On this day in 1874, a child was born in England who would ultimately change the course of world history: Winston Churchill.
Part of my childhood was spent as a resident of the neighbourhood for which Churchill was a Member of Parliament. As I grew up, Churchill was always a fixture, an integral part. Many books have been written about him. He was an officer in the British Army, an artist, a Nobel Prize winning writer (1953). Even though Churchill was part of my history lessons at school, I had no idea what a prolific writer he was:
Churchill’s literary career began with campaign reports: The Story of the Malakand Field Force (1898) and The River War (1899), an account of the campaign in the Sudan and the Battle of Omdurman. In 1900, he published his only novel, Savrola, and, six years later, his first major work, the biography of his father, Lord Randolph Churchill. His other famous biography, the life of his great ancestor, the Duke of Marlborough, was published in four volumes between 1933 and 1938. Churchill’s history of the First World War appeared in four volumes under the title of The World Crisis (1923-29); his memoirs of the Second World War ran to six volumes (1948-1953/54). After his retirement from office, Churchill wrote a History of the English-speaking Peoples (4 vols., 1956-58). His magnificent oratory survives in a dozen volumes of speeches, among them The Unrelenting Struggle (1942), The Dawn of Liberation (1945), and Victory (1946). [link: nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/literature/laureates/1953/churchill-bio.html]
Churchill’s accomplishments ensured his place in history, and many of his brilliant speeches have been documented. His political career was not all smooth sailing, but it well acknowledged that it was he who steered the ship of Great Britain in the darkest hours of history. With Hitler striding across Europe, Churchill rallied the British spirit and held firm against the Nazi tryanny.
All these years later, I suggest that there are not many Brits who can hear that without a response. Of course, I was not even born at that time (really), but I am always moved by the tenacity, the courage, the faith in our country, and the sheer bulldog gumption with which Churchill kept the evil of Nazism from overtaking my country.
The BBC archives are overflowing with historical gems of Churchill, and there are many sites devoted to Churchill’s oft-times pithy, always inspirations sound bites.
One of my favourites rings truer than ever today:
“An appeaser is one who feeds a crocodile, hoping it will eat him last.”
I have to wonder what Churchill would think of Great Britain’s appeasement today, of an enemy whose declared goal is subjugation of anybody who doesn’t live by the Muslim tenets. In reality though, given what I know of Churchill, I am SURE he would not quietly cave to the demands of allowing Sharia law to be incorporated into British society. I am SURE he would not sit idly by and allow all the values which have for centuries meant GREAT Britain worldwide, to be diluted in the face of vocal, violent minority threats.
In the acceptance speech for the Nobel Prize, which was read by Lady Churchill, Winston Churchill said, in part:
Since Alfred Nobel died in 1896 we have entered an age of storm and tragedy. The power of man has grown in every sphere except over himself. Never in the field of action have events seemed so harshly to dwarf personalities. Rarely in history have brutal facts so dominated thought or has such a widespread, individual virtue found so dim a collective focus. The fearful question confronts us; have our problems got beyond our control? Undoubtedly we are passing through a phase where this may be so. Well may we humble ourselves, and seek for guidance and mercy…
And we who … have lived to see a world marred by cleavages and threatened by discords even graver and more violent than those which convulsed Europe after the fall of the Roman Empire.
It is upon this dark background that we can appreciate the majesty and hope which inspired the conception of Alfred Nobel. He has left behind him a bright and enduring beam of culture, of purpose, and of inspiration to a generation which stands in sore need. …[link:http://nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/literature/laureates/1953/churchill-speech.html]
In 2000, Time Magazine named Sir Winston Churchill one of the 100 Most Important People of the Century. And so he was, and remains.
The master statesman stood alone against fascism and renewed the world’s faith in the superiority of democracy
In 1935 he warned the House of Commons of the importance not only of “self-preservation but also of the human and the world cause of the preservation of free governments and of Western civilization against the ever advancing sources of authority and despotism.” His anti-Bolshevik policies had failed. By espousing anti-Nazi policies in his wilderness years between 1933 and 1939, he ensured that when the moment of final confrontation between Britain and Hitler came in 1940, he stood out as the one man in whom the nation could place its trust. He had decried the prewar app easement policies of the Conservative leaders Baldwin and Chamberlain. When Chamberlain lost the confidence of Parliament, Churchill was installed in the premiership.
His was a bleak inheritance. Following the total defeat of France, Britain truly, in his words, “stood alone.” It had no substantial allies and, for much of 1940, lay under threat of German invasion and under constant German air attack. He nevertheless re fused Hitler’s offers of peace, organized a successful air defense that led to the victory of the Battle of Britain and meanwhile sent most of what remained of the British army, after its escape from the humiliation of Dunkirk, to the Middle East to oppose Hitler’s Italian ally, Mussolini. [link: http://www.time.com/time/time100/leaders/profile/churchill3.html]
I cannot possibly do justice to all that Sir Winston Churchill did within this short article. As mentioned, the BBC archives have lots of information, and any student of history, and, indeed, events over the last while would do well to seek out Churchill’s history. Start here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/worldwars/wwtwo/churchill_defender_01.shtml
The TIME article above, written by a historian, is also a great resource.
Another fantastic site I found is The My Hero Project. On that site, Riley McMahon has written an in-depth history of Churchill.
The introduction begins:
“Those who do not think of the future are unworthy of their ancestors.” Winston Churchill spoke these words in London on Oct. 24th, 1936, during a tribute to the Royal Marines. This statement, told to those who were prepared to fight and die for their country, foreshadowed the challenges that would face Churchill and all of England during W.W.II. The years before he led Britain to victory in this war were marked by his political isolation and an overall condemnation of his views against Britain’s appeasement policy towards Germany. Although condemned, Churchill’s views eventually proved well founded, but only when it was too late avoid war. The foresight and leadership that Churchill possessed helped him to become one of the greatest leaders England has seen. [here: http://myhero.com/myhero/hero.asp?hero=winstonchurchill]
On that site, in a section called: The Path to Victory, Winston Churchill is quoted:
“What is our aim? I can answer in one word: Victory. Victory at all costs, victory in spite of all terrors, victory, however long and hard the road may be. For without victory, there is no survival.” [link: http://myhero.com/myhero/hero.asp?hero=winstonchurchill]
It is unlikely that we will see another such as Churchill in this century. On this day, when we pause to celebrate this great statesman’s birth, we would do well to take those words which have traveled down through the decades; in this new century, we would do well to adopt the Churchill philosophy, and dedicate ourselves to grasping our OWN destiny – one step at a time. (Yes, a paraphrase of another Churchill quote.)