Tuesday, December 26, 2006

The Day After Christmas 1941: Churchill Speaks to Congress

As he entered that chamber on the afternoon of December 26, he knew the high stakes of the occasion. Anglo-American relations were more important than ever before, and it was his job to rally the spirits of America’s leaders. Furthermore, his speech would be carried by the three major broadcasting companies and beamed across the United States and into Great Britain. Many millions would hear his words.

He rose easily to the immense demands of the moment. His speech, just over half an hour long, struck a tone that was simultaneously comforting, confident, cheerful, and defiant. Raising his hand in the air, he reassured his listeners that they would triumph over foreign aggression, declaring that the Allies were “masters of our fate.” He repeatedly emphasized the shared identity and purpose of the United States and Great Britain, always speaking about them jointly, as “we,” and he dryly referred to his mother’s American roots: “By the way, I cannot help reflecting that if my father had been American and my mother British, instead of the other way around, I might have got here on my own.” In a climactic moment, speaking in steady and rising tones, he delivered a powerful warning against the military foes of the Allies. “Is it possible,” he demanded, “they do not realize that we will never cease to persevere against them until they have been taught a lesson which they and the world will never forget?” As he delivered this rhetorical question, his listeners answered, with thunderous applause.

Read all of Alexander Burns’s American Heritage article here.

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