by Terry Wieland
It was the summer of 1940, the Germans were threatening to invade, and things looked bleak. Having dinner with his family at Chartwell, Winston Churchill commented that if every English man and woman killed just one German, the invasion would fail.
Churchill’s lovely daughter-in-law, Pamela, objected that she did not know how to use a gun, so what could she do?
“You can find a kitchen knife, can’t you?” Churchill growled. Given Pamela’s renowned charms, getting close enough to a soldier to use one would have been no problem.
As for the rest of the population, British politicians and police had been busy since 1918 disarming them wherever possible, to the point that Americans and Canadians were asked to donate their guns to be shipped to England and distributed to the populace.
This is a lesson that many anti-gun people have either forgotten or never learned. For decades, especially since the end of the Cold War, the idea that anyone could be called on to resist an invasion has been dismissed. Anyone who still believes that should take a look at the Ukraine today, where military weapons are being distributed to civilians to go along with their hunting rifles and shotguns.
Early on in my sojourn as shooting editor of Gray’s, the question was raised as to whether, as a hunting, fishing, and literary magazine, we should support handgun ownership. Our then-Editor in Chief, David Foster, assured me that we could, and should, although he didn’t want me to go overboard at the expense of fine shotguns. After all, he pointed out, most of our readers probably owned at least one pistol, even if it was just kept in a drawer by the bed. And in the South, you’d likely find a handgun in every fisherman’s tackle box.
The other day, I had some workmen in doing some work on my internet connections. Just for fun, I asked each of the three if he was a gun guy. Two said yes. One owns half a dozen guns — pistols, a rifle, a shotgun — while the second had four pistols. The third didn’t think he qualified, since he owned just one pistol, a Glock .40 for self-defence, and didn’t do much shooting. Still, that makes the count four for four, if you include me.
At the same time I was doing this, more and more pictures were coming out of the Ukraine showing civilians in areas that had been occupied by the Russians, buried in mass graves, or shot with their hands tied behind their backs.
As we’ve seen, when it comes to defending themselves, either individually or as a nation, Ukrainians are no slouches. They have mastered the mass production of Molotov cocktails, the classic weapon of the down-trodden, and even introduced some refinements. But tell me: Faced with a gang of Putin’s thugs, would you rather be carrying a bottle of gasoline and a Bic lighter, or an AR-15 and a 1911?
There are so many aspects to this question, it’s hard to know where to start, and it’s impossible to cover any one of them thoroughly in the space we have. However.
Shortly after the invasion began, a poll in the United States, reported on by National Review, revealed that an alarming number of people said they would not fight for the U.S. were it invaded, but would flee instead. They didn’t say to where.
Then there was the member of the European parliament, no doubt wringing her hands, who said that since many Ukrainians were now armed, there would be even more bloodshed. Since unarmed Ukrainians are dying in large numbers, I’m not sure exactly what her point was, unless she was worried for all those poor innocent Russians who might face returned fire.
Here we could really get into some murk, which is to look at the relationship between armed civilians participating, out of uniform, in a shooting war, and the incidence of war crimes — i.e., the targeting of civilians — when this happens.
We can cite examples all the way back to the Franco-Prussian War of 1870, long before either the Hague or Geneva conventions. That war instilled in German soldiers a deep fear of franc-tireurs (guerrillas) that resulted in outright terrorism against the civilian population of Belgium in 1914.
There are suggestions from various sides that if civilians fight invaders, they can expect to pay the price, and the invaders can use this as justification for whatever they do. This sounds to me like a good topic for a law-school debating society, sipping sherry in the common room. In the real world of Russian thugs and AKs, with missiles raining down on residential areas, the grocery store looted and your home in flames, fighting back is really all you’ve got.
I didn’t ask my internet work crew if they’d fight if the U.S. was invaded. That seemed to be going a little far. But I can guess the answer.
Winston Churchill, by the way, was a life-long gun enthusiast, had actually used a pistol to kill men in combat, and was under no illusions. Even during the war, when he was pretty busy, he took time periodically for target practice.
Had German soldiers appeared at Chartwell, they would have received a warm welcome: From Winston in one way, and presumably from the delicious Pamela in another. War is hell.
Gray’s Shooting Editor Terry Wieland always keeps a few extra guns on hand to give to his more genteel neighbors in the event of trouble. As a war correspondent in the long ago, he witnessed what happens to unarmed populations.