On the night of the first US presidential debate, when the world listened to speeches intended to influence, inspire —and annoy — Churchill’s Legacy was launched, celebrating one of the world’s greatest orators and the 70th anniversary two of his most influential speeches: Churchill’s Iron Curtain and United States of Europe speeches.
In the stunning Churchill Room at Dartmouth House, home of the English Speaking Union, Randolph Churchill, overlooked by a bust of his great-grandfather and former Chairman of the ESU, Winston, welcomed guests to the book launch of Churchill’s Legacy: Two Speeches to Change the World. This timely book, written by Lord Watson, also a former Chairman of the ESU, looks in depth at two key speeches Winston Churchill made in 1946 which cemented his influence in postwar politics to enable the restoration of Europe.
Publisher Stephanie Duncan introduced the event by acknowledging that, in taking on the book a year ago with the intention of marking the 70th anniversary of the speeches, no one could have quite foreseen the book’s relevance to the unfolding global political landscape of 2016. With the possibility of a Trump presidency looming and Trump calling for deals with Russia and distance from NATO commitments, it is fascinating to uncover the roots of the UK’s ‘special relationship’ with the US. The first speech addressed in the book is Churchill’s daring presentation in Fulton, Missouri, now known as the Iron Curtain speech. Churchill warned Americans of the threat posed by Russia, called for an Anglo-American alliance based on shared values, and urged Americans to recognise their debt to Britain for opposing Hitler in 1940, which became integral to the emergence of both NATO and the Marshall Plan.
Closer to home, in the wake of the Brexit decision, we see how Churchill’s second speech that year, in Zurich, drew attention to the notion of unity over separation. Churchill boldly proposed a partnership between France and Germany in order to form a sort of ‘United States of Europe’. The hatred stirred up by the war had to be replaced by partnership in order for Europe to recover its economic vitality and regain its moral stature.
Author, Lord Watson, a natural and jovial raconteur, took the stand to elaborate on the significance of these speeches, dropping in some brilliant anecdotes of his time researching the book and ‘getting closer to Churchill’ through contacts, family and friends of the man himself. But amidst the laughter his message was clear: Churchill’s speeches set out imperatives for today just as powerfully as when they were delivered seventy years ago, and they should not go unheeded. His purpose was to startle, provoke and inspire Americans and Europeans into building a new alliance capable of securing democracy.
With the rise of right wing politics focusing on building walls instead of bridges, of isolation over inclusivity, Churchill’s profound understanding of, and verified belief in, the power of community risks falling victim to a political amnesia that refuses to learn its lesson. In his own words, ‘The farther back you can look, the farther forward you are likely to see.’ It is in this book that we so clearly see a blueprint for success through unity that should be used as a template in moving forwards.