I discovered something accidentally this morning…
Did you know that Winston Churchill’s three most famous speeches (arguably, anyway) all came within the first month or two that he was prime minister? I was really surprised to learn that.
I was looking up one of them for some reason. Then I got to thinking, when did he say… and ended up looking up the other two, and being shocked by how close together they were.
Excerpts from the three:
- May 13, 1940 — Blood, Toil, Tears and Sweat: “I would say to the House, as I said to those who have joined this government: ‘I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears and sweat.’ 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 God 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. Let that be realised; no survival for the British Empire, no survival for all that the British Empire has stood for, no survival for the urge and impulse of the ages, that mankind will move forward towards its goal. But I take up my task with buoyancy and hope. I feel sure that our cause will not be suffered to fail among men. At this time I feel entitled to claim the aid of all, and I say, ‘come then, let us go forward together with our united strength.'”
- June 4, 1940 — We Shall Fight on the Beaches: “Even though large tracts of Europe and many old and famous States have fallen or may fall into the grip of the Gestapo and all the odious apparatus of Nazi rule, we shall not flag or fail. We shall go on to the end, we shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our Island, whatever the cost may be, we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender, and even if, which I do not for a moment believe, this Island or a large part of it were subjugated and starving, then our Empire beyond the seas, armed and guarded by the British Fleet, would carry on the struggle, until, in God’s good time, the New World, with all its power and might, steps forth to the rescue and the liberation of the old.
- June 18, 1940 — Finest Hour: “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.'”
Oh, and note that only two months after that came the one about the Battle of Britain that included, “Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few.”
Were I, from now to the end of my life, to hear but one speech from an American leader half as inspiring as one of those, I should count myself blessed. (See how easy it is to fall into that kind of cadence when you’ve been reading it?) And this was all within just over a month.
Had I been a Brit in those dark days, as France fell, I would have been thoroughly bucked up; my upper lip would have been as stiff as need be. I would be calm, and I would carry on.
Now, my cynical modern friends have already started sneering, and in their minds are forming modernist, moralistic condemnations aimed at such benighted concepts as “Christian civilization” and “Empire,” soon to flow through their fingers and onto the screen. But I ask them to pause and step outside their time and perspective, and place themselves in the moment in which these words were spoken, and perhaps they, too, will get goosebumps.
An aside: Note how cleverly, in two of those passages, the PM served notice on the New World of what would soon be expected of it in the service of liberal democracy, even as we wallowed in an isolationism that might even have embarrassed Rand Paul.
Is it necessary to be faced with annihilation as a nation for humans to produce such rhetoric? Perhaps. We live in a more trivial time, with more trivial interests. Doubt me? Then what do you make of the fact that, as inspired as I am, I’m thinking to myself, I’m going to add “Finest Hour” to my list of band names, for when I start my band. After all, “Blood, Sweat and Tears” is already taken…