There's a famous quote by Winston Churchill that, when asked to cut arts funding in favour of the war effort, he replied: “Then what are we fighting for?” (it can be found here, among other places).

Is this true?

  • 2
    Followed your link to Facebook. Second comment had a link to this article: blogs.telegraph.co.uk/technology/micwright/100010200/….
    – TRiG
    Jan 15, 2014 at 0:58
  • I remember hearing this quote for the first time in a speech by J. Carter Brown who was at that time the Director of the National Gallery of Art. Since I could not remember the exact words, I started searching for the quote, but I never could find a reliable reference; so, this mis-quote or fabricated quote goes well back into the 1980's...
    – user30511
    Jan 4, 2016 at 3:46

1 Answer 1


The quotation is bogus and there may not have been much to cut.

There's no evidence that Churchill said this

According to the Telegraph the quotation is bogus.

Spend enough time on Facebook or Twitter and you'll eventually come across a quote which purportedly emerged from that bulldog visage in the darkest days of World War II. It has Churchill responding to a plan to cut money for the arts to fund the war effort by saying: "Then what are we fighting for?"

It's a pithy line and it sounds a little Churchillian but the great man never said it.


If we want the next generation to have any notion of real history beyond warmed-up, fabricated aphorisms, we'd best start teaching them to fact-check.

Rischard Langworth, a Churchill historian reports

This alleged quotation was raised a few years ago in the Village Voice and is all over the web, but it is not in any of Churchill’s 15 million speeches [words in his], papers, letters, articles or books.

The premise of the quotation is incorrect

The alleged quotation suggests that cutting money for arts could provide a significant source of additional funding for the war effort. However the amounts involved are so trivial that the preservation of arts funding is hardly heroic.

According to the History of the Arts Council

  • 1940 Committee for Encouragement of Music and the Arts (CEMA) set up by Royal Charter

  • 1941 John Maynard Keynes becomes Chair of CEMA

  • 1945 46 arts organisations are funded by CEMA

According to theV&A Museum

The initial objective of the committee was to give financial assistance to cultural societies finding difficulty in maintaining their activities during the War. The committee was funded by £25,000 from the Pilgrim Trust, of which Lord Macmillan and Dr Thomas Jones were also the chairman and secretary respectively.

In 1940 the committee, enlarged by the inclusion of several new members, was formally appointed as the Council for the Encouragement of Music and the Arts (CEMA) by Lord De La Warr, President of the Board of Education. The new Council began to receive direct funding from the government.

In 1940 Britain spent £643 million on defence

Adding any sum similar to 25,000 to the existing 643,000,000 defense expenditure was almost certainly not going to shorten the war noticeably. It seems unlikely that Churchill was really faced with an important choice between the two.

  • 5
    I know you're only quoting, and that he (allegedly) didn't sleep much, but 15 million??
    – Benjol
    Jan 17, 2014 at 12:22
  • I'm sorry, but I am a bit confused by the second half. Is it supposed to demonstrate there was no art funding during WWII? Or that art funding increased during WWII?
    – Oddthinking
    May 2, 2014 at 15:30
  • @Oddthinking: Answer updated to clarify why I included the second part. It seems not many people find this answer useful so I'll probably delete it once a better answer appears. I'm not certain of the sums involved, hard numbers seem to be hard to find. May 2, 2014 at 22:24
  • @Benjol I thought perhaps they meant that the total recorded words in all types of media (spoken and written) on Churchill is about 15 million. This sounds like it is on the high end, but still possible. To put it into perspective: Shakespeare's 43 works constitute 884,421 words, and that's only written, published work. It seems plausible that all work (published, unpublished & spoken) could potentially add up to 15 million words if you were prolific, especially with letters. opensourceshakespeare.org/stats
    – Conor
    Oct 18, 2014 at 20:30
  • 3
    Damn it, I was about to use this in a paper. Well, glad I came here. May 20, 2015 at 10:15

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