June 20, 2015

Finest Hour 100, Autumn 1998

Page 30

By WInston S. Churchill, 21 APRIL 1944

“Dowered with a stalwart constitution, his genius found scope and expression in the varied and exciting events of his life and his quiverful of talents…. When at last the pace slowed, the long daylight hours did indeed hang heavy. Yet from those last years I treasure a precious and to me infinitely moving picture. And remembering him thus, I recall Landor’s lines: ‘I warmed both hands before the fire of life; It sinks, and I am ready to depart.'”

This speech contains the seed of many a term -paper or historical debate. More a musing than a clear prescription, it was made amidst war about matters that had not yet fixed the nation’s interest, yet it reveals the depth of Churchill’s mind and the broadness of his view. The speech should be read in its entirety, beginning on page 6918 of Winston S. Churchill: His Complete Speeches, edited by Robert Rhodes James. Copyright © Winston S. Churchill, reprinted by permission.

Palace of Westminster, London

2021 International Churchill Conference

Join us online (for free!) or live in London, 7-9 October 2021
View Event

What changes are to be made in the political, economic, and defence structure of the British Commonwealth and Empire? In what way will an ever more closely knotted British Commonwealth and Empire become also, at the same time, more closely associated with the United States? How will this vast bloc of States and Nations, which will walk along together, speaking, to a large extent, the same language, reposing on the same body of common law, be merged in the Supreme Council for the maintenance of world peace? Should we draw closer to Europe?—there is another question—and aim at creating, under the Supreme World Council, a living union, an entity in Europe, a United States of Europe? Or, again, should we concentrate upon our own Imperial and Commonwealth organisation, or upon our fraternal association with the United States, and put our trust in the English Channel, in air power, and in sea power?

Other more familiar topics than these— because it is easy to see, from the recurrence of these topics in so many speeches, the way in which the modern mind of the House is moving—have been raised, like Free Trade versus Protection, Imperial Preference versus greater development of international trade, and international currency in relation to the policy of the United States, and the existence of a vast sterling area. One even sees the gold standard peering around the corner, and, of course, British agriculture is close at hand.

My Hon. Friend The Member for Eye said yesterday that the sole, or the main, lesson of the war was that the world was one and indivisible. I should myself have thought that the main obvious fact before our eyes is that the world is very seriously divided, and is conducting its controversies in a highly acrimonious manner. Certainly it seems sufficiently divided to give the peacemakers quite a considerable task to weld it into one common mutually-loving whole at the peace table.

I cannot pretend to have provided myself with the answers to all these questions, with answers which would give satisfaction to all parties here at home, and cause no complications in our relations with foreign States. But I bid the House to take comfort from the fact that, great as our responsibilities are, no reasonable person could expect us to solve all the problems of the world while we are fighting for our lives. We must be generous, we must be fair to the future, we must leave something to be done by our descendants, if any.

At my first meeting with the President of the United States, at Argentia in Newfoundland, at the time of the so-called Atlantic Charter and before the United States had entered the war—a meeting of very anxious and critical importance—I asked for the insertion of the following words, which can be read in that document: “with due respect for their existing obligations….

Those are the limiting words, and they were inserted for the express purpose of retaining in the House of Commons, and the Dominion Parliaments, the fullest possible rights and liberties over the question of Imperial Preference. How could it be otherwise, when Parliament itself would not only have to debate the money matters, but would have to legislate upon them, when they were brought before it?

I am convinced myself that there should be a careful, searching, far-ranging discussion on the economics of the postwar world, and a sincere attempt made to reconcile conflicting interests wherever possible. There must be a whole-hearted endeavour, begun in good time, to promote the greatest interchange of goods and services between the various communities of the world, and to strive for that process of betterment of standards of life in every country without which expanding markets are impossible, and without which world prosperity is a dream which might easily turn into a nightmare.

We had a pretty dreary time between these two wars. But we have great responsibilities for the part we played—and so have the Americans in not making the League of Nations a reality and in not backing its principles with effective armed forces, and in letting this deadly and vengeful foe arm at his leisure.

Then this war broke out. The Mother Country—I must still ask leave to use this name; I think it is rather dangerous to plunge into new nomenclature, and I am not sure that anything like “The Elder Sister Country” would be a very great success—was geographically involved, once again, in the struggles of Europe. Instantly, from all parts of the British Empire, with one lamentable exception, about which we must all search our hearts, came the same response. None of the disillusionments that had followed “the war to end wars” had affected in any way the living, growing, intensifying inner life of the British Commonwealth and Empire. When the signal came, from the poorest Colony to the most powerful Dominion, the great maxim held: “When the King declares war, the Empire is at war.” The darkest moment came. Did anyone flinch? Was there one cry of pain or doubt or terror? No, Sir, darkness was turned into light, and into a light which will never fade away.

What is this force, this miracle which makes governments, as proud and sovereign as any that have ever existed, immediately cast aside all their fears, and immediately set themselves to aid a good cause and beat the common foe?

You must look very deep into the heart of man, and then you will not find the answer unless you look with the eye of the spirit. Then it is that you learn that human beings are not dominated by material things, but by ideas for which they are willing to give their lives or their life’s work.

Among the forces that hold the Empire together are those deep and mysterious influences which cause human beings to do the most incalculable, improvident, and, from the narrow point of view, profitless things. It is our union in freedom and for the sake of our way of living which is the great fact, reinforced by tradition and sentiment, and it does not depend upon anything that could ever be written down in any account kept in some large volume.

Some assume that there must be an inherent antagonism between a world order to keep peace, and the vast national or federal organization which will eventually be in existence. I do not believe this is true. Both the world order and this great organization may be so fashioned as to be two parts of one tremendous whole. I have never conceived that a fraternal association with the United States would militate in any way against the unity of the British Commonwealth and Empire, or breed ill-feeling with our great Russian Ally. I do not think we need choose this or that. With wisdom, and patience, and vigour and courage, we may get the best of both. We have often said of our own British Empire: “In my Father’s house there are many mansions.” So in this far greater world structure, which we shall surely raise out of the ruins of desolating war, there will be room for all generous, free associations of a special character, so long as they are not disloyal to the world cause nor seek to bar the for ward march of mankind.

A tribute, join us




Get the Churchill Bulletin, delivered to your inbox, once a month.