Hell Means Never Having to Say You’re Sorry

[An unoccupied, windowless but otherwise plushly decorated hotel room. The single door opens and a valet escorts Tony Blair, Winston Churchill and Margaret Thatcher into the room. Churchill and Thatcher take seats on either side of the room. Blair stands in the middle.]

Blair: I have no regrets.

Thatcher: I have no regrets.

Churchill: I have many regrets. A man without regret is a man who has done nothing or cared even less.

Blair: Look, what I mean to say is…

Thatcher: Will you keep on doing that? Will you keep on reinterpreting what you say, like a chorus of commentary upon yourself? There’s no voters here. There’s no need to maintain the pretense. Stand by what you say and do. There’s no pretense here – here, of all places.

Blair: The thing is, I really don’t see why I’m here. The decision I took — and frankly would take again — was in the best interests of peace. If there was any possibility that Saddam could develop weapons of mass destruction…

Churchill: Any possibility, do you say? By that principle I assume you’d enslave us all, for the possibility always persists. The man of judgement balances probabilities, not possibilities. When Stalin sequestered half of Europe within his iron curtain, his tyranny was certain. The reason for our not acting was not based on possibility, for we knew what he would do and the threat he posed to our continued security. We did not act because of probabilities, not possibilities. The probability was that further war would have resulted in greater tragedy. It was imaginable to have continued the war, to have kept our forces mobilized and turned them on our allies of convenience, the Soviet war machine. We gave it thought. I had the report written, though in those days we mostly used military intelligence to make decisions, not to make propaganda. We thought about it; I thought about it, but we did not strike against Stalin. To have done so would have done more harm than good, no matter how terrible his tyranny proved to be. Possibilities did not come into it.

Thatcher: I admire you, Winston.

Churchill: Admire yourself, dear lady. I made my choices as best I could, and see where I am now.

Blair: (to Churchill) I admire you too.

Churchill: I’d offer the same advice as proferred to Margaret, but I fear you have no need of it. You’re too full of self-admiration already.

Blair: Now, see, what I did was within the law… (interrupted)

Churchill: You remind me of that manipulating schemer, Gandhi. He knew the law. He was also a wizard who knew how to beguile people. When I compare you to that fakir of fakery, I don’t mean it as a compliment.

Thatcher: You shouldn’t be here, Winston. You saved democracy in World War II.

Churchill: I suppose I’ll find out why I’m here in due course. Perhaps I sent too many to their deaths, or perhaps too few. Perhaps it was the lives lost at Gallipoli, or refusing to turn on the Russians in order to save the Eastern Europeans at the end of the Second World War. Or perhaps it was returning Britain to the Gold Standard, and all the trouble that caused. Who can say. In this universe there’s a judgement wiser than that of men.

Thatcher: You shouldn’t be here, Winston. We all make mistakes. The General Strike, riots, political upheaval, the end of empire… you faced it all. A leader cannot afford to second-guess every decision. If you were brutal sometimes, it is because you had to be firm to be fair.

Churchill: I had to be firm to be fair? Perhaps. But it sounds like you’re justifying yourself more than you’re consoling me. When asked if we make mistakes, we assure that we do, for we are human after all. But when asked to identify a single mistake, our memory fades and not a one comes to mind.

Blair: I made mistakes. The former Yugoslavia for instance… (interrupted)

Thatcher: (To Blair) You would have made a tolerable leader of the Tory party. You’re greatest mistake was to join with Labour.

Churchill: Give the boy some credit. Leaders pick their parties, not the other way around. I was a rat more than once. The boy picked a side and it suited him – at least he stuck to it, unlike me. There’s no great harm in his choosing to sit opposite you. It shows he had the foresight to swim with the tide, not against it. And at least he deserves credit for never being a socialist.

Thatcher: Yes, at least you were never a socialist, were you Tony?

Tony: Look, I think we’re drifting off the point here a little, don’t you think? We should… (interrupted)

Churchill: (Lifts his cane, to point angrily at Blair) The point you say? What point would that be? I was battling with the House of Lords before you were born. I was introducing taxes to redistribute wealth from the rich to the poor before it became fashionable. And what, in comparison, did you do? You turned the second chamber into a monstrosity of government lackeys, and the welfare state into a drain on every decent working fellow. The point is that we are here, and by God’s will we deserve to be. That is the only point that I can see, beyond this here point (waves cane) that I’m pointing at you.

Blair: Well, I don’t understand why I should be here. I was a good Christian all my life… (interrupted)

Thatcher: So was I. I was brought up a strict Methodist. We’re here because we failed, to some degree. Perhaps it was the impossibility of the decisions we faced that has led us to be here.

Churchill: I rather suspect that vanity was the deadly sin that pays for our lodging in this establishment. It’s vanity to think a man can rise himself above his fellows and be much better or wiser than the rest of them. A necessary vanity, perhaps, but vanity all the same.

Blair: Listen, we’re not tyrants. We were elected. I was elected to protect and serve the British people, by the British people. To do that, I realized that regime change was necessary and inevitable in Iraq if we wanted to protect… (interrupted)

Thatcher: We don’t have to listen to you. Please stop now. You’re making this intolerable.

(The room falls silent as Blair realizes the truth of this.)

Churchill: That’s the greatest torment the poor boy can imagine – to not be listened to. He has been listened to all his life, as was I. I think only you, Margaret, can understand what it was like to fight for the limelight.

Thatcher: I am a woman, but I never saw that as a serious impediment.

Blair: Nor should you, opportunity should be for all in equal measure… (interrupted)

Thatcher: You say that without irony, don’t you? And I thought you were only allowed to be Labour Party leader, only had the chance to be Primeminister, because you were a well-spoken, well-schooled white Englishman that the middle classes could warm too. That was the essence of your attraction, wasn’t it? As Primeminister, my government delivered social mobility. Your government eroded it. You talk about reducing social barriers yet you built them higher for all, and took advantage of them for yourself. It’s almost enough to make you feel sorry for Gordon Brown.

Blair: I’m not inclined to take a lecture from you on how to reduce division in society. My point is that… (interrupted)

Churchill: (Points with his cane) And this, is my point!

Blair: (Resumes and talks over Churchill) There is a point and I intend to share it, even if you’re unwilling to hear me out. We’re politicians and we did what we thought best. I’ll plead my case and I’ll plead it to anyone who’ll listen. If you’re not listening, then fair enough, I’ll practice and you can talk to each other or sit in silence as you please. I can account for what I’ve done and that’s what I intend to do.

Churchill: There’s no need to give your account. You’re not surrounded by journalists any longer, except in so far as I was once counted an exponent of that profession. No, accounts are not needed here. To atone is what is needed, not to account.

Blair: (Getting angry) Look, I did nothing wrong.

Thatcher: (Grave) I did what I believe was right, but I still sent British troops to their graves. War is not a topic for frivolous equivocation.

Blair: (Gesticulating) We had to deal with this threat of WMD. Because of terrorism, the calculus of risk had changed immeasurably since the two of you were leaders. I believed it was beyond doubt that Saddam had continued to produce chemical and biological weapons. But suppose we put it the other way around. It’s really really important to understand the decision I took, and would take again, was that the primary consideration was not to take any risks with Saddam. This was a man who showed his willingness to use WMDs against his own people, when he gassed thousands of Kurds… (interrupted)

Churchill: In my time, I also ordered the use of poison gas against the Kurdish rebels. They were uncivilized and it proved to be effective if also cruel. (To Blair) I suppose that means you could have justified the overthrow of my regime, if it had suited you.

Thatcher: Please stop with the speech-making, both of you. I think I’d rather like to sit in quiet now.

Blair: I’ll not sit in quiet. (Looks upwards) He is listening to us, as always. He can hear me defend myself…

Thatcher: You’re not the only lawyer in this room. But that doesn’t mean you’re entitled to a judge or jury.

Blair: (Ignores Thatcher) The fact is, force is always an option. What changed after September 11 was that it was necessary — and there was no other way of dealing with this threat — for us to remove Saddam. (To Thatcher) You, of all people, should appreciate that, to stand up to terror and to tyrants. The primary consideration for me was to send an absolutely powerful, clear and unremitting message that, after September 11, if you were a regime engaged in WMD, you had to stop.

Churchill: Unless you’re regime is too powerful or too inconvenient to stop, like the Communists in Korea or the Jews in the Middle East. I think now you should stop. Margaret is right. We’ve had our opportunities to talk throughout our lives. Now may be the time to turn to quiet contemplation of what we did.

Blair: I take responsibility for what I’ve done. I have no regrets.

Thatcher: I’m not for turning back and retracing my steps. However, perhaps now might be a time for looking back and admitting a regret or two.

Churchill: I have many regrets, although I’m also prepared to admit that I did what I thought was right at the time and would doubtless do most, if not all of it again. That’s why I expect we’re here. For good or bad, we’re irredeemably human, and prone to err. I intend to ask for forgiveness. Even if I can’t divine my faults, I’m confident that they exist anyhow.

Thatcher: You must be sincere to ask for forgiveness.

Blair: (Shakes head) There’s no forgiveness that I seek. I’ll be judged by what I’ve done and the consequences, which were good. That’s good enough for me.

Churchill: Perhaps forgiveness is beyond us. We’re tools of the master, or of whatever forces that exist in his place and that we just imagine must take his form. We are made as well as we were intended to be, save for any defects in the exercise of our free will, for which only we can take the blame. For my faults, I’ll take my punishment however it’s administered. I served my short time on Earth, and filled it as best I could. That time I treated not as a gift, but as merely borrowed. If now I must serve as your fellow inmate, locked in this asylum of reflection, I’ll take that as my fit and proper punishment, and my just reward.

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