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Bring Me The Head Of Winston Churchill

Sir Winston Churchill was recently voted by Britons as the greatest Briton in history.
Sir Winston Churchill was recently voted by Britons as the greatest Briton in history.
The fate of a 1946 bust of former Prime Minister Winston Churchill is a story that refuses to die.

The bust by American artist Sir Jacob Epstein sat for eight years in the White House Oval Office under President George W. Bush. After coming to office, President Barack Obama had it quietly returned to Britain, from which it was on loan.

The move continues to be used as a symbol of the deteriorating state of U.S.-British relations. Rodger Cohen, in a recent op-ed in "The New York Times" on the state of Anglo-American relations, asks "What, if anything, is left of the 'special relationship'?"

The first example he gives of the downgraded partnership is that Obama "removed a Churchill bust from the Oval Office." The Cohen quip scratches the surface of one of the more interesting moments in diplomatic gift giving.

Originally, President George W. Bush chose the piece to draw a personal link between himself and Churchill's lonely stand again fascism.

Conversely, President Barack Obama had strong personal reasons for removing it. As a recent "New York Times" book review points out, his paternal grandfather, Hussein Onyango Obama, was held for two years without trial and tortured in Kenya under Churchill's government.

Even more important, the bust was fairly ugly.

Obama replaced it with a bust of his hero, President Abraham Lincoln. Then-Prime Minister Gordon Brown gave President Obama a pen holder made from the timber of an antislavery vessel in order to maintain the presence of an important British artifact in the White House.

Ironically, both Bush and Obama are distant relatives of Churchill.

-- Joseph Hammond

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Written by RFE/RL editors and correspondents, Transmission serves up news, comment, and the odd silly dictator story. While our primary concern is with foreign policy, Transmission is also a place for the ideas -- some serious, some irreverent -- that bubble up from our bureaus. The name recognizes RFE/RL's role as a surrogate broadcaster to places without free media. You can write us at

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