Posted: March 18th, 2023
Sir Winston Leonard Spencer Churchill was one of the most energetic and vital of all British leaders. Born in 1874 to an English father and American mother, he embodied the highest qualities of both peoples.
His most obvious qualities were courage and imagination. Less obvious, but no less important to the outcome of his seat of power as the Prime Minister and Minister of Defense for Great Britain during World War II, was his intellect – powerful, original, and creatively fertile.
This study of applicable historical speeches, offered during one of the most terrifying political eras of the 20th century, reveals what is imminently true of Churchill: history has revealed all there is to know about the man; there was no disguise.
This study will dissect Churchill’s speech ostensibly labeled “Never Give In, Never, Never, Never,” given on October 29, 1941 to the students and staff at his alma mater: the Harrow School and provide support from other speeches given at times of military decision, and imminent cultural demise. This paper will also seek to explore the insights this speech affords today’s scholars, philosophers, and military experts.
Upon visiting Harrow School on this notable occasion, purportedly to hear traditional songs again, he found that an additional verse had been added to one of his favorites. The new verse sang:
Not less we praise in darker days
The leader of our nation,
And Churchill’s name shall win acclaim
From each new generation.
For you have power in danger’s hour
Our freedom to defend, Sir!
Though long the fight we know that right
Will triumph in the end, Sir!
Churchill was under tremendous political and personal pressure during this period in history. Under political pundit attacks, he was accused of making a fatal error in judgment when resisting Hitler and a National Socialist-dominated Europe.
Socialism and “Keynesian collectivism” had dominated the political economy of England for more than a generation; Churchill fought for conservativism and maintaining the dignity and form of the British empire. Equally concerning to him was maintaining Britain as a visible and civilized power among the world’s powerful entities (at that time, the United States and the U.S.S.R.), establishing a union of a “genuine league of free nations, called Arms and the Covenant,” and cared so deeply about the creation of a large organism which would unite liberal and civilized people that he was willing to see the leadership of English-speaking people pass to Americans, if that was required to ensure survival of political decency and the restraints of civilization.
Churchill was faced with major socio-economic and political responsibilities during World War II. He clearly understood that Nazi domination of Europe would have created a situation intolerable to Great Britain’s principles and way of life. Hitler would have intensified his megalomaniac repression of conservative, liberal, democrat, patriot, Jew, and Christian alike and Churchill knew the pressure on Britain to conform would have been a crushing one.
History records the accuracy of this position when, in his speech of October 5, 1938 – regarding the Munich Pact – Churchill, with his usual broad vision and insight – said:
there can never be friendship between the British democracy and the Nazi power, that power which spurns Christian ethics, which cheers its onward course by a barbarous paganism, which derives strength and perverted pleasure from persecution, and uses, as we have seen with pitiless brutality, the threat of murderous force. That power cannot be the trusted friend of the British democracy
We do not want to be led upon the high road to becoming a satellite of the German Nazi system of European domination. In a very few years, perhaps in a very few months, we shall be confronted with demands with which we shall no doubt be invited to comply. Those demands may affect the surrender of territory or the surrender of liberty. I foresee and foretell that the policy of submission will carry with it restrictions upon the freedom of speech and debate in Parliament, on public platforms, and discussions in the Press, for it will be said — indeed, I hear it said sometimes now — that we cannot allow the Nazi system of dictatorship to be criticized by ordinary, common English politicians. Then, with a Press under control, in part direct but more potently indirect, with every organ of public opinion doped and chloroformed into acquiescence, we shall be conducted along further stages of our journey.
The Speech for Never Giving Up or In Almost a year has passed since I came down here at your Head Master’s kind invitation in order to cheer myself and cheer the hearts of a few of my friends by singing some of our own songs. The ten months that have passed have seen very terrible catastrophic events in the world – ups and downs, misfortunes – but can anyone sitting here this afternoon, this October afternoon, not feel deeply thankful for what has happened in the time that has passed and for the very great improvement in the position of our country and of our home? Why, when I was here last time we were quite alone, desperately alone, and we had been so for five or six months. We were poorly armed. We are not so poorly armed today; but then we were very poorly armed. We had the unmeasured menace of the enemy and their air attack still beating upon us, and you yourselves had had experience of this attack; and I expect you are beginning to feel impatient that there has been this long lull with nothing particular turning up!
But we must learn to be equally good at what is short and sharp and what is long and tough. It is generally said that the British are often better at the last. They do not expect to move from crisis to crisis; they do not always expect that each day will bring up some noble chance of war; but when they very slowly make up their minds that the thing has to be done and the job put through and finished, then, even if it takes months – if it takes years – they do it.
Another lesson I think we may take, just throwing our minds back to our meeting here ten months ago and now, is that appearances are often very deceptive, and as Kipling well says, we must “…meet with Triumph and Disaster. And treat those two impostors just the same.”
You cannot tell from appearances how things will go. Sometimes imagination makes things out far worse than they are; yet without imagination not much can be done. Those people who are imaginative see many more dangers than perhaps exist; certainly many more than will happen; but then they must also pray to be given that extra courage to carry this far-reaching imagination. But for everyone, surely, what we have gone through in this period – I am addressing myself to the School – surely from this period of ten months this is the lesson: never give in, never give in, never, never, never, never-in nothing, great or small, large or petty – never give in except to convictions of honour and good sense. Never yield to force; never yield to the apparently overwhelming might of the enemy. We stood all alone a year ago, and to many countries it seemed that our account was closed, we were finished. All this tradition of ours, our songs, our School history, this part of the history of this country, were gone and finished and liquidated.
Very different is the mood today. Britain, other nations thought, had drawn a sponge across her slate. But instead our country stood in the gap. There was no flinching and no thought of giving in; and by what seemed almost a miracle to those outside these Islands, though we ourselves never doubted it, we now find ourselves in a position where I say that we can be sure that we have only to persevere to conquer.
You sang here a verse of a School Song: you sang that extra verse written in my honour, which I was very greatly complimented by and which you have repeated today. But there is one word in it I want to alter – I wanted to do so last year, but I did not venture to. It is the line: “Not less we praise in darker days.” have obtained the Head Master’s permission to alter darker to sterner. “Not less we praise in sterner days.”
Do not let us speak of darker days: let us speak rather of sterner days. These are not dark days; these are great days – the greatest days our country has ever lived; and we must all thank God that we have been allowed, each of us according to our stations, to play a part in making these days memorable in the history of our race.
Today, modern scholars look at this speech and others like it as a means for understanding the pervasive fear that Hitler’s regime instilled in every heart that loved freedom, independence of thought, and the right to choose the type of culture and lifestyle in which it lived.
Today’s historians are able to reflect on Churchill’s record of leadership and accomplishments as measures of courage, the consequences of speaking one’s mind – particularly in political arenas – without a severe series of checks and balances, and the great importance, in all applications, to never giving in or giving up… crying surrender.
Modern military strategists can see clearly how the courage to stand in the crevice of popular opinion and making difficult – but necessary – choices to protect freedom and human life is often the hard road to travel.
Stalin and Churchill
In a letter to Churchill, Stalin takes him to task over the precept that “the German racial theory brought Hitler and his friends to the conclusion that the Germans, as the only fully valuable nation, must rule over other nations. The English racial theory brings Mr. Churchill and his friends to the conclusion that nations speaking the English language, being the only fully valuable nations, should rule over the remaining nations of the world.
Stalin also felt that Churchill and others were trying to minimize or negate the sacrifices of the Soviet people in the war against Hitler and defended communism to Churchill because “during the hard years of the mastery of fascism in Europe, Communists showed themselves to be reliable, daring, and self-sacrificing fighters against fascist regimes for the liberty of peoples.”
Churchill and Franklin Delano Roosevelt
The relationship between these two world leaders was intricate – full of nuance and still debated today among historical scholars. Even though they had different agendas in many areas, one thing united them: Hitler could not win.
In the process, Churchill hoped that Roosevelt would support the sagging British Empire and Roosevelt considered the British Empire obsolete and reactionary. Both secondary agendas proved disappointing – America acted in her own interests and not Britain’s and Stalin proved to be no peacetime partner considering his mass genocide of the 1930’s.
Churchill is near enough to this point in history to be visible in faults and virtues. He was too romantic to be a successful politician or strategist, irresponsible when out of power, a merciless bully when in power, and was too satisfied with the business of war to be a brilliant political success.
He lived long enough, however, to rally England – shaken and divided as it was – help it survive through unparalleled difficulties in her history, and lead the nation to victory in the fight for a reclaimed greatness.
Would we wish Churchill to lead us today? Highly unlikely since the Churchill of the Nazi conflict was also the Churchill of 1911 and 1926. He often elected battle over reasoning; it is key to remember that the genius required to lead a united people is far different than that required to lead a deeply divided one.
Without Churchill’s vision for a united nation, however – rooted in his understanding of his country’s history – his people might well have perished; without his tenacity and faith in: “never give in, never give in, never, never, never, never-in nothing, great or small, large or petty – never give in except to convictions of honour and good sense” the world would have missed a very important lesson in persistence and faith.
Stalin’s Reply to Churchill,” March 14, 1946 (interview with Pravda), The New York Times, p. 4.
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