Monday, April 9, was National Winston Churchill Day. We are in an era of ever multiplying commemorative days and admittedly some of them strike a unique combination of being both odd and unimportant. Take that same April 9: Churchill shares the day with Chinese Almond Cookies Day and Unicorns Say. But someone of Churchill’s caliber, who had an outsized impact on the 20th century — now, that is worthy of a day.
April 9 was chosen because on April 9, 1963 Winston Churchill became an honorary citizen of the United States, bestowed upon him by President John F. Kennedy. This is an American day of commemoration because Churchill’s legacy on this side of the pond is far less complicated than in his homeland.
Americans are often puzzled why Churchill was voted out of office almost immediately after winning WW II. It is confounding, not only because Churchill was prime minister during the war, but he was one of the few leaders in Britain who saw the dangers of Hitler early on. He strenuously advocated that Britain stand strong against what, at times, appeared to be an invincible enemy. But the cost of winning the war for Britain was heavy: immense loss of wealth, industry and lives — not to mention, the loss of the British empire. Britain was a totally different country when the war ended in 1945. The country was in need of sweeping domestic reforms. It also faced the challenge of accepting its diminished stature. Churchill wasn’t the man.
Even prior to this juncture in history, Churchill was not universally respected, which is probably why so many in Britain didn’t heed him in the years leading up the outbreak of war in September, 1939. As First Lord of the Admiralty in WW I, Churchill oversaw the disastrous Gallipoli campaign, an infamy that still lives on in Australia and New Zealand, whose troops fell in the thousands. During his long political career, Churchill made friends and enemies, and served in high ministerial positions, including as Chancellor of the Exchequer, when he supported the decision to return to the gold standard, ultimately another disaster.
Yet his leadership during WW II is undeniable, and his rhetorical skills put to test during that darkest time remain inspiring even today.
In honor of National Winston Churchill Day, here is a selection from some of his most inspiring orations.
“Blood, Toil, Tears and Sweat,” delivered May 13, 1940, first speech as prime minister to the House of Commons:
We have before us an ordeal of the most grievous kind. We have before us many, many long months of struggle and of suffering. You ask, what is our policy? I can say: It is to wage war, by sea, land and air, with all our might and with all the strength that G-d can give us; to wage war against a monstrous tyranny, never surpassed in the dark, lamentable catalogue of human crime. That is our policy. You ask, what is our aim? I can answer in one word: It is victory, victory at all costs, victory in spite of all terror, victory, however long and hard the road may be; for without victory, there is no survival.
“Their Finest Hour,” delivered June 18, 1940 to the House of Commons, following France’s capitulation to Germany:
What General Weygand called the Battle of France is over. I expect that the Battle of Britain is about to begin. Upon this battle depends the survival of Christian civilization. Upon it depends our own British life, and the long continuity of our institutions and our Empire. The whole fury and might of the enemy must very soon be turned on us. Hitler knows that he will have to break us in this Island or lose the war. If we can stand up to him, all Europe may be free and the life of the world may move forward into broad, sunlit uplands.
But if we fail, then the whole world, including the United States, including all that we have known and cared for, will sink into the abyss of a new Dark Age made more sinister, and perhaps more protracted, by the lights of perverted science. Let us therefore brace ourselves to our duties, and so bear ourselves that, if the British Empire and its Commonwealth last for a thousand years, men will still say, “This was their finest hour.”
Address to a Joint Session of US Congress, December 26, 1941:
Some people may be startled or momentarily depressed when, like your President, I speak of a long and a hard war. Our peoples would rather know the truth, somber though it be. And after all, when we are doing the noblest work in the world, not only defending our hearths and homes, but the cause of freedom in every land, the question of whether deliverance comes in 1942 or 1943 or 1944, falls into its proper place in the grand proportions of human history. Sure I am that this day, now, we are the masters of our fate. That the task which has been set us is not above our strength. That its pangs and toils are not beyond our endurance. As long as we have faith in our cause, and an unconquerable willpower, salvation will not be denied us. In the words of the Psalmist: “He shall not be afraid of evil tidings. His heart is fixed, trusting in the L-rd.”
“Beginning of the End,” delivered November 10, 1942 at the Lord Mayor’s Luncheon, following British victory at El Alamein:
I have never promised anything but blood, tears, toil and sweat. Now, however, we have a new experience. We have victory — a remarkable and definite victory. The bright gleam has caught the helmets of our soldiers, and warmed and cheered all our hearts. General Alexander, with his brilliant comrade and lieutenant, General Montgomery, has gained a glorious and decisive victory in what I think should be called the battle of Egypt. Rommel’s army has been defeated. It has been routed. It has been very largely destroyed as a fighting force.
Ah, this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning. Hencefoward Hitler’s Nazis will meet equally well armed, and perhaps better armed troops. Henceforward they will have to face in many theatres of war that superiority in the air which they have so often used without mercy against others of which they boasted all round the world and which they intended to use as an instrument for convincing all other peoples that all resistance to them was hopeless.
“Sinews of Peace (Iron Curtain speech),” March 5, 1946 at Westminster College (Fulton, Missouri):
The United States stands at this time at the pinnacle of world power. It is a solemn moment for the American Democracy. For with primacy in power is also joined an awe-inspiring accountability to the future. If you look around you, you must feel not only the sense of duty done but also you must feel anxiety lest you fall below the level of achievement. Opportunity is here now, clear and shining for both our countries. To reject it or ignore it or fritter it away will bring upon us all the long reproaches of the after-time.
It is necessary that constancy of mind, persistency of purpose, and the grand simplicity of decision shall guide and rule the conduct of the English-speaking peoples in peace as they did in war. We must, and I believe we shall, prove ourselves equal to this severe requirement.
Copyright © 2018 by the Intermountain Jewish News