Churchill’s Legacy: Two Speeches to Save the World by Alan Watson, with an introduction by Churchill’s great-grandson Randolph Churchill, is published to mark the 70th anniversary of Churchill giving these two historic speeches in Fulton and Zurich. At a time when the British Government sets out what ‘Brexit means Brexit’ actually means, and Trump calls for deals with Russia and walls with Mexico, the relevance of Churchill’s vision for a United States of Europe and his warnings over Russia’s Iron Curtain has never been more apparent. Andrew Roberts says ‘the geostrategic world we inhabit today sprung from the words Churchill spoke at Fulton, Missouri and Zurich, Switzerland’. Churchill’s Legacy shows how true this really is. Listen to an extract, available from Audible.
Here journalist Thomas Kielinger OBE, London correspondent for Die Welt, and author of a recent German-language biography of Churchill, reviews Churchill’s Legacy, Two Speeches to Save the World:
There is no end to how Winston Churchill fascinates us. A name that cannot age, his legacy is, in Horace’s words, ‘aere perennius’, more durable than ore. But what exactly is his legacy? The question is devoutly to be asked, since unlike leaders as different as Charles de Gaulle or Margaret Thatcher he left no ‘isms’, no new constitutional compact we readily associate with his name. What, then, makes for the abiding influence of Churchill?
Lord Watson has taken the year 1946 as the measure of the man, i.e. the two speeches which galvanised history seventy years ago – Churchill’s ‘Iron Curtain’ speech in March at the Westminster College in Fulton, Missouri, and his address at the University of Zurich of September the same year. In both instances Churchill, as Alan Watson puts it, ‘took the hem of history’ by pinpointing the two most urgent issues the world was then facing: Soviet encroachment in Europe and elsewhere, and Europe’s need to rise from its demoralized state after the destruction of two world wars. His Fulton speech was a call to arms directed at the USA which he hoped would wake up to its responsibilities in the defence of freedom; in Zurich he conjured up the vision of ‘a kind of United States of Europe’ to overcome the division and hatred of old and move towards closer integration, with Great Britain the sponsor but not – as was soon to become evident – a member.
In Watson, a literary figure in his own right, the historian and the experienced journalist come together for a narrative of incisive power. Here, the broad brush of history is being married to the human detail producing a variegated profile of Churchill as he struggles to convince his respective audiences of the challenges ahead. Just what obstacles the ex-Premier had to overcome to get the Americans on board to accept the need to confront Stalin springs vividly from these pages in many a felicitous phrase. After all, the memory of ‘Good old Uncle Joe’ [Stalin], the war-time ally, was still deeply embedded in American perceptions shaped as they were by a trusting and all-too gullible FDR in the latter stages of the war. So aghast were the critics after Churchill’s peroration at Fulton that even the old sobriquet ‘war monger’ was raised from the dead to be hurled at the British visitor. Indeed, President Truman who had accompanied Churchill on the train journey to Missouri did an embarrassing runner at the first press conference after the speech which he had applauded throughout by flatly denying that he had any prior knowledge of what Churchill was going to say. In fact, he, like Secretary of State James Byrnes, was given the full text of the speech ahead of its delivery and both their comments were extremely positive, partially glowing. Yet it served Truman’s purpose to hide his involvement with Churchill’s vision by not siding with it too openly at the outset.
The denouement, i.e. the ‘education’ of US public opinion and Truman’s true colours as the first enactor of the policy of containment did not have to wait long. The ‘Doctrine’ enunciated in the President’s speech of March 12th 1947, a mere 12 months after Fulton, bore the hallmark not only of Churchill’s thinking about the Soviet threat but also of Churchillian rhetoric with which it was imbued. The dour exemplar of the American mid-West, Harry Truman, rose on that day to a memorable height of visionary language, with the defence of freedom the underlying message.
Watson gives his own love of the English language full rein as he analyses the flavour of Churchill’s way with words and how next to the individual content of his speeches the very language employed helped sharpen what he wanted to communicate. Indeed, Churchill’s ‘legacy’, as Watson rightly sees it, is a debt the free world owes not only to Churchill’s foresightedness in the parlous days of 1946 but also to the power of the words in which it was evoked. ‘An athlete with the written word’, is how the author sums up Churchill’s linguistic wizardry.
This again became crystal clear in September 1946 at Zurich. ‘Let Europe arise!’ was the burden of Churchill’s song, all the more powerful for its surprising core assessment: that France and Germany had to overcome their legacy of hatred and walk the path of reconciliation. By the autumn of 1946 the old lion had recovered his full roar enjoining a distraught Europe with a task many thought was too big to undertake at that time. France and Germany at the heart of a re-configured ‘United States of Europe’? None other than Charles de Gaulle thought this to be some kind of cloud-cuckoo-land vision in his conversation with Duncan Sandys at Colombey-les-deux Églises. A united Europe, he claimed, could only lead to an enlarged Germany – the perennial French nightmare. Churchill, however, here as before in Fulton, challenged the status quo. That was his strength: not to be cowed by acquired wisdoms but to look beyond them and grasp the next turning of the screw, as it were, and by doing so to create a tidal wave of inspiration. Not long after Zurich the first steps in the direction of a peaceful rapprochement of the two erstwhile foes France and Germany were undertaken, leading eventually to the founding of the European Coal and Steel Community. The rest, as they say, is history.
But Watson in his ‘Churchill’s Legacy’ makes sure the reader doesn’t come away with the simplistic view of a pre-ordained hero bestriding his age, reaching for the stars. Yes, Churchill was ahead of his time with his intuitive sense of history and the interconnecting jigsaw pieces which make up the complete puzzle. But a personal puzzle was his to solve at the outset of 1946, too: How, as a politician sent packing by his country at the election of 1945 and deeply afflicted by bouts of depression since could he wrench himself out of his misery and climb back onto the world stage to again make a difference, like he had done in the war. That he managed to do this, not as a war-leader but as an elder statesman out-of-office, is a glorious testament to his ‘power to provoke and inspire’ (Watson) which had remained undimmed.
In Churchill’s mind a red thread connected the two pivotal speeches of 1946. There was, as Watson makes clear, ‘a symmetry’ between them, an attempt to steer history in the direction of renewed hope for free peoples everywhere. But the symmetry was underpinned by Churchill’s realistic appraisal of an overwhelming priority: You could not convert the Americans to standing their ground in Europe or, in Watson’s word, ‘to pour its treasure into European recovery’, unless the old continent rose to the occasion and showed to the world that it was ready to design a new architecture of cooperation, away from its vanquished past. Fulton, Zurich, the Truman Doctrine, the Marshal Plan, the Berlin Airlift, the re-admission of (West) Germany into the family of free nations, the coming together of a European core under the Schuman Plan and, to cap it, Nato – the origin of this amazing sequence of events Watson rightly traces back to Churchill’s two interventions in the spring and autumn of 1946.
Six weeks before his death in 1965 Mary Soames, Churchill’s youngest daughter, visited her ailing father comforting him with memorable words related by Martin Gilbert. ‘In addition to all the feelings a daughter has for a loving, generous father’, she said, ‘I owe you what every Englishman, woman and child does – Liberty itself.’ It is to the great merit of Lord Waton that in his ‘Churchill’s Legacy’ he has convincingly argued that indeed the free World as a whole owes a great debt of gratitude to these two seminal speeches in 1946, delivered by an indefatigable promoter of man’s inalienable right to freedom from tyranny and war.
Thomas Kielinger OBE, 2016.