Winston Churchill: July 4, 1918

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A speech given by the half-American Winston Churchill at a celebration of the Fourth of July at the city of Westminster, England on July 4, 1918:

 

We are, as the Chairman has stated, met here to-day in the City of Westminster to celebrate the hundred and forty-second anniversary of American Independence. We are met also, as he has reminded you, as brothers in arms, facing together grave injuries and perils, and passing through a period of exceptional anxiety and suffering. Therefore we seek to draw from the past history of our race inspiration and encouragement which will cheer our hearts and fortify and purify our resolution and our comradeship. A great harmony exists between the Declaration of Independence and all we are fighting for now. A similar harmony exists between the principles of that Declaration and what the British Empire has wished to stand for and has at last achieved, not only here at home, but in the great self-governing Dominions through the world. The Declaration of Independence is not only an American document; it follows on Magna Charta and the Petition of Right as the third of the great title deeds on which the liberties of the English-speaking race are founded. By it we lost an Empire, but by it we also preserved an Empire. By applying these principles and learning this lesson we have maintained unbroken communion with those powerful Commonwealths which our children have founded and have developed beyond the seas, and which, in this time of stress, have rallied spontaneously to our aid. The political conceptions embodied in the Declaration of Independence are the same as those which were consistently expressed at the time by Lord Chatham and Mr. Burke and by many others who had in turn received them from John Hampden and Algernon Sidney. They spring from the same source; they come from the same well of practical truth, and that well, ladies and gentlemen, is here, by the banks of the Thames in this famous Island, which we have guarded all these years, and which is the birthplace and the cradle of the British and the American race. It is English wisdom, it is that peculiar political sagacity and sense of practical truth, which animates the great document in the minds of all Americans to-day. Wherever men seek to frame polities or constitutions which are intended to safeguard the citizen, be he rich or be he poor, on the one hand from the shame of despotism, on the other from the misery of anarchy, which are devised to combine personal liberty with respect for law and love of country — wherever these desires are sincerely before the makers of constitutions or laws, it is to this original inspiration, this inspiration which was the product of English soil, which was the outcome of the Anglo-Saxon mind, that they will inevitably be drawn.

We therefore feel no sense of division in celebrating this anniversary. We join in perfect sincerity and in perfect simplicity with our American kith and kin in commemorating the auspicious and glorious establishment of their nationhood. We also, we British who have been so long in the struggle, also express our joy and gratitude for the mighty and timely aid which America has brought and is bringing to the Allied Cause. When I have seen during the last few weeks the splendour of American manhood striding forward on all the roads of France and Flanders, I have experienced emotions which words cannot describe. We have suffered so much in this country — and in gallant France they have suffered still more — that we can feel for others. There are few homes in Britain where you will not find an empty chair and aching hearts, and we feel in our own sorrow a profound sympathy with those across the Atlantic whose dear ones have travelled so far to face dangers we know only too well. Not British hearts only, but Canadian, Australian, New Zealand, and South African hearts [A voice: “And Indian too”], beat in keen common sympathy with them. And Indian hearts as well. All who have come across the great expanses of the ocean to take part in this conflict feel in an especial degree a sympathy, an intense and comprehending sympathy, with the people of the United States, who have to wait through these months of anxiety for the news of battle.

The greatest actions of men or of nations are spontaneous and instinctive. They do not result from nice calculations of profit and loss, or long balancing of doubtful opinions. They happen as if they could not help happening. The heart, as the French say, has reasons which the reason does not know. I am persuaded that the finest and worthiest moment in the history of Britain was reached on that August night, now nearly four years ago, when we declared war on Germany. Little could we know where it would carry us, or what it would bring to us. Like the United States, we entered the war a peaceful nation, utterly unprepared for aggression in any form; like the United States, we entered the war without counting the cost, and without seeking any reward of any kind. The cost has been more terrible than our most sombre expectations would have led us to imagine, but the reward which is coming is beyond the fondest dreams and hopes we could have cherished.

What is the reward of Britain? What is the priceless, utterly unexpected reward that is coming to us surely and irresistibly in consequence of our unstudied and unhesitating response to the appeals of Belgium and of France? Territory, indemnities, commercial advantages — what are they? They are matters utterly subordinate to the moral issues and moral consequences of this war. Deep in the hearts of the people of this Island, deep in the hearts of those whom the Declaration of Independence styles “our British brethren,” lay the desire to be truly reconciled before all men and before all history with their kindred across the Atlantic Ocean; to blot out the reproaches and redeem the blunders of a bygone age, to dwell once more in spirit with our kith and kin, to stand once more in battle at their side, to create once more a true union of hearts, to begin once more to write a history in common. That was our heartfelt desire, but it seemed utterly unattainable — utterly unattainable, at any rate, in periods which the compass of our short lives enabled us to consider. One prophetic voice [Admiral Sims] predicted with accents of certitude the arrival of a day of struggle which would find England and the United States in battle side by side; but for most of us it seemed that this desire of union and of reconciliation in sentiment and in heart would not be achieved within our lifetime. But it has come to pass. It has come to pass already, and every day it is being emphasized and made more real and more lasting! However long the struggle may be, however cruel may be the sufferings we have to undergo, however complete may be the victory we shall win, however great may be our share in it, we seek no nobler reward than that. We seek no higher reward than this supreme reconciliation. That is the reward of Britain. That is the lion’s share.

A million American soldiers are in Europe. They have arrived safely and in the nick of time. Side by side with their French and British comrades, they await at this moment the furious onslaught of the common foe, and that is an event which in the light of all that has led up to it, and in the light of all that must follow from it, seems — I say it frankly — to transcend the limits of purely mundane things. It is a wonderful event; it is a prodigious event; it is almost a miraculous event. It fills us, it fills me, with a sense of the deepest awe. Amid the carnage and confusion of the immense battlefield, amid all the grief and destruction which this war is causing and has still to cause, there comes over even the most secularly-minded of us a feeling that the world is being guided through all this chaos to something far better than we have ever yet enjoyed. We feel in the presence of a great design of which we only see a small portion, but which is developing and unfolding swiftly at this moment, and of which we are the honoured servants and the necessary instruments in our own generation. No event, I say, since the beginning of the Christian era has been more likely to strengthen and restore faith in the moral governance of the Universe than the arrival from the other end of the world of these mighty armies of deliverance. One has a feeling that it is not all a blind struggle; it is not all for nothing. Not too late is the effort; not in vain do heroes die.

There is one more thing I ought to say, and it is a grave thing to say. The essential purposes of this war do not admit of compromise. If we were fighting merely for territorial gains, or were engaged in a domestic, dynastic, or commercial quarrel, no doubt these would be matters to be adjusted by bargaining. But this war has become an open conflict between Christian civilization and scientific barbarism. The line is clearly drawn between the nations where the peoples own the governments and the nations where the governments own the peoples. Our struggle is between systems which faithfully endeavor to quell and quench the brutish, treacherous, predatory promptings of human nature, and a system which has deliberately fostered, organized, armed, and exploited these promptings to its own base aggrandizement. We are all erring mortals. No race, no country, no individual, has a monopoly of good or of evil, but face to face with the facts of this war, who can doubt that the struggle in which we are engaged is in reality a struggle between the forces of good and the forces of evil? It is a struggle between right and wrong, and as such it is not capable of any solution which is not absolute. Germany must be beaten; Germany must know that she is beaten; Germany must feel that she is beaten. Her defeat must be expressed in terms and facts which will, for all time, deter others from emulating her crime, and will safeguard us against; their repetition.

But, Ladies and Gentlemen, the German people have at any rate this assurance: that we claim for ourselves no natural or fundamental right that we shall not be obliged and even willing in all circumstances to secure for them. We cannot treat them as they have treated Alsace-Lorraine or Belgium or Russia, or as they would treat us all if they had the power. We can not do it, for we are bound by the principles for which we are fighting. We must adhere to those principles. They will arm our fighting strength, and they alone will enable us to use with wisdom and with justice the victory which we shall gain. Whatever the extent of our victory, these principles will protect the German people. The Declaration of Independence and all that it implies must cover them. When all those weapons in which German militarists have put their trust have broken in their hands, when all the preparations on which they have lavished the energies and the schemes of fifty years have failed them, the German people will find themselves protected by those simple elemental principles of right and freedom against which they will have warred so long in vain. So let us celebrate to-day not only the Declaration of Independence, but let us proclaim the true comradeship of Britain and America and their determination to stand together until the work is done, in all perils, in all difficulties, at all costs, wherever the war may lead us, right to the very end. No compromise on the main purpose; no peace till victory; no pact with unrepentant wrong — that is the Declaration of July 4th, 1918; that is the Declaration which I invite you to make in common with me, and, to quote the words which are on every American’s lips to-day, “for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honour.”

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Published in: on July 6, 2016 at 6:23 pm  Comments Off on Winston Churchill: July 4, 1918  
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