Churchill Speech


Laurel King, Contributor

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churchill speechThere are numerous speeches by Winston Churchill that will forever be synonymous with his name. Despite the fact that he was never educated in a formal university setting, and performed rather poorly in school the years before military boarding school, Churchill had become a self-taught scholar. During his leisurely five-month 'breaks' while serving in India, he spent much of his free time devouring classic literature and dissecting the goings-on of Parliament, including procedure, debates, and issues. Over time, and through his years of military and political leadership, he developed a stunningly effective ability for oration. Although it served as a sort of 'thorn in the side' to many of his enemies, his allies found it inspirational and moving, even serving to convert an enemy or two into allies.

Just before World War II began in 1940, Churchill was a newly-appointed Prime Minister. Since he had spent the previous years ostracized from his Parliament colleagues, he knew he needed something inspiring to enlist their support. His answer was the "I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears, and sweat" speech, given to the House of Commons on May 13, 1940. Most likely drawn from a similar speech given by Theodore Roosevelt at the Naval War College (on June 2, 1897) this speech was his plea to Parliament, asking them to give their support to the upcoming war. He knew it would be long and arduous, but he was able to gain their support by convincing them that he would be right there beside them, the entire time. When his speech ended, the floor erupted in cheering and applause, a far cry from the silent withdrawal of recently-passed years.

Another speech given just before the Battle of Britain, is known as the "We shall fight on the beaches" speech. Given to the House of Commons on June 4, 1940, it was the second of the three speeches during a five-week period of time around the Battle of France. With impending invasion by the Nazis being an almost foregone conclusion, he knew it was imperative to warn the British people about what could happen. He also had to insert the idea that France would most likely 'fall out' of the war, while simultaneously not allowing the French Republic to have an excuse to do just that. This speech made an electrifying use of similar-sounding language, uttered repeatedly, in great succession, for dramatic effect: "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." Obviously, his idea worked, because the House of Commons thundered with applause, cheers, and shouts of support.

The third of these speeches – used in succession, to gain the support of Parliament – came on June 18, 1940 at the House of Commons. He used this speech to explain his justification for the low amount of support given to France, after they had sought armistice June 16. He also gave a report about the evacuation of most supporting forces, giving a review of those forces that would be available to prevent (or repel, if necessary) and invasion attempts. Trying to prepare them for the possibility of failure, while trying to embolden them with his own staunch refusal to accept it, he said: "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."