“We have before us an ordeal of the most grievous kind…”
“The truth is incontrovertible. Malice may attack it, ignorance may deride it, but in the end, there it is.”
It looked very bleak.
After all, he had seen what Blitzkrieg truly meant.
The Nazis’ screaming Stuka dive bombers, raging tanks and ruthless marauding soldiers made quick and hellish work of their targets in nine months’ time. From the Fall of 1939 to the Spring of 1940, Poland, Denmark, Norway, Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg were ground under by the Nazi boot. Soon, France would be the bloody victim. And the occupation would be even worse.
As Winston Churchill watched the unfolding spectacle from the English island, he growled and grimaced. This, after all, was what he had been warning about for the last decade. If nothing were done, he scolded, Hitler’s rabid ideology, ruthless treatment of opposition and brazen military build-up in defiance of World War I’s Versailles Treaty would bring Europe to the abyss. But few had listened. They were tired of war and economic despair. And, they reasoned, if war did not visit England, why should England go in search of it?
So nothing was done.
And yet, in 1940, England was beginning to awaken.
They had seen it. Wickedness. Hubris. Carnage.
And in return, they saw hand-wringing. For too long, Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain appeased and vacillated in the face of this oncoming existential threat. It was time for strength. What England needed was a lion. On May 10, 1940, they got one.
And as Winston Churchill accepted this responsibility – the very call to save London that he had dreams of as a child – he knew the circumstances were dire. The people had been reassured for too long. Preparations had not been made. And the wolves were at the doors.
On May 13th, the new Prime Minister spoke frankly to an anxious nation at the House of Commons. Here, in part, is what he said,
In this crisis I hope I may be pardoned if I do not address the House at any length today. I hope that any of my friends and colleagues, or former colleagues, who are affected by the political reconstruction, will make allowance, all allowance, for any lack of ceremony with which it has been necessary to act. 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 realized; 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.”
In a moment of crisis, Winston Churchill spoke frankly to an uncertain people and gave them hard truths. But he also crafted an honest way forward rooted in principle, resilience and courage. Though brutal days lay ahead, this speech was an edifice upon which victory was built.
Churchill reminded his nation (and the world) of an undeniable truth: to know where to go you must first know who and where you are.
How very true.
To read Winston Churchill’s Blood, Toil, Tears & Sweat speech in full, please click here.
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