ‘feet of clay’; but, don’t we all?

  • Gopher

    No doubt Churchill could make some howlers but you can never accuse him of appointing yes men. In the field of command no other nation achieved the common purpose that Churchill was largely responsible for.

  • file

    Bi-polar would have heightened his powers when he was ‘high’, but he would not have been much use to anyone when he was ‘low’.

  • file

    The public gave up the right to individual privacy when it signed up to Twitter and Faceache. And so did politicians.

    I am a bit dubious about the compulsory retirement age of 60 for top civil servants. I seem to have seen a few wrinklies around whispering into ministers’ ears.

  • Roger

    Top class Korhomme; an absorbing read.

  • the rich get richer

    So , Our great and glorious Leaders have been economical with information yet again…….You’d wonder how real their commitment to democracy has been……

    Democracy with the Information we give you……………….Tony Blair anyone….Mind you he suffers from that Lie-ing Disease……

    A lot of them have that mind , perhaps its contagious…………

  • Granni Trixie

    I have long felt from observing politicians (though they may not know it) could be on the Aspergers scale (interaction style, lack of eye contact and empathy and sometimes, exceptional memory).

  • file

    We are all on the Apserger’s spectrum, Granni: it is a spectrum, like intelligence is a spectrum. Did you miss me?

  • Tarlas

    Thank you for this interesting post. It highlights the flaws in our social expectations of leaders to be out there, dressed to kill but wearing their rags of life.

  • Gopher

    That would change the narrative somewhat of his deposition from power. You would have to give the DUP credit at least for being able to get rid of a leader of Paisleys standing. Compare and contrast to Corbyn and the difficulties Labour have. One thing and I give Paisley credit for and I give him credit for very little is there was always a distinct second in command, maybe that came to bite him in the end but that sensible protocol was there unlike other idelogical parties.

    Going back to Churchill, to his credit he always stated that Eden would succeed if anything happened to him on his many dangerous flights around the world. You can look at other parties today and personages in history and see the void beyond their personal control, that is purely there to protect them from internal coups.

  • AntrimGael

    Without seeking to trivialise an absorbing read didn’t LBJ fart and belch his way constantly through his Presidency, often in front of colleagues and media? Didn’t he suffer from bowel ‘indiscretions’?

  • Gopher

    I think its easy to blame Yalta on Roosovelts illness, but in reality it was a triumph of soviet diplomacy and the poor advice Roosevelt was given. Just as I think its harsh to blame Pearl Harbour or WWI on Hull or Grey, there would have been little a fit young man could have doen to prevent either.

    Roosevelt suffered from poor advice in the latter half of WWII which was largely brought about by inter-service rivallry. That advice led him to believe that any invaision of Japan would be a blood bath. That gave Stalin a big advantage as he could offer Russian intervention in the far east and Roosevelt would give him anything to secure that.

    Stalin put off Yalta when the military situation was unfavorable to him vis a vis the Allies and only agreed to it when the Americans were up to their neck in the Ardenne suffering over 80,000 casaulties and the end of the campaigning season meant they would be stuck west of the Rhine until spring 45, timing in politics is everything.

    Marshall and King were putting forward now rediculous totals of a million casaulties to conquer Japan. It was not known that the Atomic Bomb would work, the USAAF had not yet understood the need to copy Bomber Commands area attacks and the US navies submarines were only just getting released from fleet work to pursue economic warfare. The Subs and the USAAF subsequently brought Japan to its knees in a short space of time with minimal casualties. The Atomic bombs only adding 2% damage to the total the B29’s had already achieved conventionally. This argument was put forward by MacArthur and Nimitz and was ignored.

    On a human level the fear in the US army was such that they executed their only soldier for desertion at this time Eddie Slovak.

    Against that background Roosevelt sick or otherwise made a bad deal with Stalin and cut Britain and Churchill out of the loop. Incidently this is when Churchill done his reverse ferret over area bombing when he realiased he would likely need Germany after the war for Europes protection, this ferret of course would not have been reversed in Japans case had the war continued.

  • ted hagan

    We are all on ‘spectrums’ of some sort I suppose, but as a father of a son with Asperger’s, I’m afraid, in reality; that does not alleviate the many hurdles in life someone with the condition has to surmount. It’s so much more than just eccentricity.

  • John Collins

    Or was that an obvious’ lack of social graces’? I just hope he did not attempt those delicate manouvers simultaneously.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Quite a few others besides the occasional Arthur Wellesley went to Eton, Gopher, and of those I know personally, I’d not expect them to do all that well if pitted against the Emperor! It has been unkindly said all too frequently that an Eton education ensures 100% solid veneer, but the strongest assurance of future success is the network of contacts which follows on such an education, something generally accepted by those who may have experienced it themselves. Have you read any of the novels of my old acquaintance the late Simon Raven (“the Captain”)?

    Perhaps no-one has written about the English elite so revealingly (and hilariously). I read Simon’s first few novels as hand me downs cast off from the piles of books occasioned by my Uncle’s voracious reading taste during the 1960s and then met Simon in the 1970s through a few friends we had in common. One of his later autobiographies was banned for its scurrilous revelations about the great and the good, but not before I’d luckily bought a copy. You should have heard him on Wellington!

  • SeaanUiNeill

    You are perhaps forgetting Churchill’s “fads”. He steadily demanded gaining the advantage with either biological or chemical warfare. He had already employed gas against the Bolshevicks in 1919 and was stridently declaiming its war winning potential as premier, something his generals luckily did not agree with:

    “I should be prepared to do anything [Churchill’s emphasis] that would hit the enemy in a murderous place. I may certainly have to ask you to support me in using poison gas. We could drench the cities of the Ruhr and many other cities in Germany …, We could stop all work at the flying bombs starting points…. and if we do it, let us do it one hundred per cent.

    — Winston Churchill, ‘Most Secret’ PRIME MINISTER’S PERSONAL MINUTE to the Chiefs of Staff, 6 July 1944.”

    This morally questionable suggestion is rather more than a “howler.”

  • Korhomme


  • Korhomme

    I guess discussions about what happened at Yalta are almost limitless.

    Roosevelt’s doctors forbade pilots from going above about 8000 feet because of FDR’s heart problems. Roosevelt went to Yalta by sea.

    Stalin professed a heart complaint, so the conference ‘had’ to be held in Yalta. Playing on your home ground does give you advantages. Russian banquets had almost endless toasts; Stalin refreshed his glass from a decanter of clear liquid. This was tasted on one occasion; it was iced water.

  • Korhomme

    Mention of Gallipoli reminds me; one of the Turkish commanders was Mustapha Kemal who, at least in Turkey, is seen as the ‘hero’ who repulsed the landings. Mustapha later became President of the residuum of the Ottoman Empire, the Turkish Republic. He insisted on a secular state, and got rid of both the Sultanate and the Caliphate, the secular and theological leadership. He introduced ‘surnames’, becoming Kemal Atatürk, the ‘father of the Turks’. He would discuss and argue with other politicians for hours over many rounds of rakı. Unsurprisingly, he died in office from cirrhosis of the liver. He also developed Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome; this includes memory loss and ‘psychosis’. It’s due to a lack of thiamine, vitamin B1. Though originally two syndromes were described, their close association means that today they are grouped together.

  • Korhomme

    The idea of a deputy is important. The vice-president is a sort of deputy in the US. When Wilson was incapacitated, his personal physician did not certify his incapacity as ‘permanent’. (This also happened to an Italian president; his doctors would not certify him as permanently disabled, and unless they did, the Italian constitution was silent.) Eisenhower made arrangements when we was to have an operation, though the legal basis of this is questioned. The 25th Amendment to the Constitution which tries to lay down what happens when a president is incapacitated didn’t come until much later.

  • Korhomme

    Er, no. When in a hypomanic or manic phase, the person is certainly hyperactive, with rapid flows of ideas. But there isn’t the concentration or studied reasoning to go with them.

  • Korhomme

    I like the idea of a scurrilous (auto)biography. Is it now safe for you to reveal more of what Raven wrote?

  • Korhomme

    There’s an interview with Steve Hilton in today’s Guardian. He was Cameron’s ‘blue sky’ thinker. He doesn’t come out well, and the comments BTL are quite scathing.

  • Gopher

    Portal and his deputy Harris pointed out to Churchill that the V weapons were somewhat of a toy compared to the devastation Bomber Command could now wield against Germany and there was absolutely no need to use poison gas as a reprisal! Churchill bowed to their superior knowledge on the matter. I have no problem with Churchill floating the idea of gas, all options have to be on table.

  • file

    Studied reasoning in relation to our dead-end, junior hurling standard politicians? Chance would be a fine thing. Hyperactive and bubbling with ideas and vitriol and invective got Paisley a long way in most of his media interviews in the 70s and 80s if you remember rightly.

  • file

    Join the club, Ted. I have a daughter diagnosed as Asperger’s, but try my best to look on it as something that makes her special, not as a disadvantage. It is a spectrum, though, and she is closer to my end of it than to the autism end, so you have my sympathies for the special problems you have with your son. try to remember every so often though that ‘normal’ = average = boring. That keeps me optimistic.

  • Korhomme

    There were some interesting comments in Paisley’s obituaries. He would be chatting quite amiably to a reporter, then when he was ‘on camera’ he could switch to vitriolic, bellicose ranting. And when the interview was finished, so was the rant. He was very clearly in full control of himself in these episodes. By contrast, someone in the middle of a hypomanic or full blown manic episode is not in control of themselves or their thoughts.

  • ted hagan

    Much appreciated.

  • file

    He was as mad as a cut snake though – and twice as dangerous – you have to admit that?

  • Gopher

    Britain probably has an institutional problem with regards patronage, but those problems exist all over the world but without such a visible totem as Eton. Cromwell summed it up with his “plain, russet-coated Captain” letter and that was back in the 17th century. Fortunately we have had no problems turning out exceptional “plain, russet-coated Captains” down the years despite Eton and all the accoutrement. To be fair to Eton and priviledge some of our “Gentlemen” as Cromwell called them had quite abit about them.

  • Gopher

    I’m surprised you left out Castlereagh which would be a classic case

  • Korhomme

    My examples are 20th century, when we can be reasonably sure of the accuracy of the diagnosis.

    Going further back, we are less certain. Did Castlereagh have syphilis? Quite possibly, but we aren’t so sure.

    A future post filling in a few gaps is a possibility.

  • Gopher

    Whatever went wrong it whether medical or psychological it certainly had a terminal effect. It’s a coin toss between Bismarck or Castlereagh who was the greatest in the field of foriegn policy.

  • Ciarán Doherty

    What happens when voters are not fit to make informed decisions in the ballot box?

    The developed world has been ideologically dead for about 30 years, the moment you ask a meaningful question about the way society works you’re accused of “old fashion” thinking and that the “left right divide” is so passé etc. etc.

    Most people make a gut reaction to a tabloid headline and use that to form their entire opinion of a complex political or economic issue – is it any wonder our politicians are worthless gobshites?

  • tmitch57

    It is now widely accepted that Menahem Begin, the first leader of the Likud and the first Likud prime minister in Israel, suffered from clinical depression throughout his political career and this accounted for a temporary retirement from politics in 1951-52 after his party suffered badly in the elections to the Second Knesset and his retirement from politics in 1983 as the result of the death of his wife and the losses in the First Lebanon War.

  • tmitch57

    But Churchill delayed surrendering power to Eden until the latter was physically compromised. A similar situation existed in South Africa where Jan Smuts, the longtime leader of the United Party and the wartime prime minister, clung to power until two years after he had lost power in an election to the Nationalist Party. After that his successor, De Villiers, was unable to regain power from the Nats and decades of apartheid policy were the result.

  • Korhomme

    Kjell Magne Bondevik was Norwegian prime minister in 1998. He had an episode of depression, and ‘stood aside’ for several weeks. He was quite open about his illness. He later won re-election. His candid admission of illness was felt to have been to his political benefit.

  • Korhomme

    And it’s a question that I’m not in a position to answer.

  • Korhomme

    There’s more speculation around Paisley than there are facts about his health. Perhaps a future biographer will give us some answers.

  • Gopher

    In WWII had anything happened to Churchill, Eden was fully briefed and ready to step in. Compare and contrast to Roosevelt who knew his time was short and Harry Truman. Night and day

  • Gopher

    If you make as many decisions as Churchill did your going to have failure. Failure is a funny thing and is only likely to be serious if your enemies politcal or militarily can, one make it count and two draw the correct conclusions. The thing about Dieppe although a clear triumph for the Germans, they could niether use the victory nor did they draw the right conclusions. Churchill on the other hand was to use the failure of Dieppe to promote his Mediterean strategy

    So to recap victories are only good if you can use them, which is kinda the problem with our assembly nobody can turn a mandate into policy and if you cant use a defeat to get your act together better get out of politics.

  • file

    Doubt it … I only got my source because a family member is selective with his hippocratic Oath.

  • ted hagan

    Even Churchill’s Mediterranean strategy is questionable and controversial. Was it really beneficial? Churchill’s defiance and his ‘bulldog’ spirit were his best qualities for a beleaguered Britain at the start of the war. After that he promoted numerous crackpot schemes and had to be talked down by his military and naval commanders. He was also sidelined by the US allies towards the final years of the year.
    As a military strategist he was an utter failure.

  • Gopher

    Marshall wanted to invade France in 43 which equated to suicide, a suicide which incidently would have been mainly of British troops as the American Army did not exceed the British army in Europe until August 44. The biggest bottleneck for the Alllies was shipping. Torch and then Husky freed over a million tons of shipping as covoys no longer had to round the Cape. Donetz was aware of the effect that disaster would be on the U Boat campaign and insisted Tunisia had to be held which resulted in a loss to the Axis of 300,000 men. Donetz and Hitler repeated the same mistake in Courland later in the war. Invading Europe with 300,000 more men to defend it would not be an operation one would conduct lightly and certainly not in 43.

    Invading Sicily and subsequently the Italian mainland knocked Italy out of the war which meant the Germans had to replace the Italian garrions throughout the occupied terriories which involved some 250,000 German troops sitting on their backside in the Balkans.

    “Meanwhile the OKW had the bizarre idea of sending the 1st Panzer division to Greece where it was to guard against possible English landings in the Peloponnese. This division had only been brought up to full strength and was equiped with our first completed Panther Battalion. It provided our strongest reserve…….We were soon to bitterly miss the 1st Panzer Division in Russia.”


    It also removed from the Eastern Front many elite formations at a critical time when the Russians went onto the offensive. . In Northwest Europe after 43 the Luftwaffe would not fight within Spitfire range, over Malta Tunisia, Sicily and initially over Italy it was forced to and decimated. When the 6th army was surrounded at Stalingrad half the Luftwaffe airlift capability was in the west supplying Tunisia and other garrisons. On the ground, formations that should and could have been relieving Stalingrad were stuck fighting the Allies.

    The Americans are somewhat embarrased they got mugged by Stalin and have been pedalling BS about the Med Startegy ever since.

  • Korhomme

    It’s said that there are no objective tests in psychiatry. There are tests for ‘physical’ diseases with psychiatric manifestations, but no such tests for ‘pure’ psychiatric illness. So there can be inter-personal variation, that is two or more physicians may not agree on the diagnosis, although the correlation is also said to be as good as in ‘physical’ diagnoses.

    There’s also the problem that many, perhaps most, people can at sometime exhibit symptoms of illness of the mind; and there’s also the difficulty of telling the pathological from the normal.

    This makes definitive diagnosis of psychiatric illness difficult and at times uncertain. While the non-physician might well think that someone is ‘mad’, an expert might think this doesn’t fit any recognised pattern. There’s a particular problem with forensic psychiatry; is the person a sociopath or a psychopath, crudely are they ‘bad or mad’?

    So for a diagnosis of Ian Paisley, I think we’d need more than a single opinion; we’d need several opinions, statements from third parties about behaviour, records of treatment, correlation of absences from work with treatment etc.

    I’d expect Paisley’s family to be reticent about releasing such information, claiming it was private and not in the public interest. Further, were it to be estabished that Paisley did indeed have a major psychiatric illness, there would be many questions around his political and religious work; there would be those who would say that it was all a fraud, and as many who would defend him. That would be a major political difficulty here, and clearly a reason to be cautious.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    And, Gopher, you should have heard “the Captain” himself lay forth on Cromwell’s “plain russet-coated Captain”….

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Gopher, far from bowing to superior knowledge Churchill steadily commended the use of Chemical agents all through the entire war, and clearly regarded its employment as a necessity if Britain had been invaded in 1940. Interestingly, he stated that no concern should be taken for the safety of British civilians in its use against the invaders. His experts constantly needed to talk him out of this obsession with the apparent necessity for British “frightfulness.” Luckily for humanity the had the clincher that Germany had acquired a far more advanced nerve gas with the development of Sarin in 1938. Both sides were fully aware that any such escalation could have unforeseeable consequences. It is always of some interest that while the NSDAP had their own ideological interests in atrocity, the German military itself appears to have taken the lead in limiting the use of such weaponry, and pointedly did not develop a strategic bomber force which could be used against civilians, while Britain pushed as far as the could in this matter, as your citing Harris points to.

    Since the ruinous wars of the early to mid seventeenth century the idea that “all options have to be on the table” has been in critiqued by all serious people. You may have encountered word of the Hague and Geneva Conventions of the twentieth century, whose intention was to ensure that the dangers of a free for all did not actually occur in the volatile atmosphere of modern scientific progress? Since 1993 193 nations have signed and ratified the Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production, Stockpiling and Use of Chemical Weapons and on their Destruction.

    Of course Britain, despite occasional claims to the contrary, has seldom given the lead in such matters, and their actions in WWII regarding the intentional targeting of civilians was entirely at odds with advanced pre-war world opinion on such matters. Churchill himself was well to the fore in pressing for such restrictions to be ignored.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    I’m not at all sure that I can reveal anything still. Simon’s 1990 “Is There Anybody There? Said the Traveller, Memories of a Private Nuisance” had to be withdrawn from sale by his publisher under threat of numerous libel suits (one from his previous publisher), but is still (thankfully) available second hand from the stock sold before the full horror for the elite of his delicious revelations became clear!

    A few of those pilloried are still with us, and I’d be reluctant to endanger Slugger’s legal health by mentioning any names, let alone any of Simon’s wonderful anecdotes. I should mention that, as with my old friend the late Victor Spinetti’s autobiography, what is actually in print is a very diluted version of what one heard from both raconteurs at 2-3 in the morning over the last pourings of a fine wine.

  • Korhomme

    I have taken the hint! 🙂

  • SeaanUiNeill

    OH dear , Eden! The original model for Tony Blair’s gun boat diplomacy. Ho humm…….

    “Anthony Nutting recalled that Eden told him, “What’s all this nonsense about isolating Nasser or ‘neutralising’ him as you call it? I want him destroyed, can’t you understand? I want him murdered, and if you and the Foreign Office don’t agree, then you’d better come to the cabinet and explain why.” When Nutting pointed out that they had no alternative government to replace Nasser, Eden apparently replied, “I don’t give a damn if there’s anarchy and chaos in Egypt.” ”

    Yes, just what we needed during WWII………

  • SeaanUiNeill

    It has recently been suggested that Yeats’ much noted social issues were an expression of Aspergers syndrome. So your children are in excellent company, Ted and file.

  • Korhomme

    Wasn’t Churchill’s idea of the Med as the route to Imperial India?

    And what of Operation Mincemeat, ‘The Man who never was’ in diverting attention to Greece?

  • Korhomme

    Many years ago, I was at a talk given by a very senior surgeon in NI. His subject was the air raid on Bari in southern Italy; he was present during that attack, and attended the injured.

    The air raid was a major disaster for the Allies, with many ships sunk. Further, one ship was carrying mustard gas; this was released in the bombing, and poisoned many people. The presence of mustard gas was kept secret at the time; no one in Bari knew of it. The intention, apparently, was to use it in retalliation for any use by the Axis powers.

    The surgeons noticed something odd in the patients; their white blood cells were markedly reduced. They had no immediate answer to this. Only when an American arrived who recognised the likely effects of the gas were they able to treat people properly.

    After the war, further research on mustard gas produced nitrogen mustard, the first chemotheraputic agent — the first anti-cancer drug.

    What really happened at Bari was kept secret for a very long time; my colleague did get access to some papers in the National Records at Kew, but on condition that he did not publish anything. If you read Churchill’s WWII history, you’ll find the episode is whitewashed over.

  • Gopher

    My reading is apart from the strategic benefits of Naval and Air superiority in the region and the relative weakness of Allies in ground forces and amphibious craft making it the only theatre where the Allies could hope to fight in 43, Churchills main aim was to induce Turkey into the war on the Allied side. In that goal he ultimately failed.

    Operation mincemeat was part of the deception plan for the invasion of Sicily and helped spread the Germans lack of reserves even thinner. What is interesting to me is “Mincemeat” a very human story came to light in the fifties wheras other inteligence secrets were maintained until the seventies which suggests something fishy around the disclosure as if to draw attention away from other inteligence operations.

  • Gopher

    When discussing History and this is as pertinent today with North Korea in the news as it has been since the dawn of time and I always find it very difficult to get the point across that 70,000 tons of Sarin constitutes alot of gas in storage with no means of delivery. Bomber command dropped more bombs in one Raid than the Germany did in a year. If Germany esculated they would find themselves out gassed in a very short time. Just like an Artillery piece is just a hollow tube without shells, sarin without a means of delivery is useless. Bomber Comand and the 8th Airforce had the means of delivery.

    The second problem your humanist German friends faced with regards gas was if they decided to use it as just a battlefield weapon was the bulk of the German army relied on horses for transport whilst the western Allies were fully mechanized. You cant gas a truck. So nope the German Army were not keen on Gas for obvious practical reasons.

    Many books have been written about the basket case that was the Luftwaffe and they are worth a read. Up until 1936 under chief of staff Walter Wever the Luftwaffe was heading down the strategic bomber route. The Bomber project was called the “Ural Bomber” . War with the Soviet Union was visualized that far back. Wever died in 1936 and his replacements did not believe in Strategic bombing they believed tactical support and went down that route not through any goodness of heart. They cancelled Wevers projects except one the HE177 which ironically had its design specification approved on the day he died and tried to turn it into a dive bomber, the result was a tragi-comedy.

    Interestingly the switch to twin engined medium bombers did not stop those humanitarians bombing Guernica in 1937

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Really, Gopher, it’s well attested that the German military were influenced by the Hague Conventions. Churchill simply wasn’t.

    It’s interesting that you mention Walter Wever. Particularly as his five points regarding strategic bombing in “Die Luftkriegfuhrung” are aimed at military targets and clearly conformed to the approach of all other countries during the 1930s in specifically avoiding the approach based on the targeting of civilian populations upon which which Britain during WWII. Wever was never a disciple of Douhet and in his formulated opinions in “Die Luftkriegfuhrung” considered such “Terror bombing” attacks as entirely counter-productive in that they strengthened an enemies will to resist.

    That old canard about Guernica always ignores the fact that the town provided barracks for two Republican battalions effectively using the civilian population as human shields. James S. Corum’s authorative work on the Luftwaffe (easily found) clearly shows that “the bombings of Guernica, Rotterdam and Warsaw were tactical missions in support of military operations and were not intended as strategic terror attacks” unlike the strategic terror bombing carried out by “Bomber” Harris whose aim was the destruction of civilian populations.

    Regarding the Sarin gas issue, used on the battlefield, it would have been devastating, as it was far in advance of anything the allies could deploy in this period. Your comments about Germany being “out gassed” clearly show you do not even begin to understand the tremendous threat Sarin, as a nerves agent, posed, which the British military thankfully did understand, and a accordingly curbed Churchill’s reckless amorality in this matter.

  • Gopher

    The general thrust of Korhomme thread is to have smooth transitions if medical conditions or infact death incapacitates a leader. Edens ability is immateriel to the thread. Churchill had the foresight of an up to speed stand in had anything happened to him. Eden still would have had Brooke, Porrtal and Cunningham to direct the war just as Churchill had.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    “Edens ability is immateriel to the thread. Churchill had the foresight of an up to speed stand in had anything happened to him.”

    Really Gopher? I don’t think so. Churchill required some serious corralling to avoid lethally serious blunders, while Eden when tested took his blunders up to the line and ignored advice.

    Napoleon reputedly once said ” I have wise generals, but give me one who is lucky.” Winnie was very lucky in that, despite his crippling problems, he made less mistakes than Hitler, just as Eden was lucky not to have been tested until late in life.