No one seems to know where they put the 2.5 million copies of this motivational poster in 1939 Great Britain. Only a few were ever seen when they were most needed. But today they are everywhere, especially in updated versions. I bought one in Manly, Sydney. It now sits next to my computer, its message intended not for me but for visitors who interrupt the publishing of posts like this. It reads : “Keep calm and piss off”.
The original, quintessentially British, message was no doubt meant to be taken seriously by blitzed Brits, proud of their stiff upper lip. Maybe someone post factum realized that while one could imagine a stereotype, like the Colonel played by Alec Guinness, actually saying this to his men in the appalling conditions of their P.O.W camp, as they built the bridge on the river Kwai, it bordered on caricature and was, no doubt, written off as an expensive P.R. snafu.
In fact, it doesn’t help much anyhow to tell people to be calm. In a crisis, the best arms to avoid chaos are the example and steel nerves of a leader. Calm and courage, like fear and frenzy, are contagious. Churchill will remain, for Britain and the world, the model of leadership in seemingly hopeless situations. His “We will fight them on the beaches . . .”, June 4, 1940, displayed the true grit of the right man in the right place who galvanized a nation, although his slurred articulation revealed that he was, as usual, tipsy at the time. At the end of his speech, the House of Commons broke into thunderous applause, but when he sat down one of his Ministers asked him : “But Winston, how are we going to do all that ?”. The P.M. replied : “I have no idea.” Calm, Britain would carry on regardless. And prevail. Bloody Brits !
The crises most of us face are storms in cups of Earl Grey compared with that facing Churchill, Hitler’s barbaric blitzkrieg. It is gratifying to note that he appealed to his fellow-citizens’ guts and resourcefulness, and not to wishful thinking and faith in a non-existent “God”, although he did slip into his vision of ultimate victory, the hollow, politically correct phrase, “in God’s good time”. God save the King, and all that.