Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Condon misattributes quote to Churchill in the State of the City speech

Posted By on Tue, Feb 16, 2016 at 3:44 PM

As misquotes go, this is a comparatively minor one. Spokane Mayor David Condon wasn't trying to push an agenda with an inaccurate quote or put a fake quote in the law like Rep. Matt Shea did recently

So when Condon said during his State of the City speech on Friday that "Winston Churchill famously said, 'Those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it,'" it's an understandable error. It's a mistake that plenty of others have made before. 
click to enlarge Condon misattributes quote to Churchill in the State of the City speech
Those who do not learn from history are doomed to misquote Winston Churchill

But as the Inlander's Senior Historical Misquote Correspondent, I couldn't just let this slide. 

Churchill didn't say that. 

Instead, that's a common paraphrase of a very famous quote from philosopher George Santayana (or "Jorge Agustín Nicolás Ruiz de Santayana y Borrás," if you prefer that moniker) in his 1905 series, The Life of Reason: the Phases of Human Progress.

"Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it," Santayana wrote. 

But maybe Churchill ended up quoting or paraphrasing Santayana? Not so, say the blokes at the National Churchill Museum.

In 2012, the museum answered a question from a New York librarian on whether Churchill ever said that quote. Probably not, the museum said. Instead, Churchill seemed more focused on criticizing hot-take culture. 

"Churchill worried not so much that those who forget the past are condemned to relive it, but that the loss of the past would mean 'the most thoughtless of ages. Every day headlines and short views,'" the museum's answer says, quoting a 1948 Churchhill speech.

Similarly, in a 1935 House of Commons speech after the Stresa Conference, he suggests that failure to act quickly in considering the future, not necessarily a failure to adequately ruminate upon the past, will result in history repeating itself. 
"Want of foresight, unwillingness to act when action would be simple and effective, lack of clear thinking, confusion of counsel until the emergency comes, until self-preservation strikes its jarring gong — these are the features which constitute the endless repetition of history,” Churchill said.

In using Santayana's quote, Condon's larger point was actually to set up the opposite argument. That if we don't learn from our successes, we're doomed to never repeat them. This gave Condon an opportunity to reel off the long list of successes of his administration, including the street levy, the park bond, the river cleanup, Spokane Gives and a number of police initiatives. 

He also pointed to the windstorm in November as proof of how Spokane helps its neighbors.

"By the time the sun came up the next morning, Spokane was already working together to help each other. Government, business and nonprofits worked side-by-side to identify and deploy resources to meet critical needs," Condon said. "Hundreds of volunteers mobilized to knock on thousands of doors to check on those most impacted by the storm. Churches, community groups, businesses, schools and many, many others made arrangements for people to come in out of the cold and have a warm meal. Inland Strong became the rallying cry of a community that needed to work together to get things done."

His speech included a moment of apology for the Straub scandal, though not an admission of intentional wrongdoing. 

"That progress has not been without some learning. The past few months have been challenging, and let me take a moment to apologize," Condon said. "Let me apologize to the community and City Council for any confusion that has been created by the way the events have unfolded. It was never my intention, nor that of my administration, to inaccurately portray anything."

Read Condon's whole speech here or watch it below. 

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About The Author

Daniel Walters

A lifelong Spokane native, Daniel Walters was a staff reporter for the Inlander from 2009 to 2023. He reported on a wide swath of topics, including business, education, real estate development, land use, and other stories throughout North Idaho and Spokane County.His work investigated deep flaws in the Washington...