Paul Greenberg

There are certain rivals who may differ on the issues, and in style and background and even basic attitude, yet understand and respect one other. For they belong to the same club -- the fraternity of the great.

Few historic figures would seem to have less in common than Winston Churchill, who championed the British Empire, and Mahatma Gandhi, who led India's struggle for independence from it.

But whatever their differences on that great issue, they were bound together by a mutual respect for each other, despite anything they might have said in the heat of the moment. If there is a single word to describe the quality they shared, what would it be? Excellence, principle, manners? Let's use a term whose full meaning, with all its admirable connotations, was once widely understood in our society. For each in his own distinctive way was a . . . gentleman. If anyone can still remember what a gentleman was, for it has become a vanishing breed, even in these Southern latitudes.

Each would come to symbolize their fidelity to what they believed in -- Churchill for his defiant dedication to freedom in the empire's Finest Hour, and Gandhi for his pacifist piety. They made quite a contrast in outward appearance, as visitors to Parliament Square in London will soon be able to see at a glance. That's where a statue of the Mahatma is now to join the one of the Rt. Hon. Winston Leonard Spencer Churchill, scion of Dukes of Marlborough.

As might have been expected, the news that a statue of Gandhi would go up outside Parliament elicited triumphant reactions from those who think of him as Churchill's "nemesis," to quote one news story, and couldn't resist interpreting the news as a rejection of Churchill's legacy. To quote Kabir Taneja of the Guardian, "Churchill's statue may develop a frown when Gandhi's statue is placed alongside him."

It was left to Richard M. Langworth, president of the Churchill Centre in Washington, to point out what rot such breezy comments are. For they ignore all the things Churchill and Gandhi had in common.


Paul Greenberg

Pulitzer Prize-winning Paul Greenberg, one of the most respected and honored commentators in America, is the editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.