June 5, 2013

Finest Hour 143, Summer 2009

Page 27

“Never Splash in Shallow Waters”

The Hon. Jack Kemp
Tenth International Churchill Conference
Mayflower Hotel, Washington,
7 November 1993

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Churchillians are a diverse group with a common purpose. By your reenactment of the 1941 Atlantic Charter services today at the Navy Chapel, you bring to mind again Churchill’s memories of that scene: “It was a great hour to live. Nearly half those who sang were soon to die.”

Through experiences like these we can better understand our world today, and the unique set of challenges we face. No one has made that more clear to me than Sir Martin Gilbert. As exemplified by his address this weekend, “Churchill and the Holocaust,” he has set an unequaled standard of scholarship. Martin has also written of Churchill’s “uncanny understanding and vision of the future unfolding of events.” This is why Churchill speaks to us so clearly across the years.

Over the past eighty years the Western democracies have overcome unprecedented challenges. Two world wars destroyed nations, empires, millions of lives. A cold war haunted us with nuclear nightmares, and turned suddenly hot in places like Berlin, Korea, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Vietnam, Cambodia and Afghanistan. Whole nations became prisons where words of freedom were spoken only in private, and in fear. Many in the intellectual community, from Oswald Spengler to Jean-François Revel, predicted democracy’s demise.

The man who experienced all the trials of our century also foresaw their end. Speaking at M.I.T. in 1949, Churchill fore-shadowed the triumph of freedom: “The machinery of propaganda may pack their minds with false-hood and deny them truth for many generations of time, but the soul of man thus frozen in a long night can be awakened by a spark coming from God knows where, and in a moment the whole structure of lies and oppression is on trial for its life.”

We have weathered this century’s violent storms. At the end of each, there have been both opportunities and tests. Consider the tragic mistakes and the terrible consequences which could have been averted. At Versailles, we tried to create a new world. We created instead the seeds of another war. At Yalta, we tried to construct a stable peace. We raised an iron curtain.

We have won “the long twilight struggle” against Communism. The history of the response is now to be written. What new challenge may lie ahead?

In shaping this response, we can learn from the man who both made and wrote history: from international relations to trade, economic policy to social policy.

Charles de Gaulle said that a great leader “must aim high, show that he has a vision, act on the grand scale, and so establish his authority over the generality of men who splash in the shallow water.” Churchill always swam in deep waters. The essence of his vision was liberty. His greatest contribution was to preserve it from extinction by rallying people behind a noble cause. But today his legacy is under attack by authors who “splash in shallow water.” Some argue that Chamberlain, Baldwin and the re just “pragmatic Churchill an ideo-willing to sacrifice ain’s Empire for the utile cause of defeating Hitler. The Fuehrer, after all, only wanted Lebens-raum; he had no designs west-ward.

Churchill advocated “peace through strength.” He spent ten years warning of Nazi rearmament and the dangers of isolationism. He challenged the government’s policies of appeasement and bluntly asked whether Britain was doing all it could to defend democracy. Two years before the Munich pact dismembered Czechoslovakia he spoke of “simple uncounted truths today for which better men than we are have died on the scaffold or the battlefield.” Yet without him, the new revisionists would have us believe Britain would have thrived under Hitler’s boot. That’s more than bad history; it is a dangerous blindness.

Today we are engaged in a fresh debate over America’s role in the world. On the political right, some want to turn inward, believing there are no great threats to our security. They say, “Come Home, America!” Behind this lies a timid nationalism based on fear that America can’t compete. I disagree. I believe America has a vital national and world interest in expanding liberty.

Wherever they exist, democracies give rise to peace and progress. But there is also a passion to foreign policy that goes beyond a narrow Realpolitik. There is a moral commitment, enshrined, as Churchill declared, in the Declaration of Independence and Magna Carta: “Ought we not to produce in defence of right, champions as bold, missionaries as eager, and if need be, swords as sharp as are at the disposal of the leaders of totalitarian states?”

The defining principle of Western foreign policy must be freedom. Achieving it will not be through hollow words or shallow idealism. Churchill said, “Virtuous motives are no match for armed and resolute readiness.” The first obligation is the defense of the nation.

The breaking up of empires is always a moment of heightened danger. It is certainly true in the fragments of the Warsaw Pact and the collapse of the Soviet Union. Parts of the world are again in the grip of nationalist, religious, and ethnic violence. Missiles and nuclear technology spread easily from hand to hand, to places like North Korea and Iran. The CIA estimates that fifteen or twenty “developing” nations will have ballistic missiles by the end of the century. We still face a world of risk. Who knows where it will rise from next?

I am concerned, in particular, about the determination to gut the Strategic Defense Initiative. When weapons of mass destruction proliferate, regional conflict can quickly become global. Churchill understood the need to protect free peoples against the terrible weapons of the modern age. That is why he always championed new technology against objections from politicians and the military. In World War I, he was the chief advocate for the tank and military aircraft. During his political wilderness, he challenged the British government to maintain its technological edge. As Prime Minister, he saw the vital importance of radar.

But freedom, Churchill knew, must also be protected by collective security: maximum power in the hands of democratic nations. Recent events have proven the point. American troops in Somalia were left without clear objectives. Their goals were muddied by multilateralism, not aid by allies. Churchill hated military action without strategy. But that is exactly what we’ve seen too often lately, from leaders who view collective security as an excuse for inaction and indecision. This is not collective security. It is collective ineptitude.

For Churchill, freedom was also his lodestar in domestic politics, finding its most consistent expression in his commitment to capitalism. He sought no “third way” between capitalism and socialism. He believed capitalism was inextricably linked to human freedom. More than a utilitarian economic structure, it was a prerequisite for a free society. Socialism, he thought, would bring the slow death of democracy. “We are for the ladder,” he said. “Let all try their best to climb. They [socialists] are for the queue. Let each wait his place until his turn comes.”

For Churchill, a thriving democratic-capitalist system was based on three fundamental principles: the rule of law, low taxes, and Free Trade. Months before he crossed the floor of the House of Commons on the issue of Free Trade, he gave an impassioned speech ridiculing the growing protectionist sentiment in the Tory party: “It is the theory of the protectionist that imports are evil….we free-traders say it is not true. To think that you can make a man richer by putting on a tax is like a man thinking that he can stand in a bucket and lift himself up by the handle.”

The debate of 1904 divides nations and my party today, and the stakes are as high. The outcome of the North American Free Trade Agreement will determine more than my country’s economic future; it will determine its future character. It will determine whether we turn inward or look outward, whether we try futilely to preserve the past or boldly seek a greater future; whether we view the global economy with fear or confidence.

Churchill also believed in a tax system where rates were low and incentives high: “The idea that a nation can tax itself into prosperity is one of the crudest delusions which has ever fuddled the human mind.” Low taxes, he said, were the key to upward mobility for the disadvantaged in society. One of the first changes he announced as Chancellor of the Exchequer was a ten percent reduction in income taxes for the lowest income groups, to “liberate the production of new wealth [and] stimulate enterprise and accelerate industrial revival.”

Churchill’s was not a Darwinian vision where the strong thrive and the weak suffer. He fought to establish a system that doesn’t surrender control to bureaucracy, but shows compassion for the least fortunate in society. We call it a safety net, but Winston Churchill described it like this:

“We want to draw a line below which we will not allow persons to live and labour, yet above which they may compete with all the strength of their manhood. We want to have free competition upwards; we decline to allow free competition to run downwards. We do not want to pull down the structures of science and civilization, but to spread a net over the abyss.” These are the direct and vital contributions of Churchill to the debates of today.

We have lived to see a world revolution of liberty, but freedom’s march is not complete and its success is never assured. America and the West must do more than just stand against something. All defenders of freedom stand on Churchill’s shoulders. Thank God we have this organization to perpetuate his legacy and relevance: to remind us never to “splash in shallow waters.”

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