There are any number of Churchill’s speeches one could choose, and if I get the time there’s no question I’ll get round some more of them. It was while I was looking around the ‘net for some footage of the better known ones I found this gem, when Churchill spoke to a joint session of Congress in the US. It’s brilliant.
If you think Blair or Brown did okay at Congress, and Blair got a great reception and spoke very well when he went along, have a look at what you can compare them to. And as you listen realise that being tall, dark and handsome does not make you an orator, and neither does having received pronunciation. What does it? Well, individuality for one; confidence in your abilities for two; and credibility for three.
There’s just over five minutes of this speech to crit; stay with it…
Cheers, applause and a standing ovation at the beginning; that’s just because of who he is. Humour is always a dangerous card to play at the beginning of a speech, as it can fall flat. If you are going to do it, don’t tell a joke you’ve heard from someone else, put something in context that flatters your audience.
So Churchill pays his audience the compliment of saying that this is one of “the most moving and thrilling of my life”, “which is already long and has not been entirely uneventful.” In one line he “bigs up” his audience and allows them to think that they have a man of substance in front of them.
He then seems to get very emotional speaking about the fact that his mother would have loved to have been here; a nice touch which of course the Americans would have loved.
The best gag of the speech comes next, when he says “that if my father had been American and mother British, instead of the other way round, I might have got here on my own!” Now, not many people could credibly pass themselves off as the American President that got away.
The voice is such a personal and powerful tool for Churchill, and few Americans can have heard such an accent before. Watching the video, it’s also interesting to see Churchill moving about behind the lectern and seeing a substantial, imposing presence.
The passage about the future being in our own hands is pure Churchill and though he’s mostly reading, his pauses and changes of pace are what makes the delivery positively crackle with energy. “That” is repeated three times with some powerful language after it each time, resonant of some of the lines he used to keep the British spirits up in the darkest days, and it is finished off with a biblical quote. But look at the beginning of this section to see that delivering great speeches is not about perfect grammar or anything like it:
“But this… day… now… we are…. the masters of our fate.” He’s perhaps actually scrabbling for the words here, but so what? Everyone is in rapt attention.
He’s then getting applause as he praises the Russian effort: “The glorious defence of their native soil by the Russian armies and people…” he’s ready to continue here, but waits as he is interrupted by applause (a long round…).
Powerful invective and metaphors then follow about the Nazis, and Mussolini is swatted aside with a wave of the hand to great laughter in the room. And when he comes to the Japanese and their war declarations he is almost indignant, and a bit more animated than he is when he says similar things to his home audience, pretty much saying “do they not know who we are?”. There’s humour here again and of course he is guaranteed a round of applause when he goes for the Japanese.
“Here we are together” and “twice in our lifetime fighting together”: Churchill binds his country to America, with the little jag that if they had only worked together the last time, this need not have happened. And this allows him to move towards his point here: that it must not happen a third time.
And the peroration: Americans and British walking together “in majesty, in justice and in peace”. “Do we not owe it to ourselves, to our children, to tormented mankind…” This rhetorical question allows Churchill to answer, in that unwavering tone, that good will prevail.
How important was the great oratory of Churchill in bringing America to the war; sustaining the citizens of Britain and Europe; instilling belief in the troops; and defeating Germany? How would we know that, but his certainty and stoic resistance must have played a part.
Contrast this piece with his delivery in parliament of his “we shall fight them on the beaches” speech.
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