The Night Twain Roasted Churchill

Mark Twain, the longtime bard of the Mississippi, introduced Winston Churchill to a crowd of wealthy Americans packed inside New York’s Waldorf Astoria hotel ballroom in December 1900 — one of those rare meetings of historic figures that occurred so often in Churchill’s life. “I was thrilled by this famous companion of my youth,” Winston recalled of Twain, a literary inspiration. “He was now very old and snow-white, and combined with a noble air a most delightful style of conversation.” Winston expected to be lionized by Twain but instead had his tail tweaked. Within no time, Twain whittled Churchill down a peg or two. Although his friendly introduction wasn’t a tar-and-feathering, Twain made plain how wrongheaded Churchill had been about the British Empire pestering those poor indigent people in places like India and South Africa. Churchill “knew all about war and nothing about peace,” Twain told the standing-room-only audience, many of whom seemed to agree with him. If Twain were alive today to see what the American Empire has become, he’d never stop throwing up.

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