Tuesday, November 29, 2016

You Said It, Mister

Tomorrow is the birthday of Sir Winston Spencer Churchill, the man who as Prime Minister of England during World War II might have had one of the largest roles in saving Western civilization from Nazi overthrow.

Churchill was born in 1874. His speeches during the war, especially in the dark days of constant German air raids when it seemed like Great Britain alone was left to fight off Nazi power, are credited with giving the people encouragement to continue to fight and hold out. Churchill apparently believed that the United States would enter the war sooner or later, but whether he ever actually said it would have been better if it had been sooner no one really knows.

His 1946 "Iron Curtain" speech at Westminster University in Missouri sounded an alarm that totalitarian despots didn't all vanish when Hitler was vanquished, and that a wartime ally had become a Cold War enemy.

Churchill himself didn't like all of the praise given him for his wartime role, believing that his countrymen and women were the true heroes of the hour. From a speech he gave on his 80th birthday:
I have never accepted what many people have kindly said - namely, that I inspired the nation... It was the nation and the race dwelling all round the globe that had the lion's heart. I had the luck to be called upon to give the roar. I also hope that I sometimes suggested to the lion the right place to use his claws.
I have the mad respect for Winnie, but I have to disagree with him slightly. It's tough to read the following and think that it didn't offer at least a little of the heart behind the roar:
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 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.
I mean, it's no "Build a wall and make Mexico pay for it," but it did well enough for its time, right? No, here I'm going to go with the assessment of Edward R. Murrow -- himself no slouch with the wordsmithery:
He mobilized the English language and sent it into battle to steady his fellow countrymen and hearten those Europeans upon whom the long dark night of tyranny had descended.


fillyjonk said...

And he's a distant (fifth, if I remember correctly) cousin of mine. Would that I had 1/10 of his oratory skill and his grit....

Friar said...

Cool. I loved his opening when he addressed Congress in 1941:

"By the way, I cannot help reflecting that if my father had been American and my mother British, instead of the other way round, I might have got here on my own."